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Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012

One Down, More Goals to Go

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Sunday saw the Observers focused on Fox's early NFL telecast, but not the same game. When Frank later called Artie from Long Island, only one of them could report a pleasant experience.  

Frank: What a dismal afternoon at my brother's house as we watched the Giants get pasted 34-0 in Atlanta!

Artie: I saw the score keep growing and said it couldn't be possible. The Falcons are a good team, but the Giants ain't exactly chopped liver.

Frank: They were this time.

Artie: But how could a team that demolished the Packers 38-10 lose like that?

Frank: At least the score wasn't quite as bad as the 1961 NFL championship at Lambeau Field...

Artie: Which I fondly recall—37-zip—and thank you for bringing it up.

Frank: Now the defending Super Bowl champs are 8-6 and in danger of missing the playoffs.

Artie: They can watch the games with Lovie Smith and the Bears.

Frank: So the Packers' 21-13 win at Soldier Field was everything you hoped for?

Artie: Even though it was kind of tight in the first half I never felt any worry. I guess I was counting on Jay Cutler to do his tribute to Brett Favre with some "what the hell" throws for interceptions. And it did happen, but only once. But it was really delightful to see the Bears' rookie receiver, Alshon Jeffery, get called for offensive pass interference three times. And it could have been four or five!

Frank: The win clinched the NFC North title and at least one playoff game at home. And I see the Packers dominated statistically.

Artie: Aaron Rodgers and the passing game were great even without Jordy Nelson—four guys with at least four catches and James Jones with all three touchdowns. The running game was OK. Clay Matthews was back and got two of the team's four sacks. 

Frank: But how come only 21 points?

Artie: There should be an asterisk, and next to it the name Mason Crosby.

Frank: Oops. The troubled kicker had another troubling day?

Artie: It's gotten to the point that when he comes out for a field-goal try I don't even get tense, I just get ready to be entertained by how badly he'll miss. It happened twice this time; it could have been more but twice Mike McCarthy went for it on fourth down—and fortunately made it.

Frank: It had seemed over the last couple of weeks that Crosby was over his mid-season slump.

Artie: The slump is back. The first miss looked like a wizard zapped it—the ball took this crazy turn and veered way right. The second one was just weak and clanged off the left upright. And it's not like these were from any great distances.

Frank: Let's click on the box score... Yeah, 43 yards in the second quarter and 42 in the fourth.

Artie: So the Pack has the division title but with Crosby they also have a situation.

Frank: I'd be stunned if McCarthy and Ted Thompson made a change this late in the season.

Artie: And because of the contract they gave Crosby. But obviously, this game demonstrated no improvement. In a different situation either miss could have cost the game. You sure don't want that happening in the playoffs!

Frank: So I'd assess your post-game mood as pleased but not serene.

Artie: Even though there weren't any obvious major injuries, we won't know until Wednesday who's joined the list of "out for the season."

Frank: Wow, are you a classic fan! Even under the banner of NFC North supremacy there's doubt, pessimism, fear.

Artie: It's called experience and historical knowledge.

Frank: Making the playoffs was the Packers' first goal, and winning the division means a home game. Another goal is to get one of the top two NFC seedings, which would give them a first-round bye. But last year the bye seemed to cool off the 15-1 Packers.

Artie: This year, though, a bye would be good for two reasons. First, it would give all those guys with nagging injuries some rest. And second, it would eliminate the possibility of losing to somebody in that "extra" game.

Frank: The more playoff games you play, the more chances for something unlucky or downright goofy to happen. To earn a bye the 10-4 Packers have to beat out San Francisco, which is 10-3-1 after winning at New England.

Artie: The Pack plays at home against Tennessee this weekend, which shouldn't be a problem.

Frank: But the finale is at Minnesota against a Vikings team that might be fighting for a playoff spot. Meanwhile, the 49ers have a tough game this weekend at 9-5 Seattle and finish with 5-9 Arizona.

Artie: So the Pack wins out and gets help from the Seahawks—who certainly owe them a game!—and voila, it's a bye.

Frank: One other goal would be to grab the No. 1 seeding and guarantee home-field for any NFC games. But at 12-2 the Falcons have a two-game lead with two to play, and they finish at Detroit and then home against Tampa Bay.

Artie: Looks like the road to the NFC title could go through Atlanta, but so what? Two years ago the Pack cruised into the Georgia Dome and demolished the 13-3 Falcons, 48-21, on the way to the Super Bowl.

 

MAKE IT A FAST BREAK

Frank: So Marquette is ditching the Big East, along with six other Catholic schools where basketball, not football, is king. No timetable yet, but I say the sooner the better.

Artie: Absolutely. The football schools who've left or plan to leave the Big East—Syracuse, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Louisville, Rutgers—said, "To hell with the basketball schools." It's just too bad MU and the others didn't jump on this sooner. Maybe they could have landed Notre Dame, which is jumping to the ACC.

Frank: In everything but football, of course. Notre Dame will never give up its own private mountain of TV money for football.

Artie: All this conference-jumping proves that football is the big money-maker in terms of TV money.

Frank: So a basketball-dominated conference won't get as big a contract. But doesn't a basketball program, with a fraction of the players, cost a lot less than football?

Artie: And it isn't like the networks don't want to show hoops—lots of time to fill in winter! And look at the billions CBS spends on the NCAA tournament, ain’a?

Frank: So why not gather up the best from another basketball conference, the A-10, and make a giant hoops league?

Artie: You keep the Big East rivals Georgetown, Villanova, St. John's, Providence and Seton Hall, plus DePaul, which was a big MU foe long before the Big East existed. If you grab Xavier and Dayton and St. Louis from the A-10, those are three MU rivals from the old days and it gives you a solid 10-team core.

Frank: Hell, incorporate the entire A-10, which would bring in programs like Butler, UMass, La Salle, St. Joseph's, Richmond, VCU, George Washington and Charlotte. You'd have a 20- or 21-team league with lots of big media markets and built-in rivalries.

Artie: I'd much rather see MU playing St. Louis and Xavier and Dayton instead of incoming Big East teams like Tulane or SMU or Central Florida.

Frank: But let's be realistic. MU's motives are no purer than anyone else's. They're not based on a sense of fair play or competitive balance or tradition or loyalty. Everyone's motivation is, "What can we get out of this?" There's a big pie full of money and they want their hunk!
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