Packers 2009: Destination XLIV?
In January 2008 the Green Bay Packers were one step away from playing in the NFL championship game—or, in the league’s imperial language, Super Bowl XLII. They didn’t get there, and that failure led to the messy end of the Brett Favre era in Titletown. Last season the Packers turned the offense over to Aaron Rodgers with good results, but crucial mistakes and defensive lapses ruined their playoff hopes. The regular season record fell from 13-3 to 6-10, but seven losses were by four points or fewer. Now the Packers head into the 2009 opener Sunday night against Chicago expecting to reverse their field again. The preseason saw a new 3-4 defensive scheme create lots of turnovers, and two near-perfect outings by Rodgers stirred memories of his predecessor. There are questions, of course, and things always get tougher when the games count. But many fans have visions of the season extending far into January. In fact, the Packer backer who makes up one-half of the Fairly Detached Observers is seeing green and gold all the way to Super Bowl XLIV in Miami.
Frank: It’s hard not to be confident about the Packers’ offense after this 3-1 preseason.
Artie: Rodgers looks in total command, the wide receivers are maybe the best group in the league, Jermichael Finley could become a major threat at tight end, and they’re better than OK at running back besides Ryan Grant.
Frank: There’s still reason to worry about the offensive line. In the last few years it’s been a patchwork effort, with guys being moved around. But Rodgers has the mobility to escape if the protection breaks down.
defense, especially in that Arizona exhibition game, they swarmed to
the ball, led by Charles Woodson. He and Al Harris are great
cornerbacks, and they seem to have tons of good linebackers— just what
a good 3-4 outfit needs most.
of the top two draft picks, nose tackle B.J. Raji or linebacker Clay
Matthews, played much in the preseason. But the depth should allow the
coaches to ease them both into regular duty.
Artie: The depth—there’s the key to everything, ain’a?
Frank: Exactly. Predictions can’t stand up to the only real certainty in a game of violent collisions.
Artie: It’s all about injuries. A cupcake game on paper becomes a nail-biter, or vice versa, depending on who’s hurt. Among the talented, well-coached teams, the healthiest will be the one left standing.
Frank: It’s also all about when you’re healthy. The Super Bowl champion doesn’t necessarily have the best record for the season— just for January. Two years ago the Giants lost two of their last three games in the regular season but made the playoffs at 10-6. Then they won three straight road games...
Artie: Including that 23-20 overtime debacle at Lambeau Field.
they kept their momentum in the Super Bowl to beat the unbeatable
Patriots. They threw waves of pass-rushers at Tom Brady because
everyone was healthy.
Artie: Last year the Patriots’ season was in jeopardy from the moment Brady was injured in the first game. Matt Cassel played pretty well and they went 11-5, but they got tie-breakered out of the playoffs.
Frank: If Rodgers gets hurt, even if the team is 10-0 when it happens, everything will change.
backup, Matt Flynn, is still mighty green. Brian Brohm never caught up
with the speed of the pro game, got cut and landed on the practice
Frank: So Rodgers better stay in one piece.
Artie: Ah, but if he does—Miami, here we come!
Frank: Not so fast. They’re in a pretty tough division, with lots of analysts predicting big things for the Vikings and Bears, too. That’s four mighty important games. Speaking of which, let’s do some game-by-game blathering.
Frank: Game No. 10 is San Francisco at home.
possible letdown game after the Cowboys. The jury is still out on the
49ers. By the way, how do you think they feel now about the 2005 draft,
when they took Alex Smith over Aaron Rodgers?
got his shoulder wrecked in 2007 and didn’t play last year. Now the
49ers have Shaun Hill, who went 5-3 as the starter at the end of last
Artie: San Fran has the NFL’s scariest coach in Mike Singletary, but not much else. We both say this is a win.
Frank: And now, it’s Thanksgiving in Detroit.
Artie: I hate these holiday games against the Lions.
Frank: Still replaying the 1962 mauling that denied the Pack a perfect season?
Artie: Well, now that you mention it... But it’s always bad. No time to rest, plus they have to travel.
Frank: The Packers won their last Thanksgiving game in Detroit, in 2007, but overall they’re 6-11-1. And last September in Detroit, they trailed in the fourth quarter before the Lions collapsed. I say the Packers lose this time.
Artie: Ouch! This game makes me nervous, but if you want to play anybody on short rest, it’s the Lions.
Frank: Next it’s Baltimore at Lambeau. I think the Packers will bounce back and win.
Ravens always have a tough defense and they have a good young
quarterback, Joe Flacco. But they play the Steelers the previous week,
so they’ll be beat up. Because the Packers have extra time to prepare
and rest, that’s a W.
Frank: And now the rematch with the Bears at Soldier Field.
Artie: Alas, I have a feeling the Bears will take this one at home.
Frank: I’m with you. Then it gets even tougher with a visit to Pittsburgh.
Artie: I hate to think of a two-game losing streak, but I have to go with an L.
for kicks, I say they’ll find a way to beat the Steelers. Last year
Pittsburgh had December games against Dallas and Baltimore when their
offense had lots of trouble.
Artie: Unfortunately, the Steelers play their previous game on a Thursday, so they have more time to get ready.
Frank: Game No. 15 is Seattle at home.
people see the Seahawks as a dark horse in the NFC West if Arizona has
a drop-off—as many Super Bowl losers do. But the Seahawks don’t win at
Frank: The regular season wraps up at Arizona, and I think the Cardinals will get revenge for that exhibition loss.
it’s another W to make the Pack 13-3. Then it’s two weeks until their
first playoff game because they’ll be division champs and have a bye.
And homefield advantage equals Super Bowl!
Frank: I think they’ll be a wild-card team at 10-6, and one of the two playoff games on the road will stop them before the NFC Championship Game.
Frank: So in the NFC North you say the order will be Packers, Vikings, Bears and Lions. I reverse Green Bay and Minnesota. Let’s look at the other divisions. First, the NFC East.
may be the toughest of all. The Redskins are certainly better than the
Lions, and the Giants, Eagles and Cowboys are among everyone’s
Giants just gave Eli Manning a ton of money, but I’m not a strong
believer. Still, I think the Giants’ defense and ground game will take
them a long way.
Artie: I say the Eagles, by a nose. Assuming Donovan McNabb stays healthy and stops being miffed that Michael Vick is there.
Frank: The NFC South. Every year people say, “This is the Panthers’ time,” but they always get banged up or just underachieve. Since Atlanta came from nowhere last year, I say they’ll take an NFL “parity” fall and New Orleans will jump up.
Artie: I’ll stick with the Falcons because of their young QB, Matt Ryan, and running back Michael Turner.
Frank: Now the NFC West.
Artie: Even with a letdown, the Cardinals should win this weak division. How tough can it be to beat the 49ers, Rams and Seahawks?
Frank: The Cardinals might win a lot of 35-31 games, but they’ll win enough.
Artie: Now to the AFC. In the East, assuming Brady stays in one piece, it’s the Patriots. Miami, because it won the division last year, has a tougher schedule.
Dolphins have to play the Colts, Chargers, Bucs, Jaguars, Titans,
Steelers—yeah, that’s tough. But back to New England: Who’s their
backup QB now that Cassel is in Kansas City?
Artie: Brian Hoyer, a rookie from Michigan State. But even if Brady goes down, the Pats’ defense will get them to the playoffs.
Frank: In the AFC North, the Steelers and Ravens will slug it out.
Artie: And finish in that order, I think. Meanwhile, the Bengals and Browns will compete to be this year’s Lions.
Frank: In the AFC South, some people say the Colts’ “window” has passed, although they’ll score plenty as long as Peyton Manning’s there. I’ll say Tennessee edges the Colts.
Artie: I’ll stick with Indy. The Titans have a big QB issue. Kerry Collins was good last year, but he’s old, and if he gets hurt there’s Vince Young and all his question marks.
Frank: Last, and least, the AFC West.
dregs of the league. The Raiders are hopeless and the Broncos are a
mess with a new coach and Cutler traded. And the Chiefs are 6-26 over
the last two years.
Frank: The Chargers will cruise. And if LaDainian Tomlinson rebounds from a sub-par 2008, they could go all the way. In fact, I’m picking them to do just that.
will come as no surprise that I believe the team hoisting the Lombardi
Trophy on Feb. 7 will be the... Green... Bay... Packers!
Frank: Readers, if it doesn’t happen, remember only one of us predicted it. If it does, feel free to credit “the Observers.”