Wednesday, November 25, 2009

NFL 2009: Week 12 Picks

The Packers had a nice win against the 49ers last Sunday. But it was one heck of a costly win. They lost two of their defensive stalwarts in Aaron Kampman and Al Harris for the season. The weird part of their injuries was that both of them had torn their ACLs (knee) and the injuries happened not through contact, which makes it all the more frustrating. Brings to question the physical conditioning staff of the Packers, but that is a whole different story.

But the Packers need not lose hope, just as yet. They need to make sure they come off with a win from Detroit on Thanksgiving after the short week. And then they have 5 weeks of tough games to play, of which only the Seahawks game is an expected win. They would like to win the games against the Bears, Seahawks and Cardinals, which will not only take them to 10-6 (provided they beat the Lions too), but will also be wins against their division / conference, which will help in wild card tie-break rules, if it comes down to that at the end of the regular season. The Ravens at home is a winnable game too (on Monday Night Football) with the Ravens not so hot after a blazing start to their season. The Steelers game at Heinz Field is going to be a tough one. So the route to the end of the season is no gimme by any means (like the schedule remaining for the Falcons), but it is not hard to contemplate going 4-2r 3-3 the rest of the way.

It also helps that the Packers are playing some inspired football the past couple of weeks (Dallas and SF). On offense, finally there is some semblance of a run game. Pair that with some short and quick passes on screens and on the flat, it is an effective way to counter any opposing pass rush. The O line by itself is healthier and are playing way better. They have to sustain their level and, if possible take it up a notch in coming weeks. On defense, Capers has been dialing up some pressure looks and blitzes. It definitely is a blow to lose Kampman and Harris, but there is a silver lining to this loss. Kampman has anyway not looked too comfortable in the new 3-4 scheme. His replacement, a rookie, Brad Jones, played the game against Dallas in place of Kampman (out due to concussion) and more than held his own. There was already talk about this kid in training camp and pre-season about how he was a quick learner and the coaches having high hopes on him. So it is probably not a bad thing for Brad Jones to play in place of Kampman. Only that it shortens the depth of the team and the Veteran presence in big games. Tramon Williams was anyway being groomed to be the replacement of Harris and he is ready to take over. But, as much as Harris had moments in games where he would be beat, we will probably see more of that from Tramon as he too likes to play attacking and go for INTs. He did a more than decent job last year in 4 games he started in Al's place when Al had that ruptured spleen.

Also, the special teams has shown some improvement. McCarthy, against the 49ers, wisely chose to punt than let Crosby try a 50 yarder. And, except for that 74 yard return by Josh Morgan, the coverage team played fairly well. Although these improvements don't push the Packer's special team's play to a elite level, these are signs of improvement that bodes well for weeks to come. Even Kapinos had a good day punting. And he can definitely play better from the way he punts in practice. Now he's got to do the same on game-day. I am ready to give the kid more time to show what he's got.

Quickly on to my picks for this week:

Packers (-10.5) at Lions
The Lions and Stafford had a great game last week. But no Stafford this week and Calvin Johnson is doubtful. Plus the Lions have lost 8 consecutive games against the Packers.
My Pick: Packers

Raiders (+13.5) at Cowboys
The Cowboys have had a tough time scoring the last 2 weeks. They could salvage just a TD at garbage time against the Packers and then a last minute TD against the Redskins last week. The Raiders pass defense is pretty good. Dallas should be able to run against them though. And I don't see the Raiders pulling out 2 upsets in a row.
My Pick: Cowboys (but Raiders will cover)

Giants (-7) at Broncos
The Giants just snapped out of their 4 game losing streak. And the Broncos are on their way to a 4 game losing street after this game. But the Broncos called for a players only meeting this week, and we all know that that could pump up the players to a play at a high level. If that happens, it could make this game interesting.
My Pick: Giants

Bucs (+11.5) at Falcons
Turner is gonna be back and Matt Ryan had a decent game after a streak of sub-par games.
My Pick: Falcons

Dolphins (-3) at Bills
Ricky Williams has taken over reins from the injured Ronny Brown. The Wild cat should be good enough enough to beat the Bills.
My Pick: Dolphins

Browns (+14) at Bengals
The loss to the Raiders must have been a timely wake-up call for the Bengals. Will be no such surprises this week.
My Pick: Bengals

Seahawks (-3) at Rams
The Rams have been playing hard the last two weeks, but with Marc Bulger out for the next 2-3 weeks, their offensive efficiency is bound to slump.
My Pick: Seahawks

Panthers (+3) at Jets
The Jets have been relegated to the bottom feeder group of NFL teams of late and rightly so. Mark Sanchez is ever so close to be benched. The Panthers never seem to learn, they have to run to win, which they stayed away from against the Dolphins and we all know what happened.
My Pick: Panthers

Redskins (+9) at Eagles
Will be a hard fought NFC East show down, except that the Redskins might just fold after hanging tight their last 2 games.
My Pick: Eagles

Colts (-3.5) at Texans
I am not willing to pick against Peyton Manning. But the Texans are no push-overs anymore, could be a trap game for the undefeated Colts.
My Pick: Colts

Chiefs (+13.5) at Chargers
The Chargers Defense seems to be improving every week.
My Pick: Chargers

Jaguars (+3) at 49ers
The niners are due for a win. The Jaguars are not happy travellers out west.
My Pick: 49ers

Cardinals (NL) at Titans
Kurt Warner suffered a concussion last week and although he is expected to play, if he is slightly off his game, the Cardinals offense will stutter. The surging titans will be more than happy to take advantage of that.
My Pick: Titans

Bears (+10.5) at Vikings
Favre for MVP??
My Pick: Vikings

Steelers (NL) at Ravens
Big Ben suffered a concussion too. He is expected to play, and if he does not, the Steelers' chances fall real fast.
My Pick: Steelers (on condition that Ben plays)

Patriots (+3) at Saints
If the Saints are going to lose a game this season, it would be to these pesky Patriots. Bill Belichik will have a plan to deal with the Saints explosive offense.
My Pick: Patriots

Last Week: 12-4
Year to date: 113-47

Thursday, November 19, 2009

NFL 2009: Week 11 Picks

Dolphins (+3) at Panthers
With Ronnie Brown out for the season, the Dolphins will have a tough time running the wild cat through Ricky Williams. Maybe try out Pat White too. The Panthers meanwhile are surging, thanks to their two headed running attack of Williams and Stewart, and of course with Jake evading INTs.
My Pick: Panthers

Redskins (+11) at Cowboys
The Cowboys had their 4 game-win streak snapped at Lambeau. They possibly could start another win-streak with the Redskins and the Raiders coming up the next 2 weeks. But then comes December, which of late has been a tough time for the Cowboys to stack up wins.
My Pick: Cowboys

Browns (+3.5) at Lions
The QB situation of the Browns is ironically such a mess that you cannot call it a controversy. A controversy is when you are not sure which QB gives you the best chance to win. With the Browns, it is: who will be the less likely to cause a loss?
My Pick: Lions

Steelers (-10) at Chiefs
Palamalu is likely out this week. Still, the Steelers defense sans-Troy should be good enough to hold up the Chiefs offense.
My Pick: Steelers

Seahawks (+11) at Vikings
The Seahawks just added Julius Jones to their long injury list. While, unexpectedly, Favre seems to be showing no signs of slowing down as we go deeper into the season.
My Pick: Vikings

Falcons (+6.5) at Giants
Matt Ryan seems to be slumping a bit. The only other person who could have shared his load, Micheal "the burner" Turner is doubtful for this game with a high ankle sprain. The Giants must have used the bye to prepare for snapping this 4 game losing streak they are in. The word out is that they are practicing with a 6'6" rookie for red zone snaps to try re-create that Eli-Plax connection.
My Pick: Giants

Saints (-11.5) at Bucs
The Saints let the Rams get too close for comfort last week. If complacency had anything to do with it, which I think did, there will be none this week against the Bucs after last week's wake-up call.
My Pick: Saints

Bills (+9) at Jaguars
The Jaguars are one-dimensional on offense. But that is good enough against a team that just had its head coach fired. Add to it that they are going to start Fitzpatrick over Trent Edwards! What is the over/under in number of weeks before which TO's mouth causes the Bills to cut him? I say 3 weeks.
My Pick: Jaguars

Colts (-1) at Ravens
The Colts have had 3 weeks of football that they could have easily lost: but for the TD throw by Joseph Adai against the 49ers, the missed FG by the Texans at the waning seconds, and a failed 4th and 2 by the Patriots giving the Colts a short field to work with. In spite of the close games, its testament to Manning and the Colts' experience that they manage to pull it off. And that should continue against a slowing down Ravens team whose number the Colts have had of late.
My Pick: Colts

Cardinals (-9.5) at Rams
The Cardinals will be in trouble if they do not show that sense of urgency they sometimes lack, against these Rams, who gave the Saints a run for their money last week.
My Pick: Cardinals

Chargers (NL) at Broncos
It's official: The Broncos are slumping! And this week, with Orton likely out, they have a huge mountain to climb to try hold off the Chargers. This game could be the division-clincher for either team.
My Pick: Chargers

Bengals (-9.5) at Raiders
Benson is hurt? No problem, let's sign Larry Johnson. And the march continues.....
My Pick: Bengals

Jets (+10) at Patriots
I pity the Jets. All their thrash talking might come back to bite them this week. The Patriots are angry!! angry at the Jets for beating the m earlier this season. Angry at the world because they failed a 4th and 2 conversion to let the Colts win last week. Do not under-estimate Bill Belichik's ability to motivate his team with the "we against the world" routine.
My Pick: Patriots

Eagles (-3) at Bears
The Eagles have a potentially explosive offense that will be aided by the ailing Bears secondary. Also, this game is on prime-time (Sunday Night), where Cutler seems to try do too much throwing 11 of his 17 INTs in 3 prime-time games this year.
My Pick: Eagles

Titans (+4.5) at Texans
The Texans offense is definitely hampered by the absence of Owen Daniels. Still, they have a good enough defense to hold Chris Johnson and VY within reach. And of course there is Andre Johnson.
My Pick: Texans

49ers (+6.5) at Packers
We will see two similarly built 3-4 defenses face each other. On the offensive side, the story of the game will be the 2 2005 first round draft picks, Alex Smith (No1 overall) and Aaron Rodgers (No.24 overall) face each other for the first time. At the time of the draft, Rodgers felt he must have gone first overall, but at the moment, he finds himself in a better position than Alex Smith.
My Pick: Packers

Last Week: 10-5
Year to date: 101-43

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Mid-season NFL Power Rankings

Here's how I see the teams stack out just after the mid-way point this season. This is just my opinion of how teams stack up against each other. Apart from their W-L records, these rankings take into consideration the current state of each team at the moment.

1. Colts (9-0) : Two words to describe this team - Peyton Manning. It is hard to imagine how they would fare if he has an off day. Lucky them, does days are a rarity of late.

2. Saints (9-0): I would have given them rank 1b, as they have been dominant and resilient at times. Some may argue that other than QB play, they are better at all other facets of the game than the Colts. I still put them second to the Colts because they are an untested team as far as playoffs are concerned. Moreover, if I had to pick between these two to go undefeated, the Colts are the obvious choice.

3. Bengals (7-2): I bumped them over the Vikings because of the quality of schedule they faced which includes playing the Steelers and Ravens twice each. Add to it the fluky loss to "the miracle play" by the Broncos in Week 1. They more than deserve to be in the top 3.

4. Vikings (8-1): You will be hard pressed to find a team that is capable of beating you in as many ways as these Vikings. Running, Passing, Defense, Special Teams, you name it and they have quick strike potential in every aspect of the game. The only wild card being the health of Favre towards the end of the season.

5. Patriots (6-3): Just when the Patriots seemed to be getting in stride exuding glimpses of their dominant 2007 self, they failed to convert that 4th and 2 to fall victim to the Colts. But knowing the Patriots, that probably did more good than if they had won that game, given their coach's motivational, riling up tendencies. Watch out for these guys in the playoffs!

6. Steelers (6-3): The gritty Steelers, got out-gritted by the Bengals this weekend. With the loss of Palamalu this week, it only gets harder for them to defend their title.

7. Cardinals (6-3): How can a team be this inconsistent? They seem to turn on and off at their own will. But that is good enough for their pathetic NFC West division

8. Chargers (6-3): Its become their way of life: slow start to the season only to finish very strong. Only this time, they were in a big hole with the Broncos 6-0 a few weeks ago and the Chargers got hot ahead of schedule to catch up with the Broncos at 6-3.

9. Broncos (6-3): Have seen highs of being 6-0 and seen lows of losing to the Redskins. Could a team have a more loftier season? The bigger question: Are Josh McDaniel's Broncos for real?

10. Ravens (5-4): They had a strong start to go 4-0 and then had 3 heart breaking last minute losses. The last 2 weeks, they seem to have slowed down even more. If this continues, they'd slip down these rankings real fast.

11. Cowboys (6-3): Their 4 game winning streak just got snapped at Lambeau Field. They will try to get as many wins as they can in November, because, come December, their chances of a win, based on their recent history, will be hard to come by.

12. Eagles (5-4): The Eagles are another of those flaky teams. Their offense can be explosive when they are on a roll with DeShaun Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, and some days they can fall to the Raiders. This season, eerily, somehow traces the path of McNaab's career.

13. Texans (5-4): I do not think the Texans have ever been over .500 this late into the season. Too bad they are in the AFC South division and have to play the Colts twice a year, or they could easily be challenging for their division in a year like this.

14. Packers (5-4): The Packers are the youngest team in the league and are trying to find their identity. Once they are comfortable with who they are, they will get to be more consistent. But that is no excuse to lose to a winless Bucs team 2 weeks ago.

15. Giants (5-4): A fast 5-0 start to the season, and now a 4 game losing streak. They are hoping that is not a pattern. Eli seems to be struggling without a big body receiver like Plaxico Burress. Could be a long season for them if they do not win a few games soon.

16. Falcons (5-4): The Falcons seem to be sliding of late, mirroring the play of Matt Ryan. And now with Micheal turner injured, could be a hard couple of weeks for the sophomore QB.

17. Panthers (4-5): The Panthers, after a slow 0-3 start, suddenly have turned the corner. They suddenly realized their strength is to run (duh!!) and Jake has been avoiding opponent Jerseys when he throws. If they put on a run, they could be in play for one of the wild card spots.

18. Jaguars (5-4): Their offense: Maurice Jones-Drew. But how far can this one guy take them?

19. 49ers (4-5): Adding Crabtree should have made them better. But since then, they have lost all their games, except the one where the opponent QB (Cutler) threw 5 picks (and the 49ers barely won). Head-scratcher??

20. Bears (4-5): They have a lot of issues to take care of. On offense: better play calling, better O line, more patient play from Cutler, find him a legit receiver, better rushing. Defense: get healthy and improve secondary. Biggest problem: Coaching!

21. Dolphins (4-5): The wild cat offense will take you only so far. They are going no where without playing some classic regular football (and being good at it)

22. Jets (4-5): Of late, the Jets have been all talk and no-show. Will not be surprised if that continues.

23. Titans (3-6): They start the season 0-6, change QBs to Vince Young, all of a sudden a 3 game win streak? I am hard-pressed to believe that VY is the reason for this change of tide. I bet Chris Johnson has something to say about this.

24. Seahawks (3-6): Plagued by injuries.

25. Bills (3-6): Never a good sign when you fire your coach mid-way through the season.

26. Rams (1-8): Stephen Jackson must be thinking: "How in the world am I stuck with this team?"

27. Redskins (2-7): If I had to guess one coach who would be fired mid-way through the season, I would have bet it would be Jim Zorn. The win over the Broncos probably gave him some breathing time.

28. Raiders (2-7): Is there a more dysfunctional sports franchise in the history of sports? Maybe the Warriors would give them a run? (who co-incidentally are residents of the same city - Oakland)

29. Lions (1-8): They have 1 more win than they did this time last year!

30 Chiefs (2-7): A rebuilding stage for their team.

31. Bucs (1-8): Their record does not surprise me, given they fired their offensive co-ordinator days before the season started.

32. Browns (1-8): They are probably going to fire Mangini after the season. And Mangini traded away some of the best players on the team this season (Braylon Edwards, Kellen Winslow etc). Talk about having a mess to clean up!!

NFL: 2009: Week 10 Review

Quite a weekend of football.... again. I am just going to give my thoughts about the ending to the Colts - Patriots game and a short review of the Packers-Cowboys game here.

The most (in)famous '4th & 2' ...... ever

The biggest question coming out of last week's games: "Did Bill just do that??". Yup, I am talking about Belichik's gutsy call to try convert the 4th and 2 from their own 28 yard line with only a little over 2 minutes to go. The failed attempt that let Peyton and the Colts drive just 30 yards in for the game-winning TD.

I got to admit I asked that very question when I saw Tom Brady and the Patriots offense going back onto the field to try convert that 4th and 2. But mulling over it for a while, it is obvious that Bill was just playing the percentages. We are so used to seeing coaches punt the ball when in doubt to play it safe. If a coach goes aggressive and makes a call like Bill did, he would of course get all the praise in the world if it worked. But if he failed, the coach will take so much of blame for that one call rather than all the other reasons for the loss. What more proof than the heat Bill is facing the last couple of days for that one call. That's why coaches stray away from making such aggressive calls and we are so used to thinking a punt call is automatic in such situations.

Let's get a perspective of the actual game situation at that time. The Colts just drove 70+ yards in less than 2 minutes to score a TD. The Patriots defense, which had contained Manning, was not as effective in the 4th Quarter as it had been the first 3 quarters. Obviously, Manning had the NE defense figured out and made necessary adjustments. Belichik was smart enough to realize this. If he punted, how long was it going to take Manning to cover that 40 yards (fair assumption for nett punt distance) to get to the 30 yard line of NE, where the ball would be placed if the conversion failed? With the clock at 2:08, that was plenty of time. Meanwhile the Pats offense had gained an avg of 6+ yards per offensive snap. So the odds of them converting the 4th and 2 was pretty good. The only downside to failing to convert was that 20-30 seconds (fair estimation of time on game clock needed for Peyton to drive through the punt yardage) extra Peyton has as compared to if they had punted. In short, the odds of Peyton scoring from the NE 30 yard line was not all that more than the odds of him driving for a TD from the Colts 30-35 yard line. On the bright side, if they successfully converted the 4th down, the game was all but over with the Colts having just one time out to stop the clock. One way of looking at the decision is: what would your opponents want you to do in that situation? Simple answer, the Colts would rather have the Patriots punt than attempt a 4th and 2 that would seal the outcome of the game. The decision to go for it on 4th down was smart. But the execution or the play call to go 5 wide with an empty backfield on that play was not so smart (and a whole new debate).

Packers Outlook

The Packers Defense finally showed up against Romo and the Cowboys. This probably had more to do with Dom Capers dialing up the blitzes than improvement in the players. Of course, all the defensive players of the Packers seemed invigorated and showed a lot of emotion and energy on the field, more than in past games. The 300+ pound front D-linemen of the Packers, especially, where hustling and running around making plays in the back field. Also, how could you not mention Charles Woodson for his best performance of this season yet (1 INT and 2 forced fumbles).

Even on offense, the Packers did some new things that helped the O line. The number of running plays did not necessarily increase, but they called a few screens and hitches (which are played by the defense like running plays), that helped slow down the vaunted Dallas pass-rush. Rodgers did not have a big game in terms of stats, but he had a monster game in terms of "growing up". As good as a QB as you may be, you have to play according to your offensive groups strengths, or rahter, stay away from their weaknesses; which is exactly what Rodgers was made to do. He was not holding on to the ball too long, as he was doing in previous games, and played more of a game-manager than try be a creator of big plays. Hopefully, he realized that, more often than not, you have to slug it out and win, when you have a porous offensive line, rather than try engaging yourself in a potential shoot out. Now, will this play-calling continue? Will McCarthy stay away from his pass-wacky tendencies and build on this game? We'll know in a few days.

As far as special teams was concerned, I would like to think that we were lucky that the Cowboys never broke open a big return on any of the numerous punts that were kicked. The kick/punt return for the Packers will improve this week with Jordy Nelson returning to his kick return duties. It was encouraging to see that post-game McCarthy acknowledged that the punting and kicking could be better. Sometimes, most of your problems are solved when you identify your weaknesses and play accordingly. By that I mean, try punting instead of letting Crosby try 50 yard field goals. Punt to the sidelines or higher, when you are deep in your territory, instead of kicking deep and flat, giving an opportunity for a big run back.

With the win, and some other favorable results, the wild card picture has opened up a bit for the Packers. Fighting for the 2 wild card spots are: Packers (5-4), Eagles (5-4), Falcons (5-4), Giants (5-4), Bears (4-5), Panthers and 49ers (4-5). Moreover, based on my forecast of the remainder of the Packers' season, the Dallas game was not even supposed to be a win. Not that the Packers can afford to lose another winnable game, but even if they have one mis-step, this win against the Cowboys kind of makes up for that in advance.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

NFL 2009: Week 10 picks

Bears (+3) at 49ers:
A short week for both the Bears and the 49ers playing the first thursday night game of hte season after opening night. Biggest storyline: Mike Singletary against the team he played for!! The Niners are on a 4 game losing streak. While the Bears are struggling on defense, especially their secondary. Good for them, the niners are not an explosive passing team. So they will be able to hang in the game in spite of Frank Gore. Also, the return of Tommy Harris (lucky not to be suspended by the league) will help shore up the Bears run defense. Still, I think its about time the niners won their first game since they signed Micheal Crabtree.
My Pick: 49ers

Bills (+6.5) at Titans
Trent Edwards will be back to start for the Bills. But TO is sidelined with a hip injury and is questionable for the game. The Titans, meanwhile, have had good play calling suitable for Vince Young to survive. Will their first round pick from 2006 sustain this level of play? Chris Johnson will more than help doing just that.
My Pick: Titans

Saints (-13.5) at Rams
The Saints would love to continue their win streak and the Rams will help more than hamper that trend.
My Pick: Saints

Bucs (+10) at Dolphins
The Bucs got their first win of the season. But no more Josh Freeman surprises up their sleeve to pull off another upset in a row. The Dolphins will play hard to try add some wins to try make the wild card.
My Pick: Dolphins

Lions (+16.5) at Vikings
Favre and the Vikings continue their bye week(s) playing the Lions at home.
My Pick: Vikings

Jaguars (+7) at Jets
The Jaguars have a bruiser in Maurice Jones Drew and need David Gerard to make just a few plays to keep themselves in games. But somehow, Gerard falls short more times than not. The Jets would love to take advantage of that and beat the Jaguars with the help of a power running game.
My Pick: Jets

Bengals (+7) at Steelers
The Steelers are playing very good football right now. And so are the Bengals. This AFC North rivalry game will be fierce and I think the home field advantage will tip this game in the favor of the Steelers.
My Pick: Steelers

Broncos (-3.5) at Redskins
The Broncos have fallen down to the ground. But with the Redskins this week, they have a respite.
My Pick: Broncos

Falcons (-1) at Panthers
The Falcons are running the ball great with Micheal Turner taking a lot of pressure off Matt Ryan. The Panthers too have discovered, what they should have known from the beginning, that they are a team built to run the ball. But, DeAngelo Williams is injured this week and with Jonathan Stewart already limited in play, the run game for the Panthers may be in jeopardy. I pick the Falcons as of now, but will change my pick if both Williams and Stewart are good to go at game time.
My Pick: Falcons (subject to change)

Chiefs (+1) at Raiders
My Pick: Raiders

Seahawks (+9) at Cardinals
The Cardinals are 4-0 on the road, and not so good at home. They get a NFC West rival at home this week, but the Seahawks have their own injury issues to deal with and shoudn't bother the Cardinals too much.
My Pick: Cardinals

Eagles (+1) at Chargers
The Eagles lost a close one to Dallas last week. And travel all the way across country to play the Chargers. And the Chargers beat the Giants last week with a last minute TD to win. Both teams will wantto improve their game execution from last week. But the second half of the season is when the Chargers always find their mojo.
My Pick: Chargers

Patriots (+3) at Colts
Easily the game of the week. Two of the most successful teams this decade pitted against one another. The Patriots are finding their feet just around now. While after a dominating start to the season, the Colts just scraped through their last 2 games. The game will boil down to the patriots defense, if they can contain Peyton and his offense. The Colts have all their money on Peyton, with not much support from a running game, nor a stout defense. Bill Belichik would have made note of this simple fact and put his mind on to a suitable game-plan.
My Pick: Patriots

Ravens (+10.5) at Browns
The Ravens are at 4-4, and look like a much better team than that. They shouldn't fall below .500 with a game against the Browns this week.
My Pick: Ravens

Cowboys (-3) at Packers
The Cowboys ascertained their supremacy in the NFC East with a win at Philly last week. Quite the opposite happened to the Packers. They dug themselves an even bigger hole for themselves in the wild card race, which is now definitely out of their hands. They will have to not only take care of business to stay in the race, but also hope for other teams to falter and help them. This game against the Cowboys is not a win or go-home thing, but it doesn't get much closer than this to a must-win situation. And the players understand it. In fact, Daryn Colledge of the Packers called for an offense players-only meeting this week and the guys spoke to each other about the current state of things and how they can work together to improve things. In short, they seem to have that sense of urgency, which was lacking against the Bucs last week. With the help of some better play-calling, the Packers might just pull off an upset here.
My Pick: Packers

Last Week: 10-3
Year to date: 91-38

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Kobe - Phil off-season conversation.....

I found this made-up conversation in one of Bill Simmon's (of ESPN) NBA pre-season articles. It is simply hilarious if you know about Kobe's killer instinct and Phil's exploits on trying to keep him motivated without ego clashes. Enjoy!!

(begin excerpt)

(Kobe enters Phil Jackson's office. Brian Shaw is sitting to Phil's right.)

Phil: Kobe, thanks for stopping by.

Kobe: No problem. I got five minutes. Artest is taking me to Hollywood Boulevard; he wants to introduce me to the guys dressed up like Superman and Batman. He thinks they're the actual superheroes. I haven't had the heart to tell him they're homeless guys.

Phil: Well, don't tell him differently. Let him think that.

Kobe: I will.

Phil: Look, I really want to get Bynum more involved in our offense in November and December. It's a good thing, Kobe. Just trust me. We run everything through him for 42 minutes. You take over for the last six.

Kobe: C'mon, we did this last season. Then he got hurt, I took over and our team took off. Why go through the charade again?

Phil: Because you're still two titles behind MJ?

Kobe: That's your big motivational move with me now, huh?

Phil: Hey, he told me himself -- "Tell Kobe to call me when he gets to six."

Kobe (eyes narrowing): He said that?

Phil: Yup. He said he can't even take you seriously until you win two more.

Kobe: Really?

Phil: Yup. That's why we need Bynum right now. The Pechonkamappadosa tribe has a phrase for this called, "Kakaboomaka." It means, "To share the credit without giving up credit with those who matter." I just want to build his confidence up and save your legs. We put a ton of miles on those babies these past two years -- 208 games. This is good for you.

Kobe: Lemme think about it.

(Kobe leaves. Phil turns to Shaw.)

Phil: This is too easy.

(end excerpt)

Monday, November 9, 2009

Is the Packers' season over?

On the heels of a devastating road loss to the Bucs, there are a number of questions up in the air about the Packers and their season. None more compelling than "Is the season over?". After the loss to the Vikings at home, I still was optimistic about the Packer's chances this season. It took them less than a week to throw that all into the thrash can. Over the 12 hours after Sunday's game, I was mulling over the legitimacy of the Packers as a contender this season. Who are the real Packers?

No Parley with the Buccaneers

One might ask, how could you lose to the 0-7 Bucs? To put things in perspective, the Packers are no Juggernauts, after all they have no wins this season yet against a team with a winning record. The Bucs are bad, the low life of the league this year; the last team left without a win before they played the Packers. But historically, the Packs have had a tough time at Tampa. They had won only 1 game out of the last 7 games they played down there. Plus, the Bucs were starting their rookie Josh Freeman for the first time, and a little spark from him would be a big morale boost for the team, which they got from their 21 year old 1st round pick. And as much as the coaches and players deny it, throw in some amount of complacency / looking beyond this game factor by the packers while preparing for this win less team (especially the game plan which I will talk about soon).

Having said that, if you expect to be a playoff team, this was a game you had to take care of without much fuss. Especially the defense should have been licking their chops on the thought of defending a rookie on his NFL debut, rather than licking your injuries after the humiliating loss. More so after the loss to the Vikings, it was imperative to take care of business and give yourself a chance to put on a win streak. Well, in short, the Packers faltered.

'Run' for your lives!!

Mike Mccarthy does the offensive play calling for the Packers. First of all, the game-planning by itself has been sub-par this season. The creativity and strategy thought out (at least one that is called Sundays) leaves a lot to be yearned for. The coaches seem to be game-planning to the strengths of the Packers, their passing game, which is not a bad thing in itself. But then, football is the ultimate team game. You might think your forte is the long ball and deep strike ability with a strong armed QB and great receiving core, but this is the frickin NFL. Even bad teams are talented enough to stop something that they know is coming. Especially, if you do not have an Offensive line that can protect you long enough for big plays. So opposing defenses, rush just 3-4 players on passing plays and play a lot of nickel packages, where there is an extra corner back or safety to protect the secondary. When you face such a defense, you need a precision offense like Peyton Manning's, or lot of time in the pocket like Big Ben to beat the extra man in coverage. When you cannot do both these (Rodgers is no Peyton Manning, and the O line of the Packers is horrible), you have to game-plan to cover these weaknesses. Look at the Patriots: they use repeated screen passes and draw plays to slow down the rush, helping their offensive line and also execute some quick passes to Wes Welker to keep the defensive backs from playing too deep, making the sudden deep strike very effective.

These have been issues all through the year. Another area where they need to improve, which was a glaring hole in the Bucs game, is calling enough running plays. In earlier games, the running game hardly produced anything (with the exception of the Browns game). So it was somewhat understandable when McCarthy went away from the run game back then. For the record, I think even that was a mistake. You need to maintain that balance between pass and run plays to be an effective offense. Or back to screen passes which are equivalent to run plays in terms of how defenses play the screen. Even if it is a run for no gain, you have to hand it off ever so often to keep the defense play honest and that will invariably open up long pass plays. Mix in a few play action fakes, and you have a potent offensive plan.

Dumb and Dumber ....

Not calling run plays against the Bucs was plain dumb and inexcusable. First, the Bucs never lead the game until late in the 4th quarter. So there was no need to move away from the run. Second, Grant and Green were successful running the ball. Just looking at stats, you will find they averaged over 5 yards a carry the entire game. Moreover, when you actually saw the game, they were breaking runs up the middle of the Bucs defense and once you establish that in a game, you have to be retarded to just not pound it every time (3rd and long will be the only exception).

Watching Mike McCarthy's play calling just drove me crazy. I almost threw the remote on to my TV once in the 3rd quarter. The sequence went like this: The Packers had the lead by 7 and Grant broke 3 runs in a row to get 2 consecutive first downs. What would a sane play-caller do next on first down? .....duh?!! But the genius mind of McCarthy thought he will pull a rabbit out of his hat and lined up his offense in shotgun with an empty back field. What happens next, incomplete, sack, incomplete....tada ..... time to punt.

That was not the only brilliant sequence master-minded by McCarthy. When the Packers got the ball in Bucs territory after a punt (need I say tremendous field position with a lead already in hand), the calls: pass deep (incomplete), pass to flat (incomplete), 3rd and long intermediate pass (incomplete). Bring on the punt unit!! This happened twice in Bucs territory in the first half. This is the NFL and you are playing pro-level competition (even if its the team with the worst record). Sub-standard play calling will not cut it. How in the world would you call just 27 rush plays (not counting QB sacks and scrambles) when it averages 5.2 yards a carry and throw a whopping 35 times (a meager 6.7 yards a pass attempt at less than 50% completion rate). Obviously, there are going to be games when your QB, as good as he may be, has a rough day. But its a crime when you make him throw 1.4 times more than you run when your running backs average 5+ yards a rush. This is just beyond any explanation..... beyond and spec of sanity.

Other correctable offenses

The Packers were not flawless in other facets of their game either. We have been through some of them time and again the past few weeks: the horrible O line, Aaron Rodgers holding on to the ball way too long. Another flaw which isn't talked about a lot is the special teams. The punt coverage has been bad, especially the last 2 weeks. Against the Bucs, after the Packs scored a TD in the 4th to go up 28-17, the kickoff coverage unit let the Bucs returner bring the ball back 83 yards, well into the Packers red-zone. That one play helped the Bucs grab all the momentum that the Packers just had. Talking about flaws in special teams, how can I not mention the mediocre punting efforts by Kapinos. Not to mention the punt formation team that let a Bucs player untouched to block a Kapinos punt, that was returned for a TD.

Other issues the Packers have to look into to improve long term are:
  • Aaron Kampman simply cannot play in coverage. Period. I am surprised why people don't just throw towards him when he is in coverage. They have to play him as a pass-rusher to use him effectively. If not, he is more a liability when in coverage. To be fair to him, it is not his fault. He is built to be a DE and not a LB where the Packers are playing him.
  • Let Al Harris and Charles Woodson do what they do best: play in press coverage. What this does is not only put them in positions they are most comfortable doing, but also makes available some extra bodies to stop the run or extra blitz-ers.
  • You have got to protect Aaron better: Either improved O line play, which is hard with current personnel or, I cannot say this enough, do more screen and draw plays to slow down the pass rush helping your O line.
  • Flexibility in game-plan!! Obviously the game plan for the Bucs was to throw, throw and then throw some more. But once you see you are able to run down their throat with ease, you should be able to adapt and change your game plan on the fly.
  • Get some injured bodies back. This, though, is out of the control of Packers. But some of those injured people: Jordy Nelson (WR), Jermicheal Finley (TE), Brandon Chillar (LB), Jason Spitz (C) and Derick Ward (S). At least 3 of these are potential starters and most of them are very much needed extra bodies for punt / kick return coverage. Also, evidently, Clifton and Tauscher are not recovered enough to play in games yet. Add Aaron Kampman to that list this week after the concussion he suffered during the Bucs game. Don't get me wrong, injuries are no excuses. All teams face these problems. But getting back some of these guys in coming weeks will help out the Packers a whole lot.
  • It is too early to call BJ Raji a bust. But his play at nose tackle has been poor. It again may be due to his leg injury, but almost all NFL players play when they are dinged up. Raji has to prove he was worth the 9th overall pick in the draft and worth all the money he was signed for. To add to the pressure, Clay Mathews Jr., the 27th overall pick has been a revelation at LB the last 3-4 weeks.
  • Mason Crosby cannot miss any more under 50 yard FGs. He did not against the Bucs, but has missed a whole bunch this season. At the NFL level , up to a 50 yard FG should be a gimme early in the season before the winter and cold winds set in.
  • The defensive play calling too can be better. Dom Capers seems to be reluctant in unleashing zone blitzes, a staple of his 3-4 defense, that can confuse opposing QBs. Especially against a rookie, you have to show him new looks and make him feel overwhelmed. It definitely is a risk, as you can be burned blitzing too many people, but you cannot be a dominant 3-4 defense without doing so.
Homers never lose hope

As hard it may be to fathom the Packers making the playoffs, I just cannot write them off. At least not yet. No doubt, there is no way they are going to make it the way they are playing. But with a few lucky breaks and a string of good fortune, they just may grab a wild card spot. Here is the rest of the Packers (4-4) schedule:
  • Nov 15th Dallas at home: winnable game, not if the Packers play like they have the last 2 weeks though. Marking it a loss for now
  • Nov 22nd: SF at home: very winnable especially since the 49ers are in shambles. Win
  • Nov 26th: at Detroit: Thanksgiving game, its fair to write it down as a win (but you never know after witnessing last week)
  • Dec 7th: Baltimore at home: This is a real tough one. The 2 things that might be working for the Packs for this game are the Ravens although potent have a .500 record, so who knows what their mindset will be in 4 weeks. And the game is at home, which is always an advantage. I am going to write this down as a loss for now. But the Packers do have a chance.
  • Dec 13th at Chicago: Again, a lot depends on how the Bears do the next few weeks. If they are in the running for the playoffs like the Packers, they will play hard. Still, I think the Packers will win unless the Bears secondary suddenly improves.
  • Dec 20th at Pittsburgh: Nothing more to be said. Loss.
  • Dec 27th Seattle at home: Should beat the seahawks who will not be in playoff reckoning. Win
  • Jan 3rd at Arizona: The Cardinals would have clinched their playoff spot and will be resting most of their starters. Packers should get a cheap win here.
So a fair prediction of the end of season record, as of today, is: 9-7. This could be enough to get the last wild card spot. Here is how I see the wild card spot get filled:

NFC wild card 1: The NFC East have the Eagles and Cowboys who are pretty good. If one of them wins that division, I assume the other will take the first wild card spot.

NFC wild card 2: The competition at the moment is between: Giants (5-4), Falcons (5-3), Packers (4-4), Bears (4-4) and a 3 teams at 3-5 (Seattle, SF and Carolina)

By no way do the Packers have the inside track to earn a playoff spot. But it is not out of hand, just yet. Even if they lose to the Cowboys this coming weekend. The falling off of the Giants and a few Falcon stumblings will help the cause. Hopefully the Packers can pull off a 2007 Giants (make the playoffs with a 10-6 record and go deep)!!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

NFL 2009: Week 9 Picks

Here is all that I think that was relevant from Week 8.

On to my picks......

Redskins (+10) at Falcons
The Falcons have lost two in a row and will want to get back to winning ways to have any chance of catching up with the Saints in their division. Who better to play against than the Redskins to do that?
My Pick: Falcons

Cardinals (+3) at Bears
The Cardinals go into the Meadowlands and hand the Giants a loss one week. The very next week, they get thrashed by the Panthers at home. Go Figure! Maybe they got complacent. Add to it the revenge factor pumping up the Panthers for this game. I think the Cardinals will be better prepared this week and Kurt Warner has enough weapons to exploit the Bears secondary.
My Pick: Cardinals

Ravens (-3) at Bengals
This is probably the Game of the Week. Earlier this season, Bengals stole one from Baltimore with a game-winning final Carson Palmer drive. The Ravens would like to avenge that in Cincinnati, but evidently their defense isn't as good as it was touted to be. And the biggest surprise of all: Cedric Benson is starting to run amok.
My Pick: Bengals

Texans (+9) at Colts
The Colts just scraped through against the 49ers last week. Manning was missing his receivers by a whisker. The diligent worker that he is, I am sure he will correct it and make up for the TD-less game he had last week. The Texans will have a hard time keeping up especially with no Owen Daniels to throw to.
My Pick: Colts

Dolphins (+10.5) at Patriots
The Dolphins had a great game the last time they were in Foxboro. But things will be different this time. There's going to be no eliment of surprise with the wild-cat and the Patriots have Brady under center instead of Matt Cassell. Still, I think the Dolphins do cover the spread.
My Pick: Patriots

Chiefs (+6.5) at Jaguars
A potential blacked out game, with David Gad against the Larry Johnson-less Chiefs. Does it get more exciting?? (Oh yeah...sarcasm!!)
My Pick: (coin toss....coin spinning.... lands heads ..... so Jaguars it is!) Jaguars

Panthers (+13.5) at Saints
You have to wonder what took the Panthers so long to figure that they should run the ball far more and reduce the total number of plays coming of throws from Jake Delhomme. They seem to have figured it out, but will they sustain the plan or go back to their throwing ways after their win against the Cardinals. Well it probably won't matter either way this week against the Saints.
My Pick: Saints

Lions (+10) at Seahawks
The Seahawks are decimated by injuries and are in shambles this season. The Lions too are trying to get healthy and compete at a higher level. But it's going to be hard for the Lions to keep it close up in Seattle.
My Pick: Seahawks

Chargers (4.5) at Giants
The Giants are on a skid. Their secondary is exposed, and their QB suddenly does not look like a 90+ million dollar man. The Chargers, on the other hand are in a hole behind the Broncos in their division, but if history has taught us something about Norv Turner's Chargers, they will be stronger the second half. Also, Shawn Merriman seems to be finding his feet, which will greatly help the San Diego defense.
My Pick: Chargers

Titans (+4) at 49ers
The 49ers managed to keep the Colts in check and help Peyton Manning TD-less. The Titans finally got their first win of the season last week, thanks to Chris Johnson's strong showing against the Jaguars and some level-headed play by Vince Young. But, there is a reason why Young was kept hidden behind Terry Collins for over a year. And the niners will do a better job stopping the run than the Jaguars did.
My Pick: 49ers

Cowboys (+3) at Eagles
Another one of those NFC East grudge matches. Well, all NFC East match ups are grudge games. aren't they? The Eagles seem to have exploded on offense with their fast play makers drafted the last couple of years. The Cowboys meanwhile have discovered a gem in Miles Austin. Wouldn't surprise me if this game turns into a shoot out. But I have 2 reasons to pick the Eagles here: Eagles at home and Romo going four games without an INT will be unreal (he already has 3 without an INT)
My Pick: Eagles

Steelers (-3) at Broncos
The Steelers have been in close games almost every week. But of late, their defense has been showing up and taking over games. I think that will continue this week against the Broncos. Gone are the days when the Broncos were unexpectedly sneaking up on people.
My Pick: Steelers

Packers (+9.5) at Bucs
Who are these Packers?? They sure are talented and young, but are they a legit contender this season? They are yet to beat a team with a winning record this season. You cannot really hold that against them because the 3 games against winning teams were: 2 against the Vikings (who are the real deal) and the Bengals (who are pretty good too). They have another week where they should take care of business against a win less team and then face a relatively tougher schedule with Dallas and SF coming up next. Those two games are what can make or break any wild card hopes they have.
My Pick: Packers

Last Week: 9-4
Year to date: 81-35

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Ron Paul Vs. Michael Moore (On Larry King Live)

Here's a clip of Congressman Ron Paul who was on Larry King Live last week. I believe he was called on the show to respond to some statement(s) from Michael Moore. Oh yeah, the very ultra-liberal hack who makes boatloads of his cash through the capitalist system of movie-making. I don't know why do people even take this guy seriously anyway??.

Ron Paul here touches a lot of topics starting with health care. He then talks about "Capitalism vs Corporatism", making his point that our economy is more Corporatist than Capitalist, and that is the root cause for a lot of problems we have today. He also touches on the following topics: lobbying's influence on legislation, our 1-party system, the illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Wall Street's Capture of Washington, the Federal Reserve, bailouts, liberty and the forgotten Constitution.

If you watch the entire clip (about 10 minutes), you will realize how much common sense this man makes. Why isn't this guy not in main-stream politics is beyond me. Imagine a President who not only has the right ideas, but also the gonads to do what he believes in, least bothered of what his party or his opposition thinks.

Bites from the clip:
  • "We have lost our faith and confidence and understanding in how free markets work," he said. "We turned it upside-down by saying that any time corporations get benefits, we call it capitalism and freedom, and it's corporatism. It's the military industrial complex. It's all the special interests."
  • "This is where Michael Moore gets it all wrong. He believes diligently in free markets because he believes in the First Amendment. He believes in making films. He doesn't believe in prior restraints. So, why should he condemn capitalism? He's condemning corporatism. I condemn it too. Special privileges for corporations is a big problem."
  • "I think I complain about it as much as he does, but I think I understand it differently. When a country embarks on deficit financing and inflation-ism, you wipe out the middle class and wealth is transferred from the poor and middle class to the rich. When we get into trouble, the corporations -- once again, who are in control -- they come for their bailout and they get the benefits and the little people don't."

Monday, November 2, 2009

The worst halloween hangover ever

Brett Favre comes into Lambeau wearing his No. 4 Jersey in Purple; in spite of all the boos, plays his best game at Lambeau since 2004/05. While the Packers offense is literally non-existent the first half, with not too much support from the defense and next to no support from the special teams. Hard to fathom a better recipe for disaster than that. End result: ruining realistic hopes of a Packer division title this season. Without doubt, the worst halloween hangover ever.

This post is not only to delineate how the game went down, but also reveal some of the emotional backlashes during and after the game, and to take a "glass half full" look at the remainder of the Packer season.

The love-fest begins.....

Right from the start, Brett Favre had a very emotional relationship with his fans. His ups and downs on the field are very well documented. He came across to football fans as a player who no matter what the situation of the game was, would play like he would in the backyard. He played with passion and heart. There was never a throw in his mind that he ever thought he could not make. That cost him and his team a lot, but it also brought joy and excitement to Packer fans when they worked. Very early in his career, this trait of his, took him to a pedestal of a legend and folk lore. But his personal life was what exposed the human side in him. His early addiction to Vicodin, his wife Deanna's fight with cancer and later, the death of his father, and other common-man problems made fans believe he was one of them. He was not some flawless idol or celebrity that had a perfect life. On the contrary, they could relate their lives to a man affected by life-altering day-to-day issues. This was what brought him close to the hearts of all football fans (exceptions: Bears and Vikings), not only Packer fans. No matter which team you supported, people were always rooting for Favre. Nothing was more evident of this than what happened on a Monday Night in 2003, the day after Brett's father passed away (video below). And remember, that was in front of the fanatic Raider-Nation:

"V" for Vendetta

Fans were emotionally invested in Brett, and their love for him seemed eternal. Turns out, that connection was going to be tested. Since early 2000s, Brett started flirting with the "R" word. But it was not until the 2005-06 season that people really thought it would happen. After the 2007-08 season, which ended for Brett and the Packers with a heart-breaking pick by No.4 in OT in the NFC championship game, things got flakier for Favre. The Packers were ever-so close to the Superbowl as they had been since 1997. But, although talented, they were the youngest team in the league (counting No.4 who was 38) and to Favre apparently not mature enough to sustain their 2007 season magic. So he decided to leave on a high and officially retired, for the first time that is. Within weeks after his first retirement, he had second thoughts about retirement. After some secret visits by Packer front office folks to Kiln, Mississippi, Favre still was not sure. Its important to note that back then, the Packers were ready to embrace him back with both arms, but Favre just could not make up his mind. Months later, he publicly revealed that he wanted to come back. But now, the Packers were not as receptive and relayed to Favre that they had "moved on". The reason for this decision was three-fold. First, they were tired of Favre's annual flirtation with retirement, impeding the off-season planning of team personnel. Second, they had Aaron Rodgers under contract for only another year after that. Although they liked what they saw in practice, they needed him to have a year-long audition before signing him up long term. The return of Favre meant Rodgers would be untested in game conditions and would have a tough decision when Rodgers becomes a free-agent a year later. Thirdly, as already mentioned, the Packers were the youngest team in the league and having a younger QB meant they could grow together. Bringing back Favre for a year meant loss of continuity after a year.

But this decision by Green Bay, drove Favre crazy. The emotional character that he is, he took this personal and held his grudge against the GM Ted Thompson. When this became apparent, the Packers tried to get Brett back to GB and try lure him into a lucrative deal for not playing. But by then Favre had made up his mind. He had to go to another team and stick it up to his old team. It is not clear if he had the Vikings in his mind back then, but the Packers sure thought he did. After a lot of drama and flip-flopping, the Packers traded Brett to the Jets with a clause which practically meant Jets couldn't trade him back to the Vikes or any of the NFC North teams. After a lofty year with the Jets, Favre decide to retire...... again. But this time, the Jets released him and he was free to go to any team. Joining the Vikings was a no-brainer to him. It was the same system he had been playing in for years at GB (the west coast offense) and he also had familiarity with the coaching staff up in Minnesota. And of course, there still was that urge inside him to teach Ted Thompson and the Packers a lesson. The Vikings had a solid team, with a great defense and a great running back in Adrian Peterson. The missing piece for their jigsaw was a reliable QB, and Favre more than fit that bill, bringing in play-making abilities to the table too.

Homecoming (Drama) Queen

The date: Nov 1st 2009. It is the day Favre had been waiting for for almost a year and a half for. In his mind, it was the day he can prove to the world that Ted Thompson and the Packers made a mistake of letting him go. He was stepping onto Lambeau field for the first time ever not wearing Green and Gold. To add insult to injury it turns out to be the hated Purple Jersey of the Vikings. Four weeks earlier, he already had the first part of his revenge, but to him this was even more important; he was coming back "home". An opportunity to show his beloved "fans" what they were missing on.

But in reality, the Packer's decision to let him go was not a hasty one. It was not personal like Favre might think it was. The Packers had this well thought out and deliberated before they made their call. The fact was that, as a veteran, Favre was not his best the last few years with the Packers (with the exception of the 2007 season). Obviously, age had something to do with it. But more importantly, Favre was playing with a whole bunch of younger players and had a tough time coping up with new ways in the locker room. He was their father's age and could no longer be the jokster that he loves to be. Now looking back, subconsciously, it affected his drive to play as a team. He felt he always had to put things on his shoulders and carry the team, forcing himself into bad decisions on the field costing him and the team. If the Packers had kept him, the same would have continued, and it wouldn't be this motivated, revenge driven Favre, who now has a chip on his shoulder, trying to prove he can still play. So the Packers are in effect not missing out on his "magic". Favre might have out-shined Aaron Rodgers this year, but Rodgers has a bright future ahead of him with tremendous upside, a potential future superstar in the league. He will mature with the rest of his young teammates and the intention is to give them a chance to potentially grow into a successful prosperous core of players for years to come. The Packers have sure put their young players in a position to do that under the leadership of Rodgers. Only time will tell if that plan comes to fruition.

That said, Favre, in spite of the grudge in his mind, had given us Packer fans years of excitement and joy. Unless he goes on to play a few more years and wins multiple championships here on, he will eventually retire as a Packer. He might be in Purple now, but in our hearts and deep inside his, he will always be a Packer. When he set foot onto Lambeau field on Sunday, short-sighted fans, and people with selective amnesia, decided to show their appreciation or rather lack there of. It felt so wrong to hear all those boos in the air. Here them for yourself:

But then..... fans will be fans. Right when I started hearing the boos, I had a feeling Packer fans were building themselves some bad karma, which evidently came true with the loss. And giving the drama queen another reason to tear up later.

The Xs and Os

To talk about some real football, what went wrong for the Packers? It's hard to find a single reason for their abysmal showing. To begin with, the offensive line although improved from their last meeting with the Vikings, was still a liability. Pass protection was one thing, but they could not even help a whole lot in the run game. Bulk of the blame for the lack of running yards should fall on the play calling and the RB Grant. It's hard to swallow that Aaron Rodgers was the leading rusher for the Packers with 57 yards. The O line still allowed 6 sacks, but this time around, they were mostly coverage sacks, where Rodgers had no one open, and held on to the ball too long, without running out of the pocket or throwing it away. Those sacks are on Rodgers more than his O line. But the O-line still did not keep Rodgers away from pressure even with no Viking Blitzes. Moreover, the play calling lacked vision and ideas. When the pass rush is hot, and no apparent running room, where were all the draw plays and screen plays? Nada. This one is on McCarthy and the game-planning as a whole. A combination of this and some inefficiency on the part of Rodgers held the Packers offense to a meager 47 yards in the first half. The first half turned out to be the worst 2 quarters played by Rodgers this year and possibly over his short career. Two Minutes into the 3rd Quarter, the score was 24-3 Vikes. Even thought the Packers pulled within 4 points of the Vikings later in the half, the lack of imagination in the play calling and the inability to execute plays in the first half was too deep a hole the Packers dug themselves into.

The Packer special teams was horrible, especially their kick return coverage was MIA. The Packers were a mammoth minus-154 yards in field position for the game, which is more than 1.5 times the length of the entire field. It is a tall order to overcome that against any opposition, let alone the Vikings. Percy Harvin had 261 total yards for the game, most of them coming off kick returns (One receiving TD and 2 returns setting up TDs). The short fields that the Vikings offense took control of helped them score faster and did not give the Packers defense much of a chance to hold them to 3 and outs. The Vikings kick returns None more damaging than his return after the Packers came to within 24-20 with all the momentum riding with them and the rookie just killed it all with a monster return deep into packer territory.

Angry Football Gods

Taking nothing away from the dominant performance of the Vikings, there were so many things that happened this game, which could have helped the Packers. To begin with, on the first scoring drive of the Vikings, they were in the red-zone, on 3rd down, Al Harris made a great play to stop a first down and make the Vikings go 3 and out. But then Johnny Jolly of the Packers made a bone-headed mistake, he got into a tussle with one of the Vikings and lost it for a second, head butting the Viking. That was an obvious 15 yard penalty, and instead of the Vikings lining up to kick a field goal, they were within the 10 yard line with a fist down. they went on to score a TD and grab the lead 7-3 and the early momentum. But for that play, the Packers would have tied it at 24-24 in the 3rd quarter, making it a whole new ball game than it was before.

Then there was the Percy Harvin TD. Favre threw about 30 yards deep to Harvin for the catch. It was between 3 packer defenders. Unfortunately for them, the 3 Packers tumbled onto one another completely missing the receiver. The tangled defenders could not stop Harvin from taking the ball to the house. Now, it cannot be said that the Vikings would not have scored a TD if Harvin was tackled at the spot of the catch, but it was a rare incident that went against the Packers.

There were a number of football plays too, that went against the interest of the Packers. I am reluctant to include them in the category of lucky/unlucky breaks, but if one or two of those had gone the Packers' way, the outcome might have been different. Like the play where, Nick Barnett manages t get a hand on the ball just when Favre released it and it went up in the air, but none of the 5 packers around it could not come up with the pick. Or the play before that, where the tipped pass goes in the air, and falls to the ground just short of a diving Nick Collins. Or the Favre TD pass to Berrian that sealed the deal, it was inches away from the reach of Barnett again. Of course a couple of plays went against the Vikings too, but the number of bad bounces against the Packers far outnumbered them.

Well, at the end of the day, would-a, could-a, should-a stories don't take you anywhere.

Looking into the crystal ball......

After the Vikings win, they now enjoy a 3.5 game cushion over the Packers and the Bears in the NFC North Division. Any realistic chances for both the teams to catch up on the Vikings was gone after this game, barring an unlikely Vikings collapse. The only hope now for the Packers is the wild-card race. At the moment, the teams competing for the 2 NFC wild card spots are Eagles (5-2), Giants (5-3), Bears (4-3), Packers (4-3) and Falcons (4-3). Still having an outside shot at it are the Panthers (3-4) and the 49ers (3-4). It is still rather early to analyze wild card standings, but its good to look where you stand at the moment.

The Packers have a chance of clinching a wild card spot only if they start get a string of victories together. They probably cannot afford to lose more than 2 more games to contend for a playoff spot. With their schedule including teams like the Ravens, Steelers, Cowboys etc, its a tall order to shoot for. To stand any chance of accomplishing that, the Packers have to play better. Set their Offensive Line straight, not only for pass protection, but also to help in run-blocking. They need a boost in special teams play, including better punting and kicking by Kapinos and Crosby. Game planning and play calling should be more spot on and efficient. On top of that, called plays should be executed in a crisp manner. We have seen glimpses of fine execution of the offense this season, but only in spots and not throughout a game. The defensive play calling has been decent enough, but individual players should pick up their level of play. Especially Cullen Jenkins, Aaron Kampman and Nick Collins. These guys used to be all over the ball the last couple season, but are having a hard time settling down in the new system. They also need to be coached better to avoid penalties, especially the pre-snap ones. And please no more dumb penalties.

Here's to hoping for a chance for the Packers to avenge the sweep with just one playoff win over Favre and the Vikings. Now wouldn't that be bitter-sweet?