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The Stretch Run

The Stretch Run




The Packers are thriving on reduced expectations as they enter the stretch run for the playoffs.






With three straight wins, not only have the Packers revived their playoff hopes. They’ve also become fun to watch again. Until the win over the Cowboys, this season was at times the football equivalent of fingernails on a chalkboard. High expectations had a lot to do with that. Unfortunately, those hopes were dashed when the Packers looked overmatched in both games against the Vikings, as Brett Favre dissected their defense with ease. The loss to Tampa Bay was probably a residual effect of all that.


And then, against the Cowboys, phase two of the 2009 season began.  Just like that, the offensive line stopped sucking and finally turned into the thoroughly average unit that we all knew they were capable of being. Jermichael Finley returned from his injury, which in turn caused Donald Lee to play better. Ryan Grant began to look more like the Ryan Grant of ’07. Even Greg Jennings had a good game somewhere in there. And of course the defense has hit its stride.


I wonder if having Favre and the Vikings in the rear view mirror has something to do with the improved attitude. With the second loss to the Vikings, it became evident that the Packers are a second-tier team at best, at least until further notice. They don’t have to worry about winning the division, a task that they were clearly not up to. Now all they have to do is win three out of their last five games, and they should make the playoffs. That’s a much more manageable goal.


If this had been the goal all along, the first half of the season would not have been so miserable. But we were right to expect bigger things. The coaches and players felt the same way.  But in a league where only three teams (Colts, Patriots, Steelers) are good from year to year, it’s hard to predict what’s going to happen with everyone else. 


The task at hand is pretty simple: find a way to win three games against Baltimore, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Seattle, and Arizona. Seattle is the only bad team in the bunch, and even they are more dangerous than some of the patsies the Packers have faced this year (including Tampa Bay, the patsy that beat them). The Bears are in decline, but with Lovie Smith at the helm, they are always at their best against the Packers.


I actually think that the “easiest” game to win will be the one at Arizona, in the final week, as the Cardinals quite possibly will have nothing to play for. They are three games behind the Vikings for a shot at a first-round bye and two games ahead of the 49ers in their division. The rest of the way, we should be rooting against the 49ers and cheering for the Cardinals until they play the Packers.


If the Packers can beat the Seahawks and Cardinals, they will need to find one win against the Ravens, Bears, and Steelers in order to reach the 10-6 mark. They should be able to do that. If they make the playoffs, they’ll have to play on the road, but let’s face it, Lambeau Field has given no advantage to the Packers in years anyway. Like it or not, this team seems to thrive on reduced expectations. They could prove to be a worthy wild card team. A playoff game with the Packers as underdog, in another team’s stadium, could be a lot of fun to watch. And fun is what it’s all about, isn’t it? 

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (12) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

PackersRS's picture

"And fun is what it’s all about, isn’t it? "
Actually, winning is all that matters. If it wasn't why would they keep score?

But all in all, this was a good piece, though a little bit negative. But I agree with what you said, Greg C...

Greg C.'s picture

Ah, but winning is fun! And losing sucks. I know what you mean, though. We all take our football very seriously around here.

Asshalo's picture

Good perspective on being out of the divisional race. It should also be noted after the Tampa Bay loss, the majority of packer nation was loudly calling for drastic changes in the organization. I have to believe that factored into the staff and the player's emotional response. It was a nice gesture giving McCarthy the game ball after the Dallas game, but the packer players liking their coaches is of little concern to me (See Lombardi, Holmgren).

The Chicago game is very important. Tie-breakers are decided by head-to-head first and then divisional record, then conference record. Since we don't play Phili, NYG or ATL, Chicago should be of the upmost importance.

All of NYG's remain games are against NFC opponents, with their next three in the division (DAL, PHILI and WASH). ATL plays Phili (win-win for GB), NO and then three winnable games.

PackersRS's picture

Yeah, I have a thesis that McCarthy seems more like a friend to the players, and that's why they like him.

But he should appear more like a father figure, so that they would respect him.

I'm not saying that they don't respect him, but you know what I mean.

I don't think there's an easy formula for sucess, it depends on the roster you have, and how thy react to it.

But if MMs approach isn't working, we need to find one that does. And if it is working, we need to stick with it...

Greg C.'s picture

"The Chicago game is very important. Tie-breakers are decided by head-to-head first and then divisional record, then conference record. Since we don’t play Phili, NYG or ATL, Chicago should be of the upmost importance."

Head-to-head won't come into play for the wild card, and the second tie breaker for wild cards is conference record. So the Chicago game is no more important than the games against Seattle and Arizona.

Asshalo's picture

I think I was looking at division.

Stan's picture

It's difficult to get an accurate picture of where the Packers are at. I do agree that with the insanity of "Favre at Lambeau" finally over the Packers can begin to look at winning games and not proving themselves to be world beaters.

Monday night's the big test as the Ravens look hungry. However they're a lot like us, up-and-down, you don't know how they'll perform, to me it's a winnable game. I honestly think the Steelers are beatable as well, they have been wildly inconsistent. The game that could be the trap game is Chicago. They look bad, but as you say, Lovie would like nothing better than to see his team get THIS win.

Seahawks are beatable, and I would be surprised if they challenged us. Cardinals should get their division and as such won't care about beating us.

Things we need to progress further: I want to see our Special Teams get infinitely better. If not I can see us scraping into the playoffs (if at all). I would love Brad Jones to develop into a pass rusher so we're not solely reliant on Mathews off the edge. I want Jarett Bush to not fuck up and just do a reasonable job at nickel. I would like to see more of Raji, he's getting confident out there. I want to see a long drive then a TD, not a FG. And I want Mason Crosby to get his kicking mojo back.

Stan out, peace y'all

Asshalo's picture

Not sure Crosby ever really had it

Greg C.'s picture

The Steelers are beatable if they don't have Polomalu. If he's healthy, they are very tough to beat. I think the most likely losses will be to the Steelers and Bears.

PackersRS's picture

I have the exact same concept. Steelers + Polamalu = dominant D. Steelers - Polamalu = very good but very beatable D.

PackerMax's picture

I agree; I like the idea of being the underdog. This year's team has been playing the best in that role. Let's enjoy the rest of the season - it should be good.

FITZCORE1252's picture

"And fun is what it’s all about, isn’t it? "



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"A school without football is in danger of deteriorating into a medieval study hall. "
"The Bears still suck!"
"I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle – victorious."