Poor NBC. They had such a good thing going with their new NFL Sunday Night Football package and the whole ‘flexible scheduling’ thing. Granted the games didn’t always live up to the hype (the Saints/Cowboys blowout, for example), but at least they were all hype-worthy, unlike some of the yawners ABC’s Monday Night Football was accustomed to having.
Then came week 17. There are plenty of interesting games on the schedule this week, but since they all rely on the outcome of another game to determine whether they have playoff implications or not, NBC was forced to choose among a bunch of matchups that may be also-rans by primetime.
Makes sense, then, that they chose Green Bay at Chicago. The network gets the oldest league rivalry, two of the league’s most popular teams (including the one that plays in the #3 TV market), and, even if the game is a blowout, there are plenty of issues for John Madden and Al Michaels to pontificate at length about: Is this Favre’s last game? (Barring injury, it won’t be.) Can the Bears, despite a weakening defense and erratic quarterback play, go far in the playoffs? (No, they can’t.)
But will the game matter? Well, let me see if I can get this straight. Here’s the easiest road for the Packers if they want to extend their season:
A. On Saturday night, the Redskins beat the Giants.
B. On Sunday afternoon, the Vikings beat the Rams. (Yes, Packer fans, you have to root for the Purple. It’s painful, but you have to try.)
C. The Packers win on Sunday night.
But wait, I guess that the Vikings/Rams game won’t matter if the Packers win, the Giants lose, and Carolina beats the Saints. Or if the Packers win, the Giants lose, and Atlanta beats the Eagles.
The constant thread appears to be that the Giants have to lose. But there is a bizarre strength-of-schedule scenario that could send the Packers to the playoffs if they beat the Bears and the Giants beat the Redskins: For this to come into play, Arizona would have to beat San Diego, Detroit would have to beat Dallas, Miami would have to beat Indianapolis (what?), Minnesota would have to beat St. Louis, San Francisco would have to beat Denver, Carolina would have to lose to New Orleans, Houston would have to lose to Cleveland (what?), and Tampa Bay would have to beat Seattle. Oh, and I think Dustin “Screech” Diamond has to win a Nobel Prize for Medicine.
Ah, it’s just easier to hope the Giants lose. Which, luckily for the Packers, is very likely considering the Giants are in complete freefall mode, having lost six of their last seven games. But of course the Packers have to win. And, despite having clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, the Bears plan to play their starters. Remember last time the Bears and Packers played their starters, the Bears won by 26 points. At Lambeau. Sure, the Bears have cooled a bit since then and the Packers have improved, but anyone who has witnessed the Packers desperately trying to lose the last two weeks to the two worst teams not only in the NFC North but in the entire league can’t be too confident of their chances to knock off the Bears in Chicago. But by gametime it might not matter. Certainly NBC — not to mention Packer faithful — hope that it does. Prediction: Bears 20, Packers 7.
What will unquestionably matter — unless your feel that none of the Bowl games matter except the Championship Game — is Monday’s Capital One Bowl between Number 12 Arkansas and Number 6 Wisconsin. I’m most interested to see which running back — The Razorbacks’ Heisman Trophy runner-up Darren McFadden or the Badgers’ Big Ten freshman of the year P.J. Hill — has the bigger game. I’m betting that the Badgers defense will be more effective in shutting down McFadden. If that prediction holds, and given the clear advantage that Wisconsin has at quarterback — John Stocco is back under center while Arkansas rotates between the underwhelming Casey Dick and Mitch Mustain — it might be a very good day for the Badgers and their fans. Prediction: Wisconsin 38, Arkansas 20.
Before I get out of here to enjoy the holiday weekend, I wanted to send a thank you to Aras Baskauskas, who most of you probably remember as the winner of last year’s Survivor: Exile Island. Turns out that Aras took his Survivor winnings and started a company called Tundra Gear, which produces great-looking (and very warm) Russian winter hats with officially licensed college and NFL logo pins. Aras read my blog and sent me a hat, which I received just in time to show off to my family at Christmas. Everyone was very impressed by the headgear (did I mention it was warm and I was in Minnesota?) and wanted to know where they could get their own. Well, I told them and I’ll tell you. Check out www.tundragear.com for all the details. And thanks again to Aras. (Now if he could only send me an autographed picture of that season’s runner-up Danielle . . .)
Happy New Year. Enjoy the Bowl Games and the last weekend of the NFL. See you in 07.