Archive for October, 2007

Packers and Why We Need To Eliminate Divisions and Conferences
October 31, 2007

Here we are again talking about my preseason Packer picks. See, I’m beginning to regret that I keep dredging these up. Bear in mind these picks were made back before most of us realized how good the Packers were going to be or how average the Broncos were going to be.

So, going with the thought that most teams have one really bad loss per year, I tagged this Denver game for the Packers bad loss and said the Pack would lose 42-21. Ouch. But faithful viewers of C3K Live with Dan Smith know that I said on Monday morning that the Packers would win the game. So it’s not like I haven’t been paying attention and adopting, adapting, and improving what I knew or what I thought I knew back before the season started.

Anyway, the Packers are now 6-1. I thought they’d be 4-3 at this point.

I like that the Packers, and particularly Brett Favre, are modest about this great start. Favre is consistently saying at press conferences that the team has to improve and that he doesn’t know how well the team will do the rest of the way. Obviously he is saying these things not only because he probably believes them but also to keep his young teammates focused and aware that challenges lie ahead. He knows that some teams — like the Minnesota Vikings — can start fast but fade quickly. (Of course, now the Vikings start mediocre and fade to awful.) But it’s a good strategy. The only negative is that it leaves the national media underselling the Packers while they lap up like my dog laps up bacon grease another team with the same record, the Dallas Cowboys.

Hear me now and believe me later: The Packers are better than the Cowboys. Sure, they don’t have a running game — and sorry, but I don’t believe Ryan Grant as the next big thing — but they’ve got a better defense, a better quarterback, and better receivers. Plus Tony Romo has recently been linked to Britney Spears, who is toxic enough to bring down that entire franchise if she starts hanging around Texas Stadium.

OK, now I’m going to go off on a tangent but please stick with me. We just finished a very blah World Series that was swept by the American League’s Boston Red Sox. A few months back we had an excruciatingly bland NBA finals that was swept by the Western Conference’s San Antonio Spurs. Most people would argue that the best three or four teams in the NFL right now are in the AFC; most fans are probably more excited about this weekend’s game between New England and Indianapolis than they will be about the eventual Super Bowl matchup. In the NHL, you have . . . oh who am I kidding, I don’t know what the hell’s going on with professional hockey. You’ll have to read Barry Melrose to find that out.

Anyway, the point here is that obvious discrepancies between leagues/conferences exist in the most popular professional sports. And this is not a new development; it’s been going on for quite some time. The simple fact is that the ALCS, AFC Championship, and Western Conference Finals are consistently more competitive and more exciting than the eventual championship game or series. (Yeah, I know, the Cardinals beat the Tigers in last year’s World Series. But that has been the exception to the rule.)

Here’s how you fix the problem. You do away with conferences, leagues, and divisions. I know, a radical notion, but lots of ideas that seem crazy at first make more sense the longer you think about it (like Jeff George playing for the Vikings; he would immediately be better than half of the starters playing right now).

Here’s how it works: In every sport, you have one — just one — standing or poll or whatever you want to call it. The team with the best record is on the top, the team with the worst record is on the bottom. Tiebreaker is point differential (points scored versus points allowed).

Too complicated? It’s not too complicated to follow the Top 25 in college football, and each sport’s poll or standing would be only marginally longer. You lose divisional rivalries? Who says the Red Sox and Yankees can’t still play each other? Or the Bears and Packers? But then you say, yeah, but would the Packers and Bears only play once a year? Does Ohio State and Michigan only playing once a year make it less special? No, it makes it a much bigger game. Rivalries aren’t unique to divisions anyway; look at the Pats-Colts or Lakers-Celtics. Anyway, there’s more lousy games that would be lost than good games anyway — you think anybody wants to see Jets/Dolphins TWICE each year? It’s like going through two vasectomies.

Here’s how the playoffs would work. The best teams get in, period. No more mediocre division getting an undeserving team in. And if the best four teams in baseball are from the same former division, then that’s who gets in. Shouldn’t the postseason be about the best competing against the best?

Baseball playoffs: Best six get in. The best eight teams get in. Team eight plays team one. Team seven plays team two and so on. Football: Best twelve get in. Top four get a first-round bye. In the wild-card round, team five plays team twelve, team six plays team eleven, and so on. If the seedings hold, you’re left with the best two teams playing for the championship. And that’s what it’s all about.

I know, it sounds crazy, but let it sink it. It’s an idea whose time has come.


Badger Commentary Again
October 31, 2007

Blogger’s note: OK, I meant to post this Monday. Sorry for the delay.

MADISON, Wis. — Since Saturday’s Indiana/Wisconsin football game wasn’t only the Badgers’ homecoming game but also fell on Madison’s Freakfest weekend, many fans attended the 33-3 Wisconsin victory in disguise.

(The Big Ten Network spent much time ogling over these fans, especially since the Badgers provided the fledgling network with a second straight deadly dull blowout game.)

Oddly enough, it seemed as if the players on the field got into the Halloween spirit as well, as many chose not to show up as themselves.

The Indiana offense, which had been advertised as a powerful unit that would test the Badgers with their tricky spread offense and their big-time playmakers, came disguised as a group of fumbling, bumbling, mistake-prone, ineffective do-nothings. The offensive managed only three points and 258 yards while turning the ball over a very scary five times. Powerful offense? More like powerfully offensive.

Indiana wide receiver James Hardy, who at six-foot-seven is purported to be the Big Ten’s version of Randy Moss, instead came disguised as the Big Ten’s version of Randy Travis. Hardy, who came in averaging nearly 100 yards a game receiving and was the only receiver in college football to have scored a touchdown in every game, was horrible. He finished with four catches for 17 yards, but much more damaging to his team were his lost fumble and deadly holding penalty — both came in the third quarter when Indiana was gaining a little momentum; Hardy’s penalty wiped out a 84-yard touchdown run that would have cut Wisconsin’s lead to 17-10.

Indiana’s quarterback Kellen Lewis continued his two-week masquerade as a member of the
Indiana Hoosiers when most signs point to him being a ringer for the opposing team — last week against Penn State he fumbled the ball three times, while against Wisconsin he threw two picks and lost a fumble. Moreover, he completed 17 passes for only 113 yards, a laughable average of 3.4 yards per pass completion.

Not to be outdone in their own stadium in their own city that practically invented Halloween, the Badgers pulled out some deceiving costumes of their own. Most obvious was the aggressive, ball-hawking defensive unit that showed up dressed as our Wisconsin Badgers.

Sure, the Badgers had shut down Northern Illinois last week, but Indiana is not only a conference opponent, it’s a conference opponent with the second-best offense in the Big Ten, scoring on average 35.4 points a game. The Badgers played nearly flawless defense all afternoon, whether forcing turnovers, making open-field tackles, stuffing the run, or blanketing receivers. It’s worth noting that the only three points the Hoosiers scored came after a Tyler Donovan interception. Unquestionably, especially given the quality of the opponent, the finest defensive performance of the year. Special mention to linebacker Jonathan Casillas for his 11 tackles and Jack Ikegwuonu for shutting down James Hardy.

Unfortunately, the Badgers threw in some tricks along with their treats: Certainly that offense that played for much of the second and third quarters was some kind of sick trick played on the hometown fans. After the Badgers scored on three of their first four possessions to take a 17-0 lead early in the second quarter, the Badgers largely played dead on that side of the ball, as six straight possessions ended with only 111 yards, no points, an interception, and a fumble. For this stretch, the Badgers’ offense was more frightening than any of the “Nightmare On Elm Street” movies (especially the mesmerizingly bad second one. You know, the one with the exploding bird).

Also handing out his fair share of tricks was quarterback Tyler Donovan, who continued his recent struggles Saturday. Certainly his stats weren’t terrible — 12 of 21 for 144 yards — but he missed many big opportunities with errant throws. Also, his sole interception was not only a terrible throw, but it came in Indiana’s end zone, led to an Indiana field goal, and helped to give the Hoosiers (albeit short-lived) momentum. Oh, and he also lost a fumble.

Again Donovan seemed more comfortable running the ball — which he did effectively — but the Badgers are going to need his passing attack in the next two weeks against the very scary (no irony this time) No. 1 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes and the resurgent Michigan Wolverines.

Of course, the biggest trick played on the Badgers on Saturday was P.J. Hill’s injury that forced him out of the game after his 1-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. Fortunately, this was a home game, and the Badgers had Lance Smith at their disposal. Also fortunate is the reported extent of Hill’s injury, which head coach Bret Bielema referred to after the game as a “bruise.” Bielema also hinted that Hill could have returned in the second half, but the (wise) decision was made to keep him out given the circumstances of the game and Smith’s productivity.

The Badgers don’t want to go to Columbus next Saturday without being able to rely on Hill to carry the ball about 25 times. Even with Hill at his best, even with Donovan cutting down on his mistakes, even with the defense continuing its recent improvement, beating Ohio State is going to be blood-curdlingly difficult. But this year, which will surely go down as one of the least predictable college football seasons in quite some time, it somehow seems possible.

Forget whatever the rich people down the block are handing out this Halloween — a Badger win at Ohio Stadium would undoubtedly be this season’s biggest treat of all.

No Packers? No Problem with the Sunday Ticket
October 22, 2007

Even though the Packers had a bye this week, there was plenty of NFL football to be had on Sunday. And with the NFL Sunday Ticket, I was able to see it all. Here’s some quick takes:

Baltimore at Buffalo: Big revenge game for former Bills RB Willis McGahee. Not exactly the excitement of TO returning to Philadelphia to play against the Eagles. Boring game with two boring teams. No surprise that the team with the most field goals won.

Tampa Bay at Detroit: Up is down. Black is white. Day is night. The Lions are 4-2. Jeff Garcia is still bald. Good for him.

New England at Miami: Miami is 0-7. Miami loses Ronnie Brown to a knee injury. Miami has to travel to London for their next game. If the Dolphins were in a prize fight, the ref would have stopped it by now.

Atlanta at New Orleans: The fact that the Saints had to come from behind at home to beat the Falcons says a lot about the Saints. It basically says they stink more than John Candy’s film career.

San Francisco at New York Giants: I dropped the Giants defense from my fantasy team way too early. And I’m not buying Eli Manning as a quality quarterback any more than I’m buying that new ESPN show E:60. But more about that later.

Arizona at Washington: Hear me now and believe me later: John Mellencamp will win an Oscar before Arizona posts a winning season.

Tennessee at Houston: Ahman Green racks up 39 yards on 11 carries. I haven’t seen stellar numbers like that since . . . the last time Brandon Jackson played. And at least the Packers saved some money.

New York Jets at Cincinnati: Hear me now and believe me later: Britney Spears will win an Oscar before the Jets post a winning season.

Kansas City at Oakland: Chiefs beat the Raiders for the ninth straight time. Sounds impressive until you consider we’re talking about the Raiders. Kind of like me beating my son at Candy Land nine straight times. OK, he usually beats me. But I’m getting better. It’s that damn gingerbread. That’s always my downfall.

Minnesota at Dallas: Tavaris Jackson stinks. End of story.

Chicago at Philadelphia: Two disappointing teams in a disappointingly irrelevant game. Rex Grossman watched it while working his shift at the Red Roof Inn.

St. Louis at Seattle: Hey, the Rams lost. Oh, and the sun came up.

Pittsburgh at Denver: Didn’t watch it. I was watching baseball. I can’t believe the Indians blew it. Red Sox in seven. The Rockies have had nothing to do for a week besides follow this whole Ellen DeGeneres dog story. And rumor has it Clint Hurdle is taking it very hard. He’s a softie.

Badger Commentary
October 22, 2007

Blogger’s Note: For the 2007 season, I have been posting day-of commentaries for all of the Wisconsin Badger football games. It struck me that people who regularly read this blog might not know that I’m doing this, so I decided to repost the rest of them here. This is this week’s entry on Wisconsin’s close 44-3 victory over Northern Illinois.

MADISON, Wis. — Following the first losing streak of his young tenure — and one of the worst Badger performances in recent memory — Badger head football coach Bret Bielema worked overtime stressing to his rattled players the importance of playing with passion and playing with a sense of fun, traits that had been missing not only during those two losses but for much of the season.

Bielema even distributed to his team red wristbands that read “Play Ball,” believing that the cute bracelets would serve as motivation for his wayward squad.

And with quarterback Tyler Donovan struggling recently — to the tune of three straight games with two interceptions — Bielema emphatically declared Saturday’s game against MAC opponent Northern Illinois to be all about the return of the Badger power running game.

This bizarre combination of football basics and fashion accessories, this odd channeling of both Bobby Bowden and Bob Mackie, allows Bielema I guess to take a lion’s share of the credit for Saturday’s blowout beatdown of NIU. And I don’t blame Bielema for wanting to get a little adulation after coming under heavy fire for the first time in his young career for how his team has performed lately.

But I know the real reason Bucky was able to completely dominate on Saturday and enjoy by far its easiest victory of the season, and it had nothing to do with any words Bielema said or any complimentary trinkets Bielema dispersed.

The Badgers played Northern Illinois.

Coming into Saturday’s game, the Huskies were, at 1-6, the laughing stock of the Mid-American Conference, which is not exactly the most storied group of football programs in the nation. Northern Illinois ranked last in the conference in offense with a paltry average of 19 points a game. Some of their considerable struggles this season have to be attributed to injuries, which have reached catastrophic levels with eight players out for the season and more than thirty players total having missed at least one game due to injury. (The loss of running back Ricky Crider during Saturday’s kickoff was cruelly indicative of their season.)

In short, Northern Illinois was the perfect team coming at the perfect time in the schedule for Wisconsin. The Badgers, not nearly as good as their early season rankings suggested but also not nearly as bad as their performance against Penn State indicated, were looking for a team to whip.

They whipped Northern Illinois to the tune of 44-3.

The whipping was at first a thing of beauty. On the opening drive, PJ Hill pounded the ball like Bielema said he would. Fullback Chris Pressley caught his first career pass. More significantly, receiver Paul Hubbard hauled in his first reception since being injured September 8 in Las Vegas. And Tyler Donovan hit Garrett Graham for a beautiful 25-yard touchdown. (The throw would be Donovan’s longest of the day.)

Even better was the second Wisconsin drive, a single-play, 13-second drive that consisted solely of PJ Hill breaking tackles and then spinning free for a 72-yard touchdown scamper. The run was Hill’s longest ever and Wisconsin’s fastest score of the season.

As the first half progressed, the whipping got nastier. Wisconsin’s defense, sensing perhaps that they were for the first time this year playing a team that had absolutely no life in them, repeatedly swarmed the Huskies. Though the entire defense played well, Deandre Levy and especially Allen Langford seemed to be in on nearly every tackle. Cornerback Shane Carter played near-perfect coverage, impressively snagging two interceptions. It was Carter who took perhaps the Huskies’ best hit of the game, when with less than one minute left in the first half, tight end Brandon Beal delivered a bone-crunching blow at the end of Carter’s first interception return. The problem was that the hit came long after Carter was out of bounds, a stupid play borne undoubtedly out of the frustration and embarrassment at the way the Badgers were beating the Huskies in the first half.

How bad was the whipping after 30 minutes of play? The Badgers had 282 yards to the Huskies’ 31, including a disparity in rushing yards of 211 to 13. The Badgers held the ball for 20 minutes. The Huskies’ initial first down came on a drive that started with 1:29 left in the half, the same drive that saw Carter grab that first interception. The Badgers scored 31 points while shutting out Northern Illinois.

As the second half progressed, the whipping became too much for many Badger fans and the stands started to empty. (Although my wife suggested that many of the fans that left were simply uncontrollably inspired by offensive lineman Kenny Jones’s lovely crooning of “Afternoon Delight” during the third-quarter “Ask the Badgers” segment. Jones was deemed by most of his teammates as the Badgers’ best singer, which he proved with a snippet of the Starland Vocal Band classic.)

For those who stayed to see the entire game, they saw an overwhelming Badger victory, most importantly in the phases that Bielema and the coaching staff had stressed: The Badgers ran for a whopping 331 yards and their defense allowed an incredibly stingy negative 13 yards on the ground, the second-best rushing defensive performance in school history and the best since 1951. And this dominance came against a program boasting the nation’s ninth-leading rusher in Justin Anderson. He finished with 14 yards on 13 carries.

In total, Wisconsin outgained the Huskies 431 yards to 99. Bielema also likes to emphasize time of possession: The Badgers were not surprisingly the clear winners in that category as well, holding the ball for nearly forty minutes. It was the Huskies’ worst loss in nearly 10 years.

Are there any negatives to take away from such an overpowering win? Well, unfortunately, yes. While the victory undoubtedly did much for the confidence of much of the team, that confidence boost probably didn’t translate to the quarterback: Apart from that first score, Tyler Donovan didn’t look very sharp, completing in total only 11 of 19 passes for 91 yards with another interception. Two of those incompletions were actually drops by receiver Kyle Jefferson, including a perfect strike by Donovan that Jefferson dropped in the end zone in the second quarter. After being Wisconsin’s best player last week, Jefferson didn’t play well Saturday and finished with only two catches for nine yards. Jefferson will need to be more consistent in the weeks to come.

More mystifying than Jefferson’s poor play was coach Bielema’s decision to leave several starters in the game, including Tyler Donovan and tight end Travis Beckum, well into the fourth quarter with the Badgers up by 38 points. You’d think playing a banged-up team such as Northern Illinois would remind Bielema how quickly injuries can decimate a team; Bielema is fortunate neither Donovan nor Beckum got hurt when they had no business being on the field.

The confidence the Badgers gained Saturday should carry them to another victory next week when they play Indiana at home. Indiana’s two lone conference wins have come against Iowa and Minnesota, the worst teams in the Big Ten. After beating the Hoosiers, the Badgers face back-to-back games against No. 1 Ohio State and the resurgent Michigan Wolverines. As enjoyable and necessary Saturday’s win against Northern Illinois was, Bielema and the Badgers know that they’ll need more than a few motivating words and a bracelet to survive those games.

Packers/Redskins And More
October 15, 2007

Greetings and welcome to another blog, the reading of which is probably the highlight of your day. Unless you are lucky enough to have a TV. Or access to the Internet. Or some 1970s issues of Cracked magazine that you found in a neighbor’s dumpster. Quick story: One day when I was living in Chicago (where I moved after graduating from the UW), I found a bunch of Rolling Stone magazines in the dumpster of my apartment building. That killed a Saturday afternoon. Back in the day, I couldn’t get enough information on Blind Melon.

Reading coffee-stained (I hope that was coffee) articles about Shannon Hoon seems like an idyllic way to spend a day compared to watching Sunday’s Packers/Redskins game. Similar in some respects to the opener against the Eagles in that the Packers mostly just had to capitalize on the other team’s mistakes to win, it was indeed the very embodiment of “winning ugly.”

But capitalizing on the mistakes of others and winning ugly sure beats making the mistakes yourself and losing ugly, so Packer fans will obviously take the Redskins game over that Sunday night debacle from a week ago.

But given that the Packers are a gaudy 5-1 and that any complaining seems on some level to be sort of ridiculous, there is room for concern. The offense has very much cooled off in the last two weeks: Since halftime of the Bears game, the Packers have managed only 323 yards of offense and 13 offensive points. Brett Favre has thrown four interceptions since throwing his last touchdown and is struggling to throw the long ball. And the absence of a running game is becoming more of a liability for this team: Teams are starting to completely — completely — discredit the Packers’ ability to run and are starting to focus more on shutting down the short passing game. It’s starting to work, which is troubling. NFL offenses can’t survive when they do only one thing — especially a very specific thing — right.

On the other hand, the defense is still playing well. And even when something begins to go poorly — like the loose coverage and lack of attention paid to Washington TE Chris Cooley in the first half of Sunday’s game — the defense seems able to adapt.

Anyway, the Packers go into their bye week with many more positives than negatives. Things look even rosier when you compare them to their competition. Who’s going to rise up to challenge them in the NFC North? The Lions? Nah, the defense stinks. The Vikings? Nah, not until they get a decent quarterback. The Bears? Nah, Cedric Benson is horrible and so is — and I can barely believe I’m saying this — that defense. The competition doesn’t look that much fiercer in the NFC even outside of their division: Dallas’s defense is porous, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have injury problems, and the Carolina Panthers have a quarterback who is old enough to get a Hoveround for little or no out-of-pocket expense. The Packers will be playing in January at Lambeau Field.

Oh, and by the way, I did pick the Packers to win this game in my preseason column. That makes me 3-3 for individual games but only one game off on the record (I said 4-2 into the bye week).

Elsewhere, don’t you get sick of ESPN pimping their Monday night games, even when they stink? Tonight’s game between the Giants and Falcons is a real stinker, a game that FOX would dump on its worst announcing team, like Ron Pitts and Tony Boselli. Yet ESPN wants us to believe that simply because it’s Monday Night Football, that it’s a big deal. Didn’t work Sunday night for NBC and that awful Saints/Seahawks matchup (big numbers for ABC) and it won’t work tonight. I’ll be watching baseball.

Speaking of baseball, I’ve been waiting for what seems like weeks for the wheels to fall off the Colorado Rockies bus. I just didn’t think they could sustain their near perfect ways for this long. Well, I give up. They will win tonight and complete the sweep of the Diamondbacks, who I thought would win this series in seven games. The Rockies have had great pitching, unbelievable defense, and remarkably timely hitting. But I’m not willing to concede the World Series championship to them just yet. While I think the series will be very competitive, I still have to believe the Rockies’ magic will fade against either Cleveland or Boston. But I also thought that the whole cell phone thing was a fad too, so what do I know?

Packers/Bears Disaster, Baseball, Frank TV
October 10, 2007

OK, if you’re still with me after I last week declared a Yankees/Phillies World Series, then thank you, thank you, thank you. I obviously don’t deserve your support, but I appreciate it nonetheless.

In my defense of the Yankees, I did say that the Yankees and Indians were the two best teams standing and whichever one came out of that series was going to win the whole thing. I still believe that. I just happened to pick the wrong team. Really, though, the Yankees pitching was horrible. Well, Wang was horrible. A series ERA of 19.06. That’s bad. I don’t believe that Joe Torre deserves to be fired, but Wang should not have been allowed to start game four after he massively stank in game one. I would have started Mariano Rivera before Wang. I would have started Geraldo Rivera before Wang.

As for the Phillies, I guess I didn’t respect the Rockies enough. Simple as that. So now TBS gets a Colorado/Arizona series which is an incredibly hard sell for anyone but baseball geeks. I say it’s karma for shoving those incredibly lame Frank TV ads down their viewers’ throats.

Producers of those Frank TV ad promos, listen up: There are three ways an impression is funny. An impression is funny if it stinks. I can’t think of a better example right now than Kramer saying “not bloody likely” in an accent that was supposed to be Cockney but was just loud. An impression is funny if the person being impersonated is put into a bizarre circumstance, a comedic device that the great SCTV show excelled at (and yes, that was a shameless plug for my book: Buy it now.). An impression is funny if the person being impersonated is made to say things that the real person would never in a million years say. I’m thinking Phil Hartman as Frank Sinatra in “The Sinatra Group” sketch: “Put a bag over it and do your business.”

An impression is NOT funny if the impressionist just repeats lines the real person would say: Frank Caliendo as John Madden talking about turduckens is not funny because that’s something the real John Madden has talked about. So it’s not a piece of humor, it’s a reference, one that requires no creativity to write. And it’s not funny, any more so than John Madden is funny. And the genius who decided to run those unfunny spots every six minutes deserves to be demoted to writing Saved By The Bell promos. Because I can virtually guarantee that Frank TV — more than a month before it premieres — is the most hated TV show on the planet.

OK, how did this blog go so wrong? Actually John Madden — who I really respect, along with Al Michaels, as a broadcaster — is a good segue to discussing this week’s Packers/Bears game. What the hell happened there? Here’s the crux of what I wrote in my preseason prediction of the Packers winning the game 24-21: Cedric Benson stinks. Check. Teams that lose the Super Bowl don’t make it back next year. Too early to tell, but looks about right. Rex Grossman won’t improve. Obvious check since his career as a Chicago Bear is over. So how could I be right about everything and be wrong about the final outcome?

Well, that’s because the Bears didn’t beat the Packers. The Packers beat the Packers. And I’m not just talking about the turnovers, although they obviously played an enormous part in the defeat. I’m talking about the Packers taking the ball out of Brett Favre’s hands and putting it into DeShawn Wynn’s hands. Mike McCarthy was obviously so thrilled with the first drive of the game, in which the Packers gained 64 yards on the ground (beating their season game average in less than four minutes), and so horrified by James Jones’s fumbles, that he decided to go away from the short passing game that had gotten the Packers off to a perfect start and stick to a conservative running attack. And it didn’t work. The Packers had all of 19 rushing yards, 32 total yards, and one first down in the second half until the last drive when the team finally put the ball in Favre’s hands and the team gained 41 yards. But by then it was too little, too late.

The Packers now stay home to face a surprising Redskins team, who are 3-1 on the basis of what appears to be a solid defense — they gave up only 144 yards and 3 points last week to the Lions, one week after the Lions had put up 34 points in the fourth quarter on the Bears. But I picked the Packers to win the game so I had better stick to that. But I had picked the Packers to start 4-2, and if they lose, they’ll be 4-2. So it’s win-win for my prognosticator abilities.

A bigger question here is do the Bears improve from here on out and make a run at the division title, or was the Bears game an aberration and do the Packers still have the upper hand in the NFC North? While I think the Bears have the more favorable schedule here on out (the Packers have a stretch of six of nine on the road, including what should be tough games at Denver, at Kansas City, and especially at Dallas, as well as a stretch of three games in 12 days), I still like the Packers to continue to play well and win the division. I’m not ready to jump off the train yet. But the football Badgers on the other hand . . .

Quick baseball predictions even though I obviously have no idea what I’m talking about. I like the Indians and the Diamondbacks. Say the Indians in six and the Diamondbacks in seven. Then I like the Indians in five.

What’s worse? That the NBA preseason has already started or that the NHL regular season is already a week old? I’ve had colds that lasted longer than the offseasons for either of these leagues. Both the NBA and NHL need to start in January at the earliest and end in May at the latest. Like 24. Hey, did you hear? Tony Almeida’s back!

Packers/Vikings, Brewers, MLB Playoffs
October 3, 2007

Coming into week four, it’s time to even the score.

(Sorry I’m not as cool as David Caruso, but I did put on my sunglasses in a very suave manner after I wrote that opening line. By the way, did you know that CSI: Miami is the most popular show in the world? Did you know what’s in second place? That’s right: Supermarket Sweep.)

Forget it. Let’s get down to business. What I meant by that opening is that after the first three weeks of the NFL season, I’m 1-2 in my pre-season Packer predictions. Which, given how much better the Packers are playing than most predicted, isn’t that bad. And with Sunday’s win over the Vikings, which I predicted with a score of 13-10, I’m now officially at .500 with a score of 2-2.

Really, the result of this week’s game wasn’t surprising. The Packers are making a very good case for being considered the best team in the NFC, while the Vikings are making a very good case for being considered one of the worst. Mike McCarthy and Brett Favre are two of the most popular people in all of Wisconsin, whereas Vikings coach Brad Childress and Vikings quarterbacks Tavaris Jackson and Kelly Holcomb probably can’t get a table at the local Ponderosa.

The disparity between the two rivals is really quite interesting, particularly when you consider what are supposedly the golden rules of football success: Run the ball and stop the run. The Vikings are very good at running the ball and the best team in the league at stopping the run. The Packers are the worst team in the league at running the ball and are merely average — at least statistically — at stopping the run.

But the Packers have Favre. Not only do the Packers have Favre, they have Favre — and I apologize if I’ve said this every week — playing as good as I’ve ever seen him play. Which is darn good. Not to mention he’s having a hell of a good time. And fans are having a hell of a good time watching him because he’s playing smarter (i.e. his picks are way down) while losing virtually none of his ability to make something out of nothing (i.e. the frequency with which he now employs the little shovel passes while under heavy pressure).

Favre himself attributes his mistake-free playing with a confidence in his defense that he didn’t always have. But if Packer fans have anything to be concerned about after Sunday’s win, it might be that defense. I was stunned that the Vikings were able to gain nearly 400 yards of offense, and would have gained plenty more if not for Kelly Holcomb’s sheer ineptitude, both with his passing accuracy and with his clock management. Granted, a chunk of that purple offense was racked up after the Packers had built what seemed like an insurmountable lead of 23-9, but the game wasn’t in hand enough for the Packers defense to feel like it could relax, and it could have ended badly if not for Atari Bigby’s interception a mere thirty seconds after Ryan Grant’s scary fumble.

So do the Packers need a running game? Favre says they do, McCarthy says they do, most pundits and fans say they do. I’m certainly inclined to say they do, but I’m not that convinced that they can’t ride this Favre train a while longer. But they’ll need to do better than 2.3 yards a rush once they make the playoffs.

Playoffs? Playoffs? (See, if this was one of those wacky sports talk radio shows, you’d be hearing Jim Mora right now and chuckling. See, the Internet can’t completely replace the old forms of communication, like radio, vaudeville, and the daguerreotype.) Why shouldn’t Packer fans be thinking playoffs? Do you really think Detroit’s going to hang around? Do you look at the Packers’ schedule and see a lot of scary games? I see one: November 29 at Dallas. (Which, Charter fans, is on the NFL Network.)

There’s a lot of football to play, but Favre — now of course the NFL’s all-time leader in touchdown passes, pass attempts, and career victories — is definitely playing like he’s in it to win it.

More catchy rhyming statements. Cue the sunglasses.

Quickly on to baseball as I’m sure most of you are putting off some important work or family obligations to read this: As disappointed as Brewer fans are not to be in the playoffs this year, take heart that Milwaukee has a good team that will be more mature, more experienced, and more prepared to deal with the pressures of winning next year. They’ll be hungry, they’ll be better, and they should make a run next year. I didn’t see it this year — check the blog archives — but I see it next year. You’d like that starting rotation to be a little stronger, though, wouldn’t you? Oh, and to the people that want to dump on Ned Yost: The Brewers aren’t sitting out the postseason because Yost lost his mind late in the season with the arguing, the retailiations, and the ejections. They’re sitting out the postseason because they went 20-34 in July and August.

Baseball playoffs? I like the Yankees this year. Well, I don’t like the Yankees, but I like their chances to win another World Series. The offense is unparalleled, the pitching is improving, and they — especially Alex Rodriguez — have something to prove after so many people had written them off after a lousy start. I just wish Costanza was still there to celebrate.

In the other series, I like the Red Sox, Diamondbacks, and Phillies — even though I’m writing this after the Phillies dropped game one of the NLDS to the Rockies. I like the Yankees and Phillies to meet in the World Series, and the Yankees to win, possibly even sweep.

If the Yankees lose to Cleveland in the ALDS, then I’ll take the Indians to go all the way. It’s odd that the two best teams meet in an opening series, but that’s the fact, Jack.

Man, I’m smooth.