Let’s Get Happy, People

Well, since it is the most entertaining thing on the Internet short of those cute videos of puppies falling asleep, I was re-reading my most recent blog entry today. It seemed angry. And sad. And brilliantly insightful. And funny. But negative. So today’s entry, to borrow a phrase from my brother in baldness, ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser, is a “let’s get happy” list.

1. The Packers. OK, I’ll say it: I’m over the Brett Favre thing. Did the Packers do the right thing for their team in jettisoning Favre to New York? Would the Packers have a better record if Favre was under center? Eh, who cares? I’m done with it. All I know is, Aaron Rodgers has been this season what Favre  was for most of his 16 years with the Packers: The best, most reliable player on the team. With the exception of the Tampa Bay game in which he hurt his shoulder, he has been near brilliant, more than justifying the organization’s faith in him.

Where there has been trouble this season has been outside of the quarterback position, namely the running game and the defense. Which is why Sunday’s 34-14 beatdown of the Indianapolis Colts was such a mind-blowing good time trip through tangerine trees and marmalade skies. The balance of the offensive attack was terrific. Ryan Grant, while still getting a low yards-per-carry average (Sunday’s was 4.3), is definitely hitting his stride and looks to mirror last season’s late-season heroics this year. The pass defense was incredible, obviously frustrating the wizened veteran Payton Manning and his receivers (Wayne and Harrison a combined 4 catches for 35 yards?). (Oh, did I mention the two interceptions returned for touchdowns?) The run defense was pretty good, allowing only three yards a carry, which, combined with the Packers’ big lead, was good enough to make Manning throw, which plays right into Green Bay’s trap.

If Rodgers maintains his early-season form (and why wouldn’t he?), if Grant continues to improve, if the defense gets healthier, look out. With only one very scary looking game left on the schedule (November 2, the first game out of the bye week, at Tennessee), I could easily see the Packers quickly regaining their status as one of the NFL’s elite teams, a status they lost with that three-game losing streak.

There was something else I really liked in Sunday’s game. In the second quarter, down 10-7 and facing a 4-and-1 at midfield, Colts head coach Tony Dungy, to the obvious disgust of Manning, elected to punt. On the very next drive, the Packers are faced with the same 4-and-1 from almost an identical spot on the field, and they go for it. Grant picks up seven yards for the first down and Grant eventually scores his first touchdown of the season on the same drive to make it Green Bay 17, Colts 7. That’s the difference between playing to win and playing not to lose. McCarthy has faith in his playmakers, and they rewarded him big time on Sunday. Clearly the most impressive win so far this season for a team that looks to have many more impressive wins coming.

2. The rest of the NFC North. The Bears look pretty good, particularly quarterback Kyle Orton. But they have injury and defense issues. The Vikings have improved since benching Tavaris Jackson, but their special teams and pass defense are atrocious. The Lions are awful and have a killer schedule coming up. I say print up those “Green Bay Packer 2008 NFC North Champion” hats and shirts now and thank me later.

3. The World Series starts tonight. OK, the Brewers aren’t in it, but the Phillies are. And don’t you feel good about the team that beat the Brewers being there? Well, maybe that’s a stretch for some, but I do. Some people have complained that the series lacks the appeal of Cubs/Red Sox, Dodgers/Red Sox, or even cast of 90210/Red Sox, but I dunno. It’s still the two league champions going at it, and what makes it even more relevant for Wisconsin fans is there isn’t even a Packer (or even a Bear or Viking) game this week to conflict with it. And since everyone’s already given up on the football Badgers . . . oops, that doesn’t really jive with my “let’s get happy” premise.

I’m rooting for the Phillies. Why? They’re the underdog. They haven’t won a Series (their only championship) since 1980. They’ve lost the most games of any team in the history of Major League Baseball. They have a great fan base, finishing fifth in the majors this year for attendance. Oh, and they beat the Brewers, and I subscribe to the previously-mentioned notion of wanting the team that beat my team to go all the way.

But I believe the Rays will win. I think they have a better overall lineup and better overall starting pitching. They play in the American League, which is simply a better league — I think that either Boston or Tampa could beat the Phillies. They have home-field advantage. The Phillies have had a week off, which is too long. And the Rays simply feel like “that” team to me. While I’m done expecting them to “choke” or wither under the bright lights of postseason play, I do doubt their bullpen, so in tight individual games, I give a slight edge to Philadelphia.

But frankly, I’m just hoping for a good series. At least six games. Because we haven’t had a six-game series since 2003, with three sweeps in the last four years. And while game one of Rays/Phillies won’t get the ratings of game one of cast of Road Rules Challenge/Red Sox, if this series can get to 2-2, the matchup will suddenly become very appealing indeed.  And then FOX, MLB, and baseball fans everywhere will be happy. Because isn’t that what it’s really all about?

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