Archive for January, 2009

BRUCE!
January 30, 2009

I don’t have to tell you that Sunday is huge. And I don’t have to tell you why Sunday is huge.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band are performing at halftime of the Super Bowl.

Actually, like everything else with the Super Bowl, my excitement over Bruce and the Big Man bustin’ Tampa in half with a Raymond James Stadium freeze-out is part real interest and excitement and part being willfully suckered into the outrageous hype machine that surrounds everything even remotely involved in the country’s biggest sports day of the year.

It’s not like Bruce hasn’t performed on television before. Since he broke his “no TV” rule in 1992 by performing on Saturday Night Live, Springsteen has done the variety/talk show circuit with regularity (he wisely stayed away from Rosie Live). And it’s not like Bruce is some sort of hermit suddenly breaking out of his shell to perform in front of the year’s largest audience. The guy has been touring seemingly non-stop since the nineties. But for the first time, I have to admit that I’m as intrigued by the halftime show as I am for the game itself. And I think it will be a pretty good game. (I’m taking the Cardinals, as I said in my last post.)

The fun for a Springsteen fan like myself is figuring out what he’s going to do; more specifically, how will he and the E Street Band condense one of their typical 3-hour shows into 12 minutes?

If I was in Vegas and there was a bet for this sort of thing (and there probably is),  here’s the set list I would bet on:

Hungry Heart / The Rising / Working On A Dream / Born To Run

Here’s my rationale: “Hungry Heart” is a short song, it’s an immediately recognizable hit, and it would get the halftime show off to a rousing start. (“The Promised Land” is my second guess for an opening.) Bruce did “The Rising” at Obama’s inauguration, indicating that he is redefining the song from a post-9/11 call-to-action to a post-Bush call-to-action. “Working On A Dream” will be the bummer of the halftime, but Bruce is there to try to sell records, which is not an easy task anymore period but especially given our current economic climate. “Born To Run” is the obvious call of the show, and I would personally be more stunned if Bruce didn’t play “Born To Run” than I would be if Kurt Warner played the entire second half without pants.

Bruce, if you’re reading this (and I know you’re a big Teri Barr fan who spends a great deal of time at channel3000.com), here’s my preferred set list:

Badlands / Murder Incorporated / Dancing In The Dark / Born To Run

At the E Street Band reunion shows of 1999-2000, the “Badlands” / “Murder Inc.” back-to-back shot was always a highlight. I would love Bruce to do a couple of dark songs to not only reflect the times we’re going through, but I think the commerciality of him playing at the “Bridgestone Super Bowl XLIII Halftime Show” (which is I believe is his first “sponsored” concert appearance) would be somewhat lessened by the performance of a couple relatively non-commercial numbers. After the bleakness of those tracks, the recently-revised-and-resurrected “Dancing In The Dark” would simply be a ton of fun, while serving as a microcosm of his concerts, which flow easily from depressing ballads to road house rave-ups. If Bruce would deliver those three songs, then I would be fine with the obvious “Born To Run.” (But if Springsteen wanted to substitute “She’s The One” or “Adam Raised A Cain,” I wouldn’t complain.)

But I am certain of one thing. Even if the game itself is a dog, the halftime show will be memorable. We have come a long way since the days when the Super Bowl halftime show consisted of Up with People (1986) and George Burns and Mickey Rooney (1987).

I am also certain of one thing: Bo Ryan is an annoyed man. His press conference after the Purdue game on Tuesday was the very definition of “slow burn.” But I don’t blame him for being tired of the press: How many times can you say that you need more offensive production, i.e. points? I guess about as many times as people like me can write about it.  

But I am about to make a bold prediction, even a bolder one than predicting what songs Bruce will play on Sunday. Starting Saturday at Northwestern, the Badgers will go on a winning streak that will last longer than their current five-game losing streak. I’m looking at six games in a row. Their chances of making the NCAA tournament depend on it.

Yes, I Can Believe In The Pips and Cardinals. But the Badgers?
January 23, 2009

You ever watch those ESPN afternoon shows Around the Horn or Pardon the Interruption? I have to assume that if you’re reading this blog, the answer would have to be “yes,” but who knows, maybe you’re watching Oprah at that time. Me, I only watch when Gayle King is on. She’s magic.

Anyway, participants on those shows have it easy. They only have to give brief summaries of several different topics happening in the world of sports. Me, I have to go “behind the headlines” on one crucial story at a time to give you, dear reader, the insider information you can only get here at Channel3000.com.

But not today. It’s Friday, it’s cold, the economy is spiraling ever downward, my mail carrier is mad at me because I have too much snow in front of my mailbox, my 19-month-old daughter is under the weather, Bruce Springsteen got snubbed at the Oscars, and McDonald’s is refusing to bring back the McRib despite my dozens of letters.

So here’s my quick take on what’s happening out there sports-wise:

1. The Badgers men’s basketball team. You know who’s loving this four-game Wisconsin losing streak? Bret Bielema. OK, I can’t prove that, but Bielema certainly heard the cries of the doofuses who were proclaiming Wisconsin a “basketball school” when the football team struggled at the end of last season. Now Bo Ryan’s team is suffering through its first four-game losing streak since the 2005-06 season, a year that saw them lose to North Dakota State, saw them lose their first game in the Big Ten Tournament, and saw them lose their first game in the NCAA tournament.

But Ryan’s 2008-2009 team is better than that team of three years ago. The problem is that so is the rest of the Big Ten. It’s one of the lamest sports cliches, but the Big Ten is proving it true this season: Any team can beat any team. Well, except Indiana can’t beat anyone. (You put Indiana’s men’s team on the floor against Indiana’s women’s team, my money’s on the women.)Despite the losing streak, it’s too early to give up on the Badgers, but it’s clearly not too early for concern.

The Badgers look to be in a lot of close games over the rest of the season, making problems like Trevon Hughes’s sudden penchant for turnovers something that the team can’t overcome. (Which Ryan realizes, hence the benching in crunch time on Wednesday night in the loss to Iowa.) But the problems go beyond Hughes, obviously, as Saturday’s loss to Illinois made clear. (Hughes notched 36 minutes of play without a single turnover.) The defense has been uncharacteristically marginal at best, particularly in its failure to shut down the night’s hot hand (Illinois’s Demetri McCamey Iowa’s David Palmer, Minnesota’s Lawrence Westbrook). The Badgers are still prone to going to sleep on the offensive end — shooting just 35.6 on Saturday –but now their defensive play can’t always support that. And the team is not getting to the foul line as often in years past — Iowa alone posted a plus-25 margin in free throw attempts on Wednesday, while Illinois shot nine more free throws than Bucky on Saturday.

Some might applaud the use of freshman guard Jordan Taylor in place of Hughes, particularly given Taylor’s dramatic three-point shots on Wednesday. But putting Taylor in place of Hughes gives the Badgers the smell of a team in rebuilding mode, which I’m not ready to see. But with Purdue upcoming on Tuesday, it doesn’t get easier.

2. Brewers sign Fielder. Very good news for Brewers fans, particularly if Fielder can carry over his great September from what was — for him, anyway — an otherwise workmanlike 2008 campaign. And while Fielder’s presence obviously helps the team offensively, it just as obviously doesn’t address what is still their biggest concern: lack of starting pitching. Oh, and Fielder could stand to lose some weight. But so could I. Maybe it’s for the best that the McRib is still on hiatus.

Now that Fielder is signed, the Brewers look to face arbitration hearings with Corey Hart and Rickie Weeks. Given the slumping economy and both players’ slumping stats — Weeks was weak most of the season and Hart completely disappeared in September — it’s hard to believe that either player is worth what their agents are asking. But Weeks continues to have a strong OBP, and I have to believe that Hart will recover from his lousy final month of 2008. Here’s hoping both players are on board for 2009.

3. The Super Bowl. We all need something to believe in. Me, I believe that “Midnight Train to Georgia” is perhaps the greatest song ever not written by Lennon/McCartney or Bruce Springsteen. I believe that former President George W. Bush and former Milwaukee Brewers skipper Ned Yost are the same person. I believe that I’m staring just a little too long at those Lane Bryant pop-up ads that infiltrate my Web browser. And I am starting to believe in the Arizona Cardinals. Or should I call them the Super Bowl champion Arizona Cardinals. I haven’t crunched all the stats yet — I can’t concentrate with Gladys Knight and the Pips running around in my head — but it just seems like Kurt Warner’s time again. And the Cardinals will have the best player on the field in Larry Fitzgerald. And it just seems like the Steelers — after playing just about the toughest schedule in the history of the NFL – – should be about really to fold.  And the Hines Ward injury is huge if he’s not able to play. I’m starting to really like the Cardinals. Which is probably the kiss of death for them.

4. Mark McGuire’s brother gives him up. The sleaziest act of sibling betrayal since Godfather II.

5. The Milwaukee Bucks. If the season ended today, the Bucks (eighth in the East with a record of 22-25) would be in the playoffs. But we’re not at the All-Star break yet. And the prospect of playing Cleveland or Boston in the first round isn’t a pretty one.

6. Packers hire Dom Capers as defensive coordinator. Despite the fact that he was last defensive coordinator on a team that finished 1-15 (2007 Miami Dolphins) and he holds just a .375 winning percentage as a head coach, what scares me most about Capers isn’t his coaching ability. It’s that hairpiece. Hard to gain the respect of your players sporting that monstrosity. But if Capers can resurrect the Packers’ defense, he can wear a McRib on his head for all I care. If he can find one. Have I mentioned they’re on hiatus?

This New Spirit Of Cooperation Stinks
January 16, 2009

Hey, as a native Minnesotan who has called Wisconsin home since the outgoing president’s father was in office, I’m all for Wisconsin and Minnesota working together and sharing resources.

But do we have to share Big Ten basketball supremacy?

You’d have to go back four years, to January 9, 2005, to find a date on which a Minnesota team came across the border and shocked the Wisconsin home crowd to equal what happened Thursday night at the Kohl Center.

You remember January 9, 2005. The 8-8 Minnesota Vikings, losers of four of their last five regular season games, limped into Lambeau Field for a wild-card matchup against the clearly superior 10-6 Green Bay Packers. The Vikings stormed out to a 14-0 lead five minutes into the game, Randy Moss pretended to moon the crowd, Joe Buck reacted in ridiculous horror as if Moss had channeled Ozzy Osbourne and bitten the head off of Packers head coach Mike Sherman, and the Vikings won 31-17. 

Thursday night the Golden Gophers basketball team, who had built up a fat 15-1 record largely by playing every obscure school in North and South Dakota, shocked Bo Ryan’s team by outlasting Wisconsin 78-74 in overtime. At the Kohl Center. Where Ryan had previously lost a remarkable eight games in eight seasons, and only three games within the Big Ten.  

In fact, the Gophers men’s basketball team had never won at the Kohl Center, and hadn’t won in Wisconsin since 1994. And since that win came under disgraced head coach Clem Haskins, it doesn’t even officially count. You have to go back to 1992 to find a Gopher basketball win in enemy territory that stands in the record books.

Oops, I forgot. As of this week, you can’t call Minnesota and Wisconsin “enemies.” Government orders.

Minnesota and Wisconsin, uh, cooperated to give the frigid crowd at the Kohl Center a thrilling game, but one that added insult to injury for the fans who had braved Madison’s arctic air to attend.

Picking up on Governor Doyle and Governor Pawlenty’s new spirit of sharing, the Badgers and Gophers shared long stretches of ineptitude. Unfortunately for Wisconsin, Minnesota was inept in the less-crucial first half — they were held scoreless for the final 7:50 of the period — while Wisconsin was inept in clutch time, especially when Minnesota began applying its stifling full-court pressure. Wisconsin’s offense was repeatedly forced into terrible shot selection down the stretch, and this frustration and sloppiness on offense translated into lackluster defense, particularly in the last five minutes of regulation, when Minnesota was able to rip off 20 points.

Two straight losses in the Big Ten may not seem like much, particularly to fans who weathered the football Badgers four-game Big Ten losing streak last fall. But it is indicative of a much tougher and improved conference.  That 29 -point victory against Northwestern on January 7 now looks like it will be the exception this year as the Badgers, now 12-5 and in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten, don’t look to face too many easy games the rest of the way. Well, except those two against Indiana. This year’s Hoosiers look to have all of the toughness of my daughter’s  new Elmo Live. (Yes, I know you’ve fallen down, Elmo. Stop complaining about it! I’m trying to watch Rock of Love Bus!)

It’s too early to pull a Joe Buck and overreact to Bo Ryan’s two straight conference losses. But I wouldn’t expect Thursday night’s home loss to Minnesota to be the Badgers’ only home conference loss this season. Like the new spirit of collaboration that exists between the state governments of Minnesota and Wisconsin, there’s a new spirit within Big Ten basketball.  And it ain’t collaborative. It’s competitive the likes of which basketball in this conference hasn’t seen for some time.

But Wisconsin fans may come out on top in the next round of the  Minnesota-Wisconsin lovefest. Rumor has it that the Twins are looking to bring washed-up reliever Eric Gagne over the border. You remember Eric Gagne, who the Brewers invested $10 million in last season and who in return brought nothing but heartache and misery to Brewers nation. Surely Brewers fans would love to see Gagne choke away a few games for the Twins next season.

Quick: NFL playoffs this weekend. I’m tired of picking against the Cardinals. Gimme them and gimme the Steelers. Home field advantage has to count for something at this point in the season. Have a great weekend. Enjoy the all-too-rare above-zero temperatures.

Look Who’s 3
January 11, 2009

Anyone who knows me knows that I love my TiVo. Just this past Thanksgiving, my son was given the homework assignment — he’s in kindergarten, by the way; the only homework assigned to me when I was in kindergarten had to do with bladder control — to have his family trace their hands to make turkeys and then have them write on each traced finger what they were thankful for. I chose “family, home, health, work, and TiVo.” And I wasn’t kidding about that last one.

Anyway, one of my oft-TiVo’ed shows is WISC-TV’s very own News 3 This Morning. And one of my favorite segments is the daily “Look Who’s 3” (which will have to be re-christened “Look Who’s 3.1” once stations go all-digital, which was supposed to happen next month, but now who knows. I thought Obama was going to have bigger things to worry about then the DTV conversion and college football playoff, but perhaps not). The “Look Who’s 3” segment features pictures of viewers’ kids, grandkids, or, if you’re Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, adopted kids who are turning three years old.

So, in that spirit, and knowing that no one else is likely to, I’d like to give myself a “Look Who’s 3” shout-out to my sports blog, which officially turned three years old on Saturday, January 10.

And as a thank you to you fine readers who make this sports blog possible, I thought it appropriate to turn today’s entry over to answering some of my e-mails. So here goes:

Jeff, what do you think of P.J. Hill entering the draft? What does his future hold and what does this mean for the Badgers? — Alison from DeForest

Given the beatings and the injuries Hill has suffered throughout his three years with the Badgers, I’m not surprised that he would elect to forgo his final year of eligibility and turn pro. However, unfortunately for Hill, he is picking a lousy year to turn pro, as he will enter the draft as the third or maybe fourth-ranked running back — and that’s just of running backs coming out of the Big Ten. Look for Hill to go after Ohio State’s Beanie Wells, Michigan State’s Javon Ringer, and possibly Iowa’s Shonn Greene and probably be the 10th-15th running back overall.

As for his NFL career prospects, that’s difficult to spectulate, but with the two-and-three headed monster running back system so common in the league today, I think Hill has a bright outlook as a team’s power runner.

More importantly for Wisconsin fans, though, is the fact that the Badgers, with John Clay and Zack Brown in the mix, should be able to absorb the loss of Hill more easily than perhaps other Big Ten teams losing their star runners. Put it this way: Running back is not the position to be worried about going into the 2009 season.

Jeff, was signing closer Trevor Hoffman a good move for the Brewers? — Frankie from Rio

Well, I won’t lie to you, I have a soft spot for any professional athlete older than I am (which explains my bizarre affection for kickers, punters, and Phillies starter Jamie Moyer), so I like the signing. But Hoffman is coming off an unspectacular year in which he had a 3.77 ERA and a win-loss record of 3-6. But he did convert 30 of 34 saves and should at the very least be a lateral move from the retired Salomon Torres.

Of course the questions with the Brewers have more to do with their starting pitching than with their bullpen.  If, after losing Sabathia and Sheets, the Brewers don’t have many leads for Hoffman to save, then the signing will be about as relevant to the Brewers as a Dick Vitale book signing. But Hoffman will be a better signing than Eric Gagne was. He simply has to be.

Jeff, with the Badgers playing so well, do you regret picking them to finish third in the Big Ten? — Bobby Jean from Waunakee

Geez, Bobby Jean. As of this writing, we’re only three games into the conference season. But yes, the Badgers have played very well in getting off to a 3-0 start in Big Ten play, particularly on defense, which was a bit of a concern of mine. So far Wisconsin looks to be the best challenger to Big Ten-leader Michigan State, the only other undefeated team against conference foes.

The biggest disappointments in the conference have to be Purdue and Northwestern, but Purdue should be able to right themselves once they get healthy. Certainly a win Sunday at home against the Badgers — who they have beaten at Purdue 31 out of the last 32 games — will get them on the right track. But so far any concerns I had about the Badgers — and I did only pick them to finish third in a solid conference, not eighth or ninth, have been largely unfounded.

Jeff, will you ever apologize for your lousy 2008 NFL predictions? — Bruce from Mount Horeb 

Will NBC ever apologize for cancelling SCTV for Friday Night Videos? Kate Hudson ever apologize for her lousy movies? Will Bret Michaels ever apologize for causing me to waste more time than I thought possible on Rock of Love? Will Ryan Grant apologize for almost single-handedly ruining my fantasy football season?

Surely there are bigger injustices in the world than my lousy 2008 NFL predictions, but for the record, do I regret saying the Ravens will be “awful,” that the Chargers would win the AFC West “by a mile,” that the Rams would win the NFC West, and that New England would beat Dallas in the Super Bowl? Yes. But not as much as I regret eating a pound of Twizzlers in a single sitting last night. Ooof.

 

Thompson/McCarthy Follow-Up
January 5, 2009

My post last week on whether Packers head coach Mike McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson should be fired generated the most comments of any post I’ve done since I began this blog three years ago. (That’s 200 posts, people!)

Most respondents agreed that the Packers should spare coach Mike McCarthy but preferred that general manager Ted Thompson be making personnel decisions for the Vikings or Bears. Most people who wrote in used my own points — that Thompson has been woefully inactive in the free agent market and woefully inconsistent with the team’s draft picks — to argue that Thompson should be fired, despite my own personal resistance to such a move after one bad season. But I certainly agree that Thompson needs to have a better (re: more active) off-season and needs to draft at least one player this April who will make an impact in 2009.

Monday’s firings of defensive coordinator Bob Sanders and five other assistant coaches was a seemingly drastic but necessary move on the road to an improved Packers team next season. But if the team isn’t better in 2009 (but really, how could they be much worse?), I expect fans again to take out their anger on McCarthy and especially Thompson. And I expect that my own patience will have run out by then as well.

Sunday’s Wild Card loss by the Minnesota Vikings to the Philadelphia Eagles either relieved Packer fans or made them nervous. Relief because of the renewed knowledge that as long as the Vikings have Tavaris Jackson and Gus Frerotte as their quarterbacks, that they will never be a dominant team. Nervous because after Sunday’s awful performance, the Vikings might actually finally be forced to sign a reliable quarterback. And with their defense and run game, a reliable quarterback will make the Vikings a very good team. Even though it was arguably sleazy, Thompson and McCarthy were right in keeping Brett Favre out of a Vikings jersey in 2009. Going from Jackson/Frerotte to Favre — even with the interceptions — would have been like going from Huey Lewis to Bruce Springsteen.  

Playoffs: I’m going to be boring here and take all the obvious teams except one. That’s the Panthers, Steelers, Titans, and I’ll take the Eagles to upset New York. The Eagles are looking like last year’s Giants — an underachieving team that is finally playing their best football at the best time possible.

Should McCarthy And Thompson Be Fired?
January 2, 2009

This has been a bad week for NFL coaches. Firings from the obvious (Detroit’s Rod Marinelli, Cleveland’s Romeo Crenell) to the surprising (Eric Mangini of the Jets) to the shocking (two-time Super Bowl winner Mike Shananan of the Broncos) have come down since the regular season ended Sunday.

In addition to those four teams, at least as many as four more will or likely will be making changes at the head coaching position, including the Chiefs, Rams, Raiders, and Seahawks.  

Many Green Bay Packers fans, more than a little disappointed and angered by the team’s 6-10 season, are looking for their team to join this expanding coaching carousel by axing Mike McCarthy. Or to make an even bigger splash by jettisoning General Manager Ted Thompson.

After all, these fans would argue, the Packers were a bigger disappointment than Crenell’s Browns, who suffered “only” a six-game slide from 2007 (when they finished 10-6) to 2008 (when they finished 4-12), whereas the Packers lost seven more games in 2008 (6-10) than in 2007 (13-3). And both the Broncos (8-8) and Jets (9-7) had more successful seasons than Green Bay with arguably less talent.

So why not make changes at the top?

Well, both Shanahan’s and Mangini’s firings had more to do with late-season collapses than overall wins and losses, and Shanahan (24-24), Mangini (23-25), and Crenell (18-30) have been mediocre or worse over the last three years. In contrast, McCarthy has posted a winning 27-21 record over the last three seasons and is only one year removed from guiding his team to the NFC Championship Game, a year in which he was also named the 2007 Motorola NFL Coach of the Year. For his part, Thompson was credited for the success of last year’s Packers team by The Sporting News, who named him their NFL Executive of the Year for 2007.

OK, the bloodthirsty might say, but Brett Favre deserved the accolades for the Packers success in 2007, not McCarthy and Thompson. And since McCarthy and Thompson were instrumental in Favre landing in New York this season, McCarthy and Thompson should suffer for their bone-headed decision not to welcome Favre back.

This line of thinking has more holes in it then, well, the Packers’ defense. First of all, the person most responsible for Favre not being with the Packers in 2008 is Favre himself. Second of all, statistically speaking — and that is the only objective way to compare the two — first-year starter Aaron Rodgers had a much better year than octogenarian Favre. Rodgers threw for 4,038 yards, 28 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions for an overall quarterback rating of 93.8. In his first (and only?) year with the New York Jets, Favre threw for 3,472 yards, 22 touchdowns, and 22 interceptions for an overall quarterback rating of 81.0.  More importantly, he stunk as the Jets went from 8-3 darlings of the NFL to 9-7 also-rans.

Perhaps Favre, given Green Bay’s clearly superior receiving corps, would have had more success than Rodgers if he had stayed in Green Bay. But that is pure speculation and misses the main reason why the Packers aren’t playing in January: Their defense was abysmal. The unit ranked 20th in yards allowed and 22nd in points allowed. More importantly, they simply could not stop anybody when it mattered, which led to a shocking 0-7 record in games decided by four points or fewer. In contrast, the Rodgers-led offense scored only 16 points fewer than last year and racked up the fourth-most points (419) scored by a team with a losing record in NFL history.

So if the replacement of Favre with Rodgers is not grounds for firing Thompson or McCarthy, then is the performance of the defense enough to send one or both of them packing? Well, no, but it should be enough to send defensive coordinator Bob Sanders out the door, a move that as of this writing seemed imminent. Granted, injuries to defensive starters Nick Barnett, Atari Bigby, and Cullen Jenkins played a significant role in the Packers’ lack of defense, but injuries are simply part of every team’s season and Sanders’s unit did not, as McCarthy said in his year-end press conference, overcome the personnel losses to the degree that they should have.

Mike Stock’s job as special teams coordinator also seems in jeopardy; the firing of Stock should be a given after the lousy year the Packers had in both kickoff returns and coverage. However, I don’t know how you blame Stock for Mason Crosby’s inconsistency (27th in field goal accuracy in 2008), or for the lousy punters that the Packers continue to have a remarkable knack for finding (they’ve used ten in the last ten years).

But clearly Sanders and Stock do not get all of the blame for the Packers’ woes. Ted Thompson in particular needs to become more active in the free-agent market to acquire more veteran leadership. Consistently being under the salary cap and consistently being the youngest team in the NFL are not as impressive as winning seasons and playoff runs. Fortunately for Packers fans, after their last losing season in 2005, Thompson signed free agents Charles Woodson and Ryan Pickett, so perhaps (based obviously on who will be available) there is some hope for this offseason. A veteran quarterback to back up Rodgers remains a priority.

Thompson and McCarthy also have to have a better draft this year than they’ve had the last two years, which have been puzzling at best. While division rivals have added impact players like Adrian Peterson, Matt Forte, and Calvin Johnson through the last two drafts, the Packers have used their most recent first picks on bust Justin Harrell and Jordy Nelson, a nice receiver (33 receptions for 366 yards in 2008), but hardly who the Packers needed heading into 2008. The upside to a bad season is that the Packers will draft ninth and should be able to add someone, presumably in the secondary or defensive line, that can help them immediately.

In 2007, the Packers by all accounts overachieved. In 2008, the Packers by all accounts underachieved. Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson deserve a large part of the credit for the 2007 season and a large part of the blame for the 2008 season. And while there are disturbing trends in Green Bay – particularly in the lack of off-season free-agent acquisitions and in the lack of landing impact players in the draft – one bad season should not send an organization into panic mode. Thompson and McCarthy will and should keep their jobs.

Quickly, here are my playoff picks as we head into Wild Card weekend. It’s very simple. I like all four road teams. If I had to pick a home team, I would take Minnesota. As well as Philadelphia has been playing the last month, it was only in Week 16 that they laid a massive egg at Washington. And although Arizona’s playing terrible as of late, I don’t completely discount Kurt Warner’s ability to carry his team to what would have to be a high-scoring victory. And Indianapolis shouldn’t take San Diego too lightly. I doubt they will.

I know, it sounds like I’m trying to pick all the teams (except Miami, who I just don’t see winning). Hey, I’m just looking to cover myself in case I go 0-4. Which I realize is entirely possible.

Agree or disagree with me on the fate that Thompson and McCarthy deserve? Let me know at jrobbins@wisctv.com. Enjoy the playoffs . . .