Archive for December, 2009

NFC North: Stock Down
December 21, 2009

When it comes to pop culture, I am as loyal as they come.

I was one of the few people who kept watching The Facts of Life even after Mrs. Garrett left.

And while I appreciate Lost wrapping up its convoluted but fascinating run this season, I would stay tuned for many more years, long beyond the point of cultural relevancy.

Hey, I still watch Survivor, and that’s been culturally irrelevant for as long as John Kerry.

But I still love the show, and its most recent season, Survivor: Samoa, which ended Sunday night, was one of its best.

But again, this season’s finale fell victim to the same fatal flaw that has befallen many other seasons: The jury, suffering from hurt feelings, refuses to give the money to the strategic player (i.e. Russell) who schemed to vote out most of the jurors, and instead gives the $1 million to the nicer player who did little more than ride on the more strategic player’s coattails (i.e. Natalie).

Natalie didn’t deserve to be crowned the winner of Survivor: Samoa.

Earning their prize on the same day as Natalie, the Minnesota Vikings seemed to be no more deserving of being crowned the winner of the NFC North.

It was a horrible day for the NFC North, but especially for the division leader. Whoops, I mean winner. (Hard for me to put “Minnesota Vikings” and “winner” in the same thought.)

Let’s go through what the teams did on Sunday and what we can expect from them moving on:

1. Minnesota Vikings. I didn’t buy into the hype that Sunday night’s game was that important for the Vikings.

Yes, a victory would have put them one game behind the Saints for the NFC’s No. 1-seed, but the Vikings still would have to count on the Saints losing one of their last two while the Vikings would have to win their remaining two. And (Hello, Tampa Bay!) I don’t think the Saints will lose again.

Also, the Vikings are a dome team. The Saints are a dome team. I don’t feel that, if the teams were to meet in the playoffs, home field advantage would be that important. Both teams, like Chuck E. Cheese’s, are built for indoor fun.

And, for what it’s worth, the Vikings in recent years have owned the Saints. No, the Saints haven’t always been good. But neither have the Vikings.

The Vikings certainly didn’t look good Sunday night. Their vaunted offensive line looked as bad as the Packers ‘ O-Line did in October. Brett Favre was hit more often than Edward Norton in Fight Club. Adrian Peterson couldn’t run the ball (again). Their defense allowed the Panthers’ backup quarterback to torch them and their backup running back to slash them.

And if their play on the field wasn’t bad enough, now Chilly Childress and Favre are having a lovers’ spat over whether Favre should have been benched in the third quarter. Tired of watching Favre get sacked by Julius Peppers, Childress supposedly wanted Favre out, saving the old man for more important games down the road. Favre apparently refused and stayed in.

What’s important here is not if Childress was right to bench Favre. (He was. Even Tavaris Jackson couldn’t have played worse than Favre Sunday night.) What’s important is that Childress was overruled by Favre.

When a player can overrule a coach — and do so in such a public manner — you got problems. Right now the Vikings got problems.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: It’s December and Favre is running out of magic. And so are the Minnesota Vikings.

2. Green Bay Packers. Unlike the Vikings loss, I don’t see any red flags coming out of the Packers’ loss to Pittsburgh.

Yes, the highly-touted Packers defense allowed the Steelers to amass an incredible 537 yards of offense.

Yes, the Packers allowed the Steelers to win the game on an 81-yard drive with only 1:54 left to play.

Yes, Mason Crosby missed another chip shot field goal that proved crucial.

But this game had the stench of a loss long before Mike Wallace (was Morely Safer on the IR?) secured both feet in-bounds with no time left on the clock.

The Steelers came into this game a wounded animal known for playing up or down to their level of competition. Though the loss was heartbreaking, the Packers did many things right: They kept the penalties down (7 for 53 yards). The offensive line continued its strong play as Aaron Rodgers was sacked only once. And Rodgers continued his stellar play.

No doubt any Packers fan watching the performances of Rodgers and Favre on Sunday were happy they had Rodgers in green and gold.

With games against Seattle and Arizona (with the 49ers loss on Sunday, the Cardinals likely will have nothing to play for in week 17) on the horizon, the Packers are in very good shape and look to be the most dangerous team in the division come January.

3. Chicago Bears. Same old story for the Not-So-Scary Monsters of the Midway: Bad defense (31 points to Baltimore Sunday). Awful quarterback play (Jay Cutler was 10-for-27 for 94 yards and three picks for a 7.9 QB rating on Sunday). Continued disappointing production from Matt Forte (69 yards rushing and a lost fumble).

It’s hard to imagine the Bears being good any time soon. Although with how Minnesota has been playing outdoors lately, the Bears beating Minnesota next Monday night suddenly doesn’t seem like such an impossibility.

4. Detroit Lions. Make all the jokes you want about the Lions, but this team took the Arizona Cardinals — a team who had plenty to play for at game time — deep into the fourth quarter. And that was with their starting QB and starting RB out with injuries. (Watching Daunte Culpepper play quarterback is as stomach-churning as finding a toenail in your McChicken.)

If Matthew Stafford can stay healthy next year, would it be too surprising to see the Bears owning the NFC North cellar starting in 2010?

That is, if the Vikings can stay out of it.

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Your Holiday Viewing List
December 18, 2009

I have a friend who is an extremely organized individual. (I might go so far as to call him my “best friend,” but if he reads this and doesn’t agree, then I’ll look like a schmuck, so I’ll just stick with “friend.”) When we lived together while in college, I marveled at his “to do” lists that covered every bit of his daily routine, no matter how seemingly trivial.

Part of me found it ridiculous, part of me was extremely impressed at his attention to detail. 

Well, although I eschew them most of the year, during the holiday season the utilization of least a few lists are almost mandatory. List for who will receive a holiday card. List for who to buy for. List for what to buy them. List for what you want. List for groceries to buy for holiday gathering. List for liquor to buy for holiday gathering.  List for liquor to consume at holiday gathering.

Well, with all of those lists, you don’t want to forget perhaps the most important one of all: The What To Watch On TV While On Vacation (Or Furlough) List. And since most programs are in reruns this time of year — still looking forward to that Survivor finale this weekend — that list can be almost strictly sports.

So here’s what to watch this holiday season. And if you’re lucky, you’ll have a new HDTV set to watch it on (if you can get the kids to give their new Wii games a rest).

Saturday, December 19. College Basketball: Duke vs. Gonzaga, 3 PM, CBS. Don’t go trolling for meaningless college football bowl games just yet: This matchup of Top 15 teams is a great way to spend time waiting for Big Ten conference play to start. The Bulldogs have been better than anticipated, and Duke is well, Duke, currently sitting at No. 2 in the RPI rankings despite their lone loss to the Badgers. 

Saturday, December 19. NFL: Dallas @ New Orleans, 7:20 PM, NFL Network. An intruging game unfortunately buried on a Saturday night on a channel many people don’t get. But if you can watch it, it’s a can’t-lose proposition for most football fans: Either the Saints lose, which would be great because all of the perfection talk is tiring, or the Cowboys lose, which would be great because they’re the Cowboys.

Sunday, December 20. NFL: Miami @ Tennessee, 12 noon, CBS. Interested in wading through the quagmire of mediocre AFC teams fighting for a wild-card spot? Here’s the game for you. Beats wading through the quagmire of shoppers fighting for the last Elmo’s Tickle Hands at Walmart.

Sunday, December 20. NFL: Green Bay @ Pittsburgh, 3:15 PM, FOX. Two of the NFL’s most storied franchises facing off in December with playoff implications on the line? Sounds like a terrific game. And it should be. The problem for Steelers fans is that the way Pittsburgh is playing,  Steel City sports fans are beginning to pine for the Pirates to open spring training. The problem for Packers fans is that the Steelers, who simply have to be a better team than they’ve recently shown, are at home and should be more desperate for a win than Spencer Pratt is for publicity. The problem for Packers fans is that Green Bay is due for a bad game. The problem for Steelers fans is the Packers just had one, barely beating the awful Bears. The problem for Steelers fans is the Steelers have a lot of problems. Look for the Packers to officially end the Steelers’ hopes of returning to the Super Bowl.

Sunday, December 20. NFL: Minnesota @ Carolina, 7:20 PM, NBC. This is the best game NBC could get this week?

Monday, December 21. NBA: Milwaukee @ Indiana, 7 PM, FOX Sports Wisconsin. If the playoffs started today, the Bucks would be in as the sixth seed. But these are the Bucks and the playoffs are eons away. But any Bucks game now is worth watching to see rookie Brandon Jennings in action. And that’s huge.

Tuesday, December 22. College Basketball: Michigan State @ Texas, 6 PM, ESPN2. Texas has been rolling, beating opponents by an average of almost 32 points. Devotees of the Big Ten will learn a lot about how good No. 12 Michigan State is by how close they can stick to the Longhorns.

Wednesday, December 23. College Basketball: UW-Milwaukee @ Wisconsin, 8 PM, Big Ten Network. It’s highly doubtful that the Badgers, after their surprising loss to UW-Green Bay on Dec. 9, will take the Panthers, another in-state Horizon League team, lightly.

Friday, December 25. NBA: Cleveland @ Los Angeles Lakers, 4 PM, ABC. Those upset about not getting the Kobe vs. LeBron Finals last season can finally get a taste of what they missed. Those upset about not getting what they wanted for Christmas can start berating those people who failed to come through.

Sunday, December 27. NFL: Seattle @ Green Bay, 12 noon, FOX. Former QB back-up Matt Hasselbeck returns to Green Bay again. If the Packers wrap up a playoff spot by beating Pittsburgh (with some help), that’s probably the only storyline in a game lacking any real drama.

Sunday, December 27. College Basketball: Illinois-Chicago @ Wisconsin, 2:30 PM, Big Ten Network. If the Packer game is a dud, consider flipping over for this final non-conference game of the season. Even if the matchup isn’t intriging, Trevon Hughes and Jon Leuer are always worth a look.

Tuesday, December 29. College Football: Champs Sports Bowl (Miami vs. Wisconsin), 7 PM, ESPN. Deja vu time.  Make no mistake about it: That loss to Northwestern really stung, as the Wildcats accepted their invitation to the January 1 Outback Bowl, while the Badgers were relegated to the Champs Sports Bowl for the second year in a row despite having a much better team this season. In addition to going to the same bowl, the similarities to last year’s game are eerie: Wisconsin is again playing a team with a very efficient quarterback and skilled receivers that will enjoy a distinct home field advantage. While the Badgers secondary was inconsistent all season, they did finish the season strong with a shut-down performance against Hawaii. Add to that the presence of Scott Tolzien instead of Dustin Sherer, and you have to like the Badgers’ chances more than last year. It’s probably still Miami at the end, but, in what should be an entertaining, high-scoring game, it’s close.

Thursday, December 31. College Basketball: Ohio State @ Wisconsin, 1 PM, ESPN2. The Buckeyes without Evan Turner is like The Electric Company without Easy Reader. The Badgers should get a nice win to start the Big Ten season.

Friday, January 1. College Football: All day, particulalry Outback Bowl, Capital One Bowl, and Rose Bowl. Rooting for the Big Ten? Good luck. Auburn (playing Northwestern in the Outback), LSU (playing Penn State in the Capital One), and Oregon (playing Ohio State in the Rose) all look like winners. Ohio State in particular is in danger of embarassing themselves yet again and single-handedly bringing shame and disgrace on the conference in much the same way that the induction of ZZ Top brings shame and disgrace on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Be sure to check my always-updated sports on TV schedule for a complete list of what to watch. And here’s hoping your teams come through for you this holiday season.

Packers’ Success Hardly Entertaining
December 13, 2009

Believe it or not, it’s a good time to be David Letterman.

After some pundits questioned if his career could survive his embarrassing sex-in-the-workplace scandal, the late-night veteran is on a roll.

His ratings are up: His CBS show just earned its first November sweeps victory over NBC’s The Tonight Show since 1994.

Meanwhile, Letterman’s show-biz enemy Jay Leno is floundering with his new prime time venture, as his program has been declared a disaster from critics, audiences, and NBC affiliates sickened by the devastating impact Leno’s flaccid performance is having on their late local news.

Finally, Tiger Woods’s ongoing sex scandal has not only taken Letterman off the immorality hot seat, but it has a bizarreness – the car wreck, the text messages, the alleged existence of nude photos – and enormity – that list of women keeps growing like the Pittsburgh Steelers’ losing streak – that makes Letterman look as clean-cut as Pat Boone.

It’s also a good time to be a fan of the Green Bay Packers.

Or is it?

Riding a four-game win streak, the team is clearly playing its best football of the season.

Its Achilles’ heel, pass protection for quarterback Aaron Rodgers, has righted itself with the recent solid offensive line play of Chad Clifton, Daryn Colledge, Scott Wells, Josh Sitton, and Mark Tauscher.

Though the Packers still lead the league in sacks allowed, they’ve only allowed four in the last three games, a number that any NFL quarterback (or coach) could live with.

Aaron Rodgers has been stellar, more than withstanding the inevitable comparisons to Brett Favre, even as Favre is enjoying one of the best years of his never-ending career.

The switch to Dom Capers’s 3-4 defense has solidified remarkably quickly, as the Packers currently sit on top of the league in yards allowed per game, fourth in rush yards allowed, and third in pass yards allowed. They’re also tied for second in interceptions with 21.

Charles Woodson is being deservedly discussed as a viable defensive player of the year candidate.

The team seems to have found two future stars in rookies B.J. Raji and especially linebacker Clay Matthews, who earned NFC defensive player of the week honors for his two-sack, six-tackle, forced-fumble Monday-night performance against Baltimore.

The final few games of the Packers’ schedule, which once seemed to be an impossible stretch, is now looking like a cakewalk: Baltimore was easily dominated, the Chicago Bears stink on any field, the Steelers have collapsed faster than Jon and Kate’s marriage, Seattle’s been a year-long disappointment, and the Cardinals likely will be resting all their starters by the time the Packers visit in week 17.

More tantalizingly, the Minnesota Vikings, coming off a horrible loss to Arizona, suddenly look immensely beatable. Time will soon tell if Sunday night’s 30-17 loss was a fluke game or a sign of major trouble brewing for Brett Favre’s new team, but the Packers must now be – and should be – relishing the potential for a third game this season – with much bigger stakes than the previous two – against their division rival.

So with all those positives swirling around Titletown, what’s there to complain about in Packerland?

Just this: The team’s 2009 games have been unwatchable.

Think about it: Have the Packers been part of any single entertaining 60 minutes of regular-season football all year?

Oh sure, there have been exciting moments, most coming off the arm of Rodgers:

Week 1’s 50-yard TD strike to Greg Jennings to give the Packers a comeback victory against Chicago. Jermichael Finley’s 62-yard catch and run in the loss at the Metrodome, I mean, Mall of America Field. Spencer Havner’s first career touchdown in week 6’s blowout of the Browns.

But those memorable moments and a few others like them haven’t been part of any game any Packer fan could consider memorable.

One note of clarification: When I say “memorable” or “entertaining” in relation to this season’s Packers games, I’m throwing out the four losses, all of which were close, entertaining affairs to football fans without a rooting interest in either team or to fans of the teams that beat Green Bay.

But I doubt many Packers fans were thinking, “Wow, what a watchable game!” after gifting Tampa Bay its only win of the season, or after helping to add to Minnesota’s NFC North division lead.

Much of what has made Green Bay’s eight victories dull affairs has not been their fault: Games this year featuring the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns have only been entertaining when the two NFL bottom-feeders have faced off against each other.

But a surprising inconsistency on offense — even in lopsided games — has been exceedingly frustrating. 

Think back to the game at St. Louis, where the Packers could only muster three first-quarter field goals, despite (thanks to turnovers) starting two drives inside the Rams’ 15-yard line? Or the home victory against Detroit when — after Rodgers hit for two quick first-quarter TDs — the Packers had to settle for four straight field goals, including on three drives that started in Lions’ territory?

The offensive line’s tendency to give up sacks at the rate that McDonald’s sells hamburgers obviously played a big role in that offensive inconsistency early in the season and added tremendously to the unwatchablity of that first half of the season. Thankfully, as I said, that problem has been largely rectified in recent weeks.

What hasn’t been fixed and what is much of the reason for the — as welcome as it has been — ugliness of the recent winning streak? The penalties.

Oh, the penalties.

Have you ever rented a DVD from a public library, particularly a children’s DVD? They are inevitably covered in scratches the way NBA stars are covered in tattoos. The scratches typically result in cringe-inducing skipping during playback, which makes you want to break the disc in order to save some other poor soul the mind-numbing frustration.

I get the same feeling while watching a Packer game, as every penalty flag thrown — and there are typically a lot, as the Packers lead the league in both penalties per game (8.2) and penalty yards per game (75.4) — is an annoying interruption to the game’s flow that makes me shift uncomfortably in my otherwise very uncomfortable seat.

Unlike the sacks, the penalty problem is not going away, as the Packers have totaled 36 penalties during their four-game winning streak, including 11 for 175 yards — and that was with the referees going relatively easy on cornerback Tramon Williams — in Monday night’s historically ugly game against Baltimore. With the Ravens adding 12 penalties for 135 yards, Monday’s game was so hard to sit through that the NFL should have granted refunds to every fan in attendance.

I know fans will say “I’d rather have an ugly win than a pretty loss,” and I get that. But, as normally unflappable ESPN announcer Mike Tirico exasperatingly stated on Monday night, teams just don’t make playoff runs having the discipline problems associated with chalking up massive amounts of penalties.

Green Bay has four — as I said before, now surprisingly winnable — games in which to clean up their act. They will likely go to the postseason whether they do or not. But if they don’t, just as the sacks killed them early in the season, the penalties could very well be their undoing in the playoffs.

And that would be truly unwatchable.

Wisconsin Badgers Football: Hawaiian Style
December 5, 2009

Who: Wisconsin Badgers @ Hawaii Warriors.

When: Saturday, December 5, 10:30 PM CST.

Where: Aloha Stadium, ESPN2.

In his recent memoir, David Letterman bandleader Paul Shaffer recounts seeing the famous (but still unavailable in any form on home video) 1964 concert film The T.A.M.I. Show and noting what a letdown the performance by The Rolling Stones was after the iconic display put on by the penultimate act, James Brown.

After the performance by Brown, the Stones, good though they were, couldn’t compare to The Hardest Working Man In Show Business. Keith Richards would later call their decision to follow Brown the worst move of their long career. (Really? Worse than releasing Dirty Work?)

The UW Badgers football team this week is in the same boat that The Rolling Stones were in 45 years ago. Just as Mick and Keith paled in comparison to The Godfather of Soul, Bret Bielema’s team can’t follow what Bo Ryan’s basketball team accomplished on Wednesday night at the Kohl Center in upsetting No. 6 Duke, one of the biggest wins ever for a program that already can boast plenty of them.

It doesn’t help in fueling excitement for UW football that the Badgers are coming off a bad loss to Northwestern, a loss which knocked the Badgers from the national rankings and dropped them to fourth in the conference standings.

It also doesn’t help in fueling excitement for UW football – except for those fans fortunate enough to make the trip  – that the Badgers are playing Hawaii, a dangerous 6-6 team on a four-game win streak looking for a win to get an invitation to the Hawaii Bowl.   

Basically, Wisconsin is in a no-win situation here: If they win (and they are favored by 12), then many will apathetically shrug their shoulders.

If the Badgers lose – and it wouldn’t be that shocking if they did – then many fans will likely disparage a season that in many ways has gone better than most anyone had a right to expect.

Here are the Channel 3000 3 storylines for Saturday’s late – it kicks off at 10:30 PM in Madison – regular-season finale:

1. Don’t Pass Me By: The Badgers’ secondary has been torched in recent weeks – we’re talking to you, Devin Smith – as it has allowed 881 yards and eight touchdowns through the air over its last three games. Indiana’s Ben Chappell (323 yards, 3 TDs) and Northwestern’s Mike Kafka in particular (326 yards, 2 TDs) looked like the second coming of Dan Fouts against the Badgers.

The bad news for Wisconsin? The Hawaii Warriors rank third in the nation in passing offense, racking up nearly 350 yards per game. The Badgers secondary will have to play its best game of the season to slow down senior quarterback Bryant Moniz (QB rating of 132.8 this season) and his favorite target, junior receiver Greg Salas, who averages 130 yards per game.

2. Oh, So That’s Why They’re Just 6-6: The Hawaii Warriors haven’t been very heroic on the defensive side of the ball, though, allowing nearly 400 yards and 28 points per game against mostly weaker WAC competition.

When the Warriors have played good teams, their defense has had more holes in it than Tiger Woods’s post-car accident mea culpa: They allowed 54 points and 472 yards of offense to Boise State, and 42 points and 277 rushing yards to Fresno State.

While it will surely be tempting for Bielema and offensive coordinator Paul Chryst to let Scott Tolzien finish his at times inconsistent season with a flourish, the smartest offensive game plan will be to let simply let John Clay, Montee Ball, Zach Brown, and whoever else feels like getting into the backfield run the ball and keep Hawaii’s scary offense off the field. The strategy won’t shock anyone, but it should work.

3. Clay Possessed: While running back John Clay was recently named the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, it’s likely he would surrender those honors if it meant erasing his crucial fumble late in the Northwestern loss as the Badgers were mounting what looked to be a game-winning drive.

If John Clay can use that fumble as motivation – as he has recently indicated he would – it should be a long night for the Hawaii defense.

Predicated final: Wisconsin 45, Hawaii 28.  

Why Not The Packers? Oh, Wait . . .
December 2, 2009

I should have written this column earlier.

I was all set to explore the reasons why, despite being beaten and overshadowed by disgruntled former employee Brett Favre and the rival Minnesota Vikings, despite horrid offensive line play, and despite an embarrassing loss just four games ago to the Tampa Bay Crappaneers, the Green Bay Packers remained a solid choice to represent the NFC in Super Bowl 44.

Then I watched the New Orleans Saints completely dismantle the New England Patriots Monday night.

Long before Bill Belichick – who throughout the game had a look of utter confusion and bewilderment that rivaled my two-year-old daughter’s expression when she accidentally puts on her coat upside down – trotted out Brian Hoyer to mercifully run out the game clock, I realized that my argument was in jeopardy.

But like Tiger Woods stubbornly trying to control the maelstrom of gossip that now surrounds him (he should have followed David Letterman’s example: get out in front of the story and admit everything), I will stubbornly try to forge ahead with my vision of the Packers playing at Land Shark/Joe Robbie/Pro Player Stadium in February even as the vision of Drew Brees’s five touchdowns is upsettingly fresh in my mind.

First of all, the Packers are playing for a Wild Card spot. Yes, the Vikings have tough games ahead of them against Arizona and Cincinnati and the oft-mentioned Monday night game at Chicago that could be Favre’s only game in bad weather. But they also have games against Carolina, the reeling New York Giants, and, no matter what the weather (and the Bears would have to play in it too), Chicago is extraordinarily beatable.

So no NFC North championship for Green Bay in 2009. But at 7-4, the Packers are tied with the Philadelphia Eagles for a Wild Card playoff spot, and that’s a position that they should be able to hold on to.

Or can they? Well, some mediocre team is going to win the NFC East and there could very well be an equally mediocre Wild Card team representative from that division. But can the East send three teams as they did two seasons ago? Absolutely not.

Save an easy Thanksgiving game against the hapless Raiders, the Cowboys offense has been stagnant of late, and Tony Romo’s struggles late in the season (5-8 career record in December) have been well documented. Now at 8-3, the Cowboys could easily finish 8-8 and miss the playoffs entirely.

But should both the Cowboys and Packers survive to meet again in the postseason, Packer fans only have to look back to their November 15 17-7 victory against Dallas to like that rematch.

Though currently in second place, the Eagles should finish ahead of the Cowboys thanks to the solid play and clutch game experience of Donovan McNabb. But nagging injuries to some of their best playmakers (Brian Westbrook, DeSean Jackson), and a struggling defense (who gives up 24 points to Washington?) should make the Eagles a fairly easy out in the postseason.

And what of the Giants? With three divisional games looming, New York controls their destiny, but by losing five of six and by looking awful in the process, they also look like they won’t be a factor in the postseason simply because they won’t be there.

In the NFC South and West divisions, the only real threats to the Packers’ hold on a Wild Card spot are the Atlanta Falcons (6-5) and the San Francisco 49ers (5-6).  Of the two, the 49ers – especially with a remaining schedule that includes Seattle, Detroit, and St. Louis, together with and Atlanta’s injury problems – are the bigger threat, but simple mathematics indicate the Packers have little to worry about here.

Since Green bay beat San Francisco 30-24 just two weeks ago, the 49ers would have to win out while the Packers would have to lose three of their last five games for San Francisco to pass the Packers in the Wild Card standings. No matter how motivating 49ers head coach Mike Singletary is – and I could listen to that guy talk all day – he’s not going to be able to get that group of players from 3-5 to 10-6.

Moving closer to home, surely every Packer fan remembers the 2004 season. It was a remarkable roller-coaster season that saw the Packers start 1-4, only to finish 10-6 including two wins over division rival Minnesota.

The fun ended, though, when the Packers not only had to suffer the indignity of losing to the Vikings at Lambeau Field 31-17 in a Wild Card game, but also had to sit through Randy Moss’s “moonwalk” (which infamously sent FOX announcer Joe Buck into a conniption) in the process.

But perhaps Packers fans could find solace in how that season ended. Could history repeat itself, only this time in a bizarro fashion with the Packers getting the last laugh on the Vikings in the postseason?

Why not? While the Vikings have won three straight since beating the Packers at Lambeau, the victories have come against bottom-feeders Detroit, Seattle, and Chicago with all of the games in the friendly confines of the Metrodome. Excuse me, Mall of America Field.

And while the Vikings’ offense hasn’t been slowed lately, the team has shown an increased lack of discipline lately (probably stemming from overconfidence) with 28 penalties over the last three weeks.

If that doesn’t seem alarming, consider Adrian Peterson’s four fumbles over the past three games: Given that no one expects Favre’s nearly error-free 2009 streak (just three INTs so far to 24 TDs this season) to continue – FOX’s Troy Aikman suggested on Sunday that head coach Brad Childress must be nervous knowing that his 40-year-old quarterback is bound to start throwing some picks – the Vikings could be in danger of imploding against a good team with a chip on their shoulder. The Packers certainly fit that bill.  

And with the Packers’ offensive line stabilizing a bit lately – granted, that’s like pundits saying the economy is stabilizing while unemployment continues to go up and consumer confidence continues to go down – Rodgers could potentially have more time to pick apart the Vikings secondary – clearly the team’s biggest weakness – in any potential rematch.

So while Packers fans have to like their team’s chances against many of the opponents they may meet in the postseason, should any doubt be placed on their chances of simply getting there?

Nope.

While they have some potentially tough games on the horizon, it’s clear that neither Baltimore nor Pittsburgh (despite Mike Tomlin’s laughable horror-movie threat to “unleash hell” for the rest of the season) are the powerhouses they once were, and the Packers’ finale against Arizona could be a cakewalk if the Cardinals choose to rest players (particularly Kurt Warner) if they have the NFC East won by then, which is a real possibility.

Which brings us back to the New Orleans Saints. Even though I hate this phrase almost as much as I hate the use of the phrase “Tonight on The Jay Leno Show…” I’m going to use it: If the playoffs started today, the Packers would face the Saints in a potential divisional round matchup at the Superdome.

Based on what we saw Monday night, that is not a game that would end well for not just Green Bay, but any team.

But given that the Saints have only won two playoffs games in their history, given that the Packers lead the league in allowing an average of just 281.5 yards a game, given that Aaron Rodgers is running neck-and-neck statistically with Drew Brees, you’d have to like the Packers chances in a showdown with the Saints, wouldn’t you?

Like I said, I would have a few days ago.

After watching Monday Night Football this week, not so much.