Coming into the season, even with star cornerback Al Harris and sparkplug strong safety Atari Bigby unavailable for the first six weeks of the season, the Green Bay Packers were picked by many to cruise through the NFC and win the Super Bowl. Those memories seem so distant, don’t they? Injuries have hit hard and often this year for the green and gold, leaving many fans dazed and confused. First, underappreciated running back Ryan Grant went down with a season ending ankle injury, a blow exacerbated by the lack of a viable backup. The Packers started off strong though, and were 2-1 heading into a matchup with the perennial punching-bag Detroit Lions. Though the Packers went home with a victory, all-pro linebacker Nick Barnett and starting strong safety Morgan Burnett were lost for the season with wrist and knee injuries. Any hopes that the season could be salvaged were destroyed when star tight end Jermichael Finley was lost for the season with a severe knee injury. The finishing blow seemingly came after back to back overtime losses in weeks five and six, leaving the Packers at 3-3, second in the division, and missing several key cogs of the team. The season felt like it had slipped away, so many hopes and dreams dashed in a matter of weeks.Without Grant and Finley, our high-powered offense suddenly became weak and predictable. Without Barnett and Burnett, our stout defense was looking more and more like swiss cheese. The toughest part of our schedule was still ahead: Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings were coming to Lambeau; and the New York Jets – widely considered the number one team in football – were hosting Green Bay the week after. Fans became increasingly frustrated when general manager Ted Thompson wouldnt pull the trigger and trade for mercurial running back Marshawn Lynch, when all he needed to give up was a fourth round draft pick. It seemed as if even the Packers brass had given up on the season and were waiting for the 2011 season to come. I began to feel like I should do the same.
Our Packers have now beaten the hated Vikings, the Jets, and Dallas. They are 6-3, and number one in our division, and the defense is looking better than it did last year. Our offense is still working out its kinks, but because they are lead by the gutsy Aaron Rodgers, they will always have the chance of lighting the other team up on any given Sunday. Starting to feel good, right? It gets better. The Packers have weathered the stormy first half of the season and are now looking at a second half that should have calmer seas. For the Packers to win the division, they would realistically have to win at least ten games, which is what they are on pace for at the moment. Their remaining games are (records in parenthesis): Dallas (1-7), at Minnesota (3-5), at Atlanta (6-2), San Francisco (2-6), at Detroit (2-6), at New England (6-2), New York Giants (6-2), Chicago (5-3). If we want to get to ten wins, we have to beat five of these teams. We should beat Dallas, Minnesota, San Francisco, Detroit, and Chicago. That right there would give us ten, but we know that things dont always go our way, and one of those teams could easily upset us (I am looking at Minnesota). So if we take care of four of those five teams, that leaves us at nine wins, with three more games that should be close. If the Packers want to be considered among the NFL elite, we have to win at LEAST one of those games, hopefully two.
The Packers’ main competition will be Chicago, since they are only one game behind us in the standings. If you take a closer look, however, you will notice that Chicago’s upcoming schedule is daunting. Though their remaining teams have a lower winning percentage than the Packers do (.446 to .539) they have four remaining division games, two of them with Minnesota who they struggle to beat (2-4 over the past 3 seasons). The bigger problem with Chicago is that they don’t have the offense to hang with the better teams in the league. Their rushing attack is 27th in the league, while their passing isn’t good enough to make up for it at 21st. They have played well so far, but an 8-8 season will have to be considered a success for the team formerly known as “The Monsters of the Midway”.
The other team that worries many Packer fans is the Vikings. The Vikings have the NFL’s best rusher in Adrian Peterson, a rugged defense, and they are led by the savvy veteran Brett Favre. Injuries and a lack of cohesiveness have made the Vikings a far cry from the Super Bowl contender they were supposed to be. As stated before, ten games should win this division, but the Vikings are far from that right now with their 3-5 record and their only wins coming against Dallas and Detroit. They would need to win every game but one for the rest of the season, and their schedule is not doing them any favors (.569 winning percentage if you take out 0-8 Buffalo, .507 if you don’t).
It is safe to assume that the Vikings are out of the playoff race, and the Bears have a much harder road than we do. Packer fans everywhere can breathe a sigh of relief, that trying stretch of overtime losses and sudden injuries is in the rearview mirror, get those champagne bottles ready!by Roberto Ruiz [email protected]