Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Optimism or ...

Green Bay Packer fans seem to be equally divided about their team’s prospects for the upcoming season, with the optimists and pessimists equally passionate about their point of view. The carryover of enthusiasm from the great finish to the 2006 season is tempered by the reality of the quiet offseason the team had in terms of signing free agents to fill some of the holes in the roster. With these conflicting factors in mind, it’s pretty easy to make a strong case for the Packers returning to the playoffs this season. And an equally solid case for not returning as well.

Some Good Reasons Why the Packers Will Make the Playoffs in 2007

An Electric Atmosphere. Sometime early in the season, probably around game 4 or 5, Brett Favre will break Dan Marino’s record for career touchdown passes. The anticipation leading up to this monumental achievement will be tremendous. It could certainly give an extra jolt of energy to the team, an additional competitive edge. And with the parity in the NFL, any edge helps.

Fresh Legs. Ahman Green was obviously a tremendous performer for the Packers. But age and injuries do take their toll, and he seemed to lose that amazing knack he once had of picking up the tough 1, 2 or 3 yards to make a first down. Maybe the new guys with fresh legs will have that knack, too.

Coaching Continuity. Last year, the Packers had to work a number of first year players into the lineup, were coming off a disastrous 2005 season and had an untested Head Coach. Given all that, an 8-8 finish was certainly satisfactory. All coaches face a learning curve, and Mike McCarthy’s performance in his second year will be better than in his first.

A Defense on the Rise. For the first time in a number of years, the Packers look to have a defense that can shut down opponents and allow Brett and the offense to get back on the field. A tough defense is just what the team needs to re-establish home field advantage.

Tough Opponents Adjusting to New Coaches. Dallas and San Diego have good teams and both of those games will be difficult for the Packers to win. But, they have new Head Coaches. Who knows whether changing coaches will help or hinder those teams?

More to the Difficult Schedule Than Meets the Eye. A football season has many ups and downs, and most teams have to deal with injuries to key players sometime over the course of the season. You don’t know in August whether the team you will be facing in October will be at full strength. Or whether that team might have a letdown after a hard-fought victory the previous week. Or which teams in December will already be looking ahead to next year.

We’re Overdue for a Fast Start. How many years in a row have the Packers started the season 1-4? It seems like forever. One constant in the NFL is that nothing remains constant. Perhaps 2007 is the year the Packers reverse this negative trend of stumbling out of the gate—and losing games at home.

Not Much to Fear in the NFC North. One of the brightest spots last season was the team winning 5 of 6 games in the division. And arguably the brightest spot was hammering the Bears at their home field the last game of the season.

The Grass is Greener Effect. Free agency usually looks better when observed from a distance. When another team signs a marquee name, we all say, “We shoulda signed that guy!!!” But, we tend not to notice a year or two down the line when that signing turned out to be a bust and a serious waste of money. The teams that actively shuttle free agents in and out do not necessarily improve themselves over the course of time.

Time for a Little Trust in Ted. During a game in 2005 in which the Packers were beaten badly, John Madden’s comment about their talent level was: the cupboard is bare. That was accurate. The Packers’ talent pool had been slowly drying up, probably since the 2002 season. We can’t say for sure, but it certainly appears that Ted Thompson has revitalized the Packers with a number of bright young stars. Just to be clear, I’m not advocating that we schedule a “Ted Thompson Appreciation Day” at the stadium just yet.

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