Thursday, September 9, 2010

Under Pressure

The NFL regular season starts Thursday, and expectations around Packer nation, and the actual nation for that matter, are at a fever pitch.  Green Bay hasn't been under this much pressure to win the Super Bowl since Bart Star was under center.  The hype has reached such a level that I almost feel sorry for Vikings fans who have to listen to everyone predict Packer dominance in the NFC North despite their status as defending divisional champs.  Then I think about north woods face-painters like this dude and remember that I should never feel sorry for Vikings fans.  Lions fans, maybe, after generations of suffering under Packer oppression, but never Vikings fans.

At first, I thought the high expectations were just among us.  Those who saw the development of the team last year.  Witnessed the maturation of Aaron Rodgers into an MVP-level player.  Could attest to the strength of the run-stuffing defense.  But as the pre-season prognosticators across the myriad media outlets started pontificating their predictions, the persistent premonitions of Packer prowess were perceptible.

Interestingly, probably the most muted expectations were from the sports writers at the Green Bay Press-Gazette.  Although 3 of the 4 predicted the Packers will win the NFC North, only one (Mike Vandermause) had them going to the Super Bowl and losing to the Ravens.  I think they're sand bagging -- either that or trying to invoke some superstitious reverse jinx or something.  The national media has been much more bullish on the Packers' prospects.  This ESPN article providing the predictions of 7 of their top football analysts was particularly striking.  Among their predictions:
  • 4 of 7 have Rodgers as Offensive Player of the Year, 3 of 7 have him as MVP
  • 6 of 7 predict the Packers will win the NFC North
  • 7 of 7 predict they will go to the NFC Championship game
  • 7 of 7 predict they will win the NFC and go to the Super Bowl
  • 4 of 7 predict they will win the Super Bowl
Of course, one of these guys predicted the Bengals will also go to the Super Bowl, so what the hell do they know.  But those are some seriously high expectations, and it doesn't stop there.  I heard Adam Schein and Rich Gannon on NFL Network radio both predict the Packers in the Super Bowl.  And none other than our own Aaron Rodgers' mug just graced the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Cue Queen (with David Bowie)...

There are two possible outcomes when the hype circling your team reaches this decibel level.  Either:
  1. You embrace it and confidently start delivering the goods, turning that pre-season hype into regular season intimidation and domination on your way to Super Bowl glory, or
  2. You don't live up to it, start losing, trigger a wave of nay-sayers whose ripple effect spawns a wave of self-doubt causing your entire season to implode and all the coaching staff to lose their jobs.

My hope is for scenario 1.

Against that backdrop, I wouldn't be a self-respecting blogger if I didn't publicly lay out my predictions for the Packers' 2010 season.  So without further delay, here goes:

Sun., Sept. 12 @ Philadelphia Eagles -- Win, but a tight tester game.  Very nervous they will overlook the Eagles in their yard.  Just the thought of playing there still makes me twitch with PTSD flashbacks to our 2003 playoff loss against them.

Sun., Sept. 19 Buffalo Bills -- Win.  Bills may be the worst team in football this year, and should be a cake walk of a home opener.  A loss here is too horrifying to contemplate, so I won't.

Mon., Sept. 27 @ Chicago Bears -- Win.  First and only Monday night appearance this year (apparently the MNF producers didn't get the "Packers to dominate" memo).  Jay Cutler and Mike Martz already struggling to keep their jobs at this early stage in the season.

Sun., Oct. 3 Detroit Lions -- Win.  I will be at this game, and can't wait!  Lions make me a little nervous as I think they will be dramatically improved this year... to a record of 3-13.

Sun., Oct. 10 @ Washington Redskins -- Loss.  I'm not necessarily buying into the excitement about an improved Redskin team.  Lots of dysfunction in that locker room, and they still have a mascot that looks like it was pulled from a Mississippi high school in the 1950s.  But I expect us to drop at least one game early on and this or the Eagles game feel like the most likely candidates.

Sun., Oct. 17 Miami Dolphins -- Win.  Parcells' recent departure (vying with Brett for the most fake retirements) shows he knows what's coming in Miami.  Mediocrity. Your wild cat doesn't scare me.

Sun., Oct. 24 Minnesota Vikings -- Win.  Like last year, this match-up could determine the division.  We get them in our house, and, if we've taken care of business the first 6 weeks, we should have a good record and the inside track for NFC Norris bragging rights.

Sun., Oct. 31 @ New York Jets -- Loss.  Another favorite pick of the NFL gurus, probably because of all the f-bombs Rex Ryan drops on Hard Knocks.  I actually think we match up pretty well against their vertically-challenged offense, but winning at the New Meadowlands on Halloween will not be easy.

Sun., Nov. 7 Dallas Cowboys -- Win.  I'm short-selling the Cowboys, even if Jerry did get the Super Bowl.  The defense is porous, the receivers are prima donnas, Romo is a choker, and all will be on display in this Sunday night game at home.

Sun., Nov. 14 -- I predict they will have a bye week.  Record: 7-2.

Sun., Nov. 21 @ Minnesota Vikings -- Loss.  Always a tough game for us to win in that God-forsaken dome.

Sun., Nov. 28 @ Atlanta Falcons -- Win.  Another dome against another popular pick for a break-out team this year.  I, frankly, don't see it.  Matt Ryan is great, but nothing else about the Falcons generates any excitement.

Sun., Dec. 5 San Francisco 49ers -- Win.  Welcome to Lambeau in December, gentlemen.  Alex Smith sets league record with 17 interceptions.

Sun., Dec. 12 @ Detroit Lions -- Win.  Detroit already posturing for first overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft by this point.

Sun., Dec. 19 @ New England Patriots -- Loss.  Another very win-able game for us, but anticipate we can't quite get over the hump against them thanks to a Brady dismantling of our secondary.

Sun., Dec. 26 New York Giants -- Win.  Eli is actually another quarterback with the capacity to expose our weak secondary, but I think we get the job done at home as we gear up for the playoffs.

Sun., Jan. 2 Chicago Bears -- Win.  Bears are working out Caleb Hanie at QB by this point, desperately seeking some answer for next season.

Overall record: 12-4
Win NFC North and get first-round bye
Lose to Saints in NFC Championship game in a shoot out.

There you go.  I desperately hope I'm wrong and they bring home another Lombardi, but I just think the failure to shore up the defensive secondary and pass rush is going to be too much to overcome against the elite quarterbacks.  We shall soon find out.

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