Sunday, December 26, 2010

This Just In: Rodgers is Really Good

Aaron Rodgers displays his new concussion-proof headgear
Aaron Rodgers had an absolutely monster game today, throwing for 404 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 139.9.  It was probably the best game of his career so far, and encouraging that it happened in such a crucial contest for the Packers – keeping their playoff hopes very much alive.  Apart from donning a special concussion-minimizing helmet that was reminiscent of one of those conehead collars dogs wear so they can’t lick themselves, Rodgers looked damn good out there today.

Here are a few nuggets just to put his day into perspective:

1) A perfect passer rating is 158.3.  The only quarterback to get a perfect score this year (at least, according to Wikipedia, my source of all factual information) was Tom Brady against the Lions on Thanksgiving Day.  Rodgers out-performed Brady by 60+ yards, but had a slightly lower completion percentage.  If James Jones hadn’t dropped two passes in his hands, maybe Rodgers could have gotten a perfect rating today.

2) According to the Journal-Sentinel, Rodgers’ 404 passing yards were the most by any Packers quarterback, including one Mr. Favre, in the regular season since Lynn Dickey’s 418-yard performance against Tampa Bay in 1980.  I repeat, Lynn Dickey!  Of course, NFL historians cannot actually confirm that Tampa Bay had a team in 1980, so the record may actually go back longer than that.

3) According to the Fox announcers (though you have to take everything they say with a grain of salt since neither of them can pronounce the city of Green Bay properly), this is the first time the Giants have given up over 500 yards of total offense in a game since 1980.  The Giants came in as one of the best defenses in the NFL and the Packers punched them in the mouth.

The performance by Rodgers further solidified his reputation among Packers fans, but his equally impressive play caller today, Mike McCarthy, still doesn't get much love.  The rap on the 2010 Packers is that they “can’t win close games.”  All 6 Packer losses were by 4 points or fewer, two in over-time.  And over the last five years, McCarthy’s Packers are 10-16 in games decided by 6 points or less.  The flip side of that statistic is that when the Packers win, they beat the crap out of teams.  Green Bay’s +141 points differential this year is second only to New England (174) and significantly better than any other NFC team (see chart of the top 10 teams below).

Yet, in spite of that impressive statistic, I still hear Packers fans calling for McCarthy’s head.  They pine away for a Gruden or a Cowher, under the rarely-ever-proven-in-the-NFL premise that a previous Super Bowl winning coach will automatically deliver another Lombardi trophy.  Let’s set aside for a moment the fact that neither Gruden nor Cowher have ever been credibly mentioned as candidates in Green Bay, that there are literally dozens of teams desperate for a head coach, and that we’d be firing a coach who has consistently won.  Even if you then still think that it’s time to make a change, are you really prepared to enter at least a year or two of rebuilding under a new administration?

Living in the Bay Area, I’m constantly reminded how different things could be in Green Bay.  Every day on local talk radio, the giant debate of the Smiths (as in "who sucks more, Alex or Troy?") rages.  Fans call in imploring the Yorks to fire Singletary – which they finally did today.  The 49ers once proud dynasty hasn’t been to the post-season since 2002.  That’s what a troubled franchise looks like.  In spite of our frustrations and near misses this season, the Packers are nowhere near that - even if the season hasn't lived up to our high expectations.

Troy Aikman suggested during today’s broadcast that McCarthy should be in the conversation for Coach of the Year.  That may be over-stating it.  Let's make the playoffs first.  But at the very least today’s performance was some sweet redemption for the loss to the Giants in the NFC Championship game three years ago.  And if they can play like that next week and carry the momentum over into a playoff run, McCarthy just might win over the doubters the way Rodgers has.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Giant Wish for Christmas

Every Packer fan has one thing on his wish list this December 26 (hint to Santa - they don't sell it at the Packer Pro Shop): a Packer victory over the Giants.  It wasn’t supposed to be this way.  The Packers didn’t expect to be on the brink of elimination from the post-season in week 16.  They were supposed to be resting up for a playoff run, preparing to host games at home, maybe even making plans for a bye week.   But a rash of key injuries, an inability to win close games, and a fair share of just plain old bad luck has the Packers facing a must-win game this Sunday against the Giants.

For all intents and purposes, this is a playoff game.  If the Giants win, they clinch a playoff spot – even if they lose in week 17 against the Redskins.  The Packers must win or they are eliminated, although a win doesn’t clinch a spot.  They will most likely need to win again in week 17 against the Bears to secure a playoff berth (otherwise, they would be relying on a Giants loss in week 17 and one more loss by the Buccaneers to get in).

The Giants' "Meltdown in the Meadowlands" last weekend was one of the greatest blown games in years.  (Speaking of meltdowns, I have a special recipe in honor of that game below.)  To give up a 21-point lead with 8 minutes left in the fourth quarter at home when it was effectively for the NFC East division title has to be incredibly demoralizing for the Giants.  But I fully expect them to come into Lambeau fighting on Sunday.

Packers beating the Giants in the 1962 NFL Championship Game at Yankee Stadium.
Although not as hyped as divisional showdowns, the Packers and Giants are actually one of the most historic rivalries in the NFL.  The Packers’ 37-0 win over the Giants in the 1961 NFL Championship game at Lambeau Field (then “New” City Stadium) marked the emergence of Vince Lombardi, who had been a former Giants assistant coach, as a national icon.  The Packers repeated as NFL champions the following year against those same Giants – this time in an iconic game at Yankee Stadium that drew a huge television audience and helped usher in the modern era of football.

Of course, the last time the Giants visited Lambeau they eliminated the Packers in the 2008 NFC Championship game.  Brett Favre’s crucial interception in overtime proved to be his last as a Packer and ended Green Bay’s last best shot at a Super Bowl.  It’s a painful memory for any Packers fan, made all the more painful for me due to the Spanish play-by-play I had to endure while watching it.

Hopefully, our Christmas wishes will be granted with a Packer victory on Sunday, or Santa is really going to be on my shit list.  Rodgers will be back, but the offensive line needs to have a big game – not only to protect Rodgers from the Giants’ vicious pressure, but to continue to be productive in the running game.  On defense, Cullen Jenkins will be out again, which will make it hard to stop the Giants’ rushing attack.  But the Packers need to figure out a way to win this game.  A season of expectations is riding on it.  Furthermore, some NFC team this year is going to be made an example of – the team that is eliminated from the playoffs despite having a vastly better record than the 7-9 “winner” of the NFC West.  We don’t want to be that team.

Now, in an attempt to inspire another Giants meltdown, here’s  a Wisconsin-inspired recipe that also happens to be perfect for Christmas.

Packers Cheddar & Beer "Meltdown" Fondue

1 lb aged Wisconsin cheddar cheese
½ lb Gruyere cheese
1 bottle (12-oz) Wisconsin beer
½ tbsp cornstarch
4 cloves garlic
2 tbsp brandy
¼ tsp baking soda
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
Salt to taste
1 loaf French bread cut into cubes

Get ready to shred some cheddar (and your knuckles!)
Shred cheese using that cheese grater at the bottom of your kitchen tools drawer.  Don’t buy the pre-grated cheese – they use "anti-caking agents" on it like microcrystalline cellulose and calcium carbonate.  I don’t really know what that stuff is, but I know you don’t want it in your fondue, or your body for that matter.  Plus, let’s face it, grating the cheese is the most exercise you’re going to get today.  Open the beer and take a sip.  Put another “sip’s worth” into a small bowl, whisk in the cornstarch and set aside.  Peel the garlic and throw it into a pot with the rest of the beer.  Bring to a boil and whisk in the beer-cornstarch mixture you’ve set aside (and, hopefully, not drank already).  Remove the garlic cloves (they’re just for flavor, not texture) and reduce heat to low.  Gradually mix in the cheeses.  Keep stirring and allowing each handful to melt before you add more.  Keep the heat low or you’ll curdle the cheese.  Combine brandy and baking soda in a small bowl, then add to fondue.  Finally add in lemon juice and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve the whole thing in the fondue set you got as a wedding gift.  Try not to spill the entire cauldron of scalding cheese on yourself or any of your guests.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Was Last Night (Finally) Favre’s Last Game?

Corey Wootton (from Northwestern!) sacks Favre in what could be his last NFL play

When they play the highlight reel at Brett Favre’s induction ceremony into the NFL Hall of Fame, I’m going to guess there won’t be many vignettes from 2010.  While his decision to play through pain to start last night’s Monday Night Football game was vintage Favre, any fan of the game had to wince seeing a 41-year old get thrown to the frozen ground like a rag doll (it is not “Frozen Tundra” in Minneapolis, by the way, Cris Collinsworth).  Favre’s decision to return for what, God willing, will be his last NFL season must rank among the worst decisions ever – right up there with starting a land war in Asia and drinking milk on a hot day.

The logic was probably persuasive when half the Vikings staff came down to Hattiesburg to convince Favre to come back this season.  “We were one play away from a Super Bowl.”  “The team needs you.”  “Sidney Rice is ready to rock.”  “We’ll sign Randy Moss if we have to.”  “Tavaris Jackson can’t carry the mail.”  "Don't you want to retire as a Super Bowl champion?!"  And so on.  Unlike 2009, when Favre was playing for himself, this year he was playing for the other guys on the team – most of whom are young enough to be his son.

No doubt his pre-season calculus did not consider all the costs of a 20th NFL season – which, in retrospect, included his health, his reputation, potentially millions in endorsements (my personal favorite is this Wrangler "open fly jeans" commercial), his consecutive starts streak, and, possibly, his marriage and family.  Big price to pay – particularly when it was all for a team that will finish the season under .500 and far out of playoff contention.

As I’ve said before, I’m not a Brett Favre hater.  I just hate the Vikings, and he happens to be their quarterback.  My sincere hope is that Favre finally recognizes his own limitations and retires this year.  As soon as he does, I fully expect him to be re-embraced by Packer nation, ending this internecine feud among us.  It may take a few years of healing, but no Packer fan will be able to watch his number being retired at Lambeau Field without getting sentimental.  Even if he doesn’t do the one-day symbolic “retire as a Packer” thing (see Jerry Rice), Brett Favre will always be a Green Bay Packer.

"Famous Redskins Coach Vince Lombardi" (just doesn't sound right)
Forrest Gregg as a Dallas Cowboy in 1971.

After all, nobody remembers Vince Lombardi as a Washington Redskin or Forrest Gregg as a Dallas Cowboy even though he played against them in the Ice Bowl.  They are iconic as Packers.  Green Bay is where they had their success.  It is where they built their legend and legacy.  It is the team they identified themselves with for years to come.  And it is how they will be remembered.  The same will be true for Favre.  And the photo montage of 2010 below will be long forgotten in the annals of NFL history.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Flynn Deserved a Win

Heartbreaking.  Matt Flynn came out and had an outstanding performance, but he fell just a few plays short of selling the movie rights to “The Matt Flynn Story.”  If you had told me that Flynn would out-perform Brady, going 24/37 for 251 yards and 3 TDs, I’m not sure I would have believed it.  Apart from the pick six, it was a nearly flawless performance – and a real confidence booster that there is someone behind Rodgers who can execute their offense.

Credit to the Packers’ coaching staff.  They came in with a nearly perfect game plan.  I loved the onsides kick to open up the game.  That set a tone that the Packers were throwing out all the stops to win this game.  Defensively, they did an outstanding job keeping Brady in check – holding the likely league MVP to 163 yards passing.  With Collins missing much of the game and Erik Walden getting the start at linebacker, it’s all the more impressive they held the #1 offense to so few yards.  And the running game was finally effective tonight – racking up 143 yards and resulting in a dominant time-of-possession advantage.

The game was really decided on three plays that didn’t go the Packers’ way:

  1. Woodson’s missed interception.  Charles has to be kicking himself to have the ball bounce off his hands on the Patriots’ opening drive.  That would have been a key turn-over.  
  2. Dan Connolly’s 71-yard kick-off return.  Are you kidding me???  That looked like a walrus stealing a chicken.  How a 300+-lb offensive lineman rumbles down the field to nearly score a touchdown is beyond me.
  3. Flynn’s pick six.  I’m not sure you can pin that one on Flynn.  It looked to me that Jones cut off the route early.  And the fact that about three dozen Packers had opportunities to make the tackle but couldn’t was disappointing.

Any of those three plays could have changed the outcome of the game.  It would have been a sweet victory.  But we at least had some luck on Sunday – with the Lions’ victory over the Buccaneers, Green Bay moves into 7th place in the NFC playoff race.  And with the Eagles’ dramatic come-from-behind victory over the demoralized Giants, the Packers still effectively control their own destiny.  If they beat New York next Sunday at Lambeau, they will be tied with the Giants for the 6th and final wild card spot, which they would take by virtue of the head-to-head tie breaker.

So in spite of the heartbreaking loss, I got a shot of optimism tonight.  The team played with heart and determination and nearly pulled out a long-shot victory.  If they bring that kind of game the last two weeks, I’m hopeful we’ll make it to the post-season.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Keeping it Simple for Flynn

It appears increasingly likely that Matt Flynn will get the nod against New England this weekend – or, more precisely, his first-ever NFL start against the best team in the league on their home turf where they are 17-1 in the month of December since 2002 in freezing conditions on Sunday night on national TV with the Packers’ playoff hopes potentially on the line.  Not what I would call getting broken in gently.  If Flynn manages to win this game, he will become an instant hero and legend.  There may even be songs written about him.  Movie rights sold.

Assuming Rodgers doesn’t pass the battery of tests that the NFL requires (his official status is "doubtful" – once again, thanks a lot Malcolm Gladwell), this will be Flynn’s team Sunday.  And, as with any quarterback getting his first start, the Packers’ would be well served to keep it simple.  Dial back the playbook to try to avoid some of the miscues that were apparent in the Lions game.  McCarthy runs one of the more complex offenses in the NFL, but he will need to avoid that temptation (as he was unable to do on 4th and 1 last week) and simplify things this week.

What reading the defense could feel like for Matt Flynn.
I had time to ponder the virtues of simplicity as I stood in the drug store today trying to find a tube of Crest toothpaste.  I don’t know what your drug store looks like, but finding a tube of plain-old, “Regular Paste” Crest is like discovering the wreckage of the Titanic.  I finally unearthed one box of it on the bottom shelf shoved way in the back.  There were 26 frickin’ variations of Crest toothpaste on the shelf!  And that’s just one brand – multiply that by the dozen or so brands and you have a whole damn aisle of toothpaste choices.  It’s downright overwhelming.  If Matt Flynn sees 26 things when he drops back to pass on Sunday, he’ll freeze, get sacked and throw interceptions.  Or, like me, he’ll hurl his shopping basket into the end cap mistletoe display on aisle 8.

Maybe it’s just me getting old (41 years today), but I find more and more that simplicity trumps complexity.  Of course, for simplicity to work it has to be effective.  You can’t just have one I-formation, off-tackle run up the middle and call it a playbook.  But if the Packers could get in touch with their inner Lombardi and mix in a few power sweeps and other bread-and-butter plays and know they were going to crank off 3-5 yards per play, then we might have hope on Sunday.  But simple doesn’t seem to be in our bag of tricks this year.  This is the point in the season where the futile cries of several million Northeastern Wisconsinites begging Ted Thompson to get a running back earlier this season seem so prophetic.  This is the moment, when you need a win and your star quarterback is (likely) out, that a reliable running game to fall back on would come in handy.  But it was not to be.  And so, all we can do as Packers’ fans is expect the worst and hope for the best.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Metrodome Takes Cue from Vikings: Implodes Dramatically

At some point if you’re Zygi Wilf, you’ve got to ask, “WTF?!?”  After ending last season one pass away from the Super Bowl, the sequence of events this season must boggle the mind of the Minnesota Vikings’ owner.  Unless he deliberately sabotaged the roof at Mall of America Field himself as part of a twisted strategy to get a new stadium deal, the collapse of the Metrodome has to feel like the final punctuation mark on a bizarre year.  As a Packers fan, the video of the Metrodome imploding was really a joy to watch.  I just wish that dude with the horn was in it while it happened.

Finding little humor in the Packers today, I will instead once again draw on the Minnesota Vikings as my comedic muse.  It occurred to me this morning the full parallels between the Metrodome’s implosion and the Vikings’ implosion (be sure to watch the video first!).  So let me paint the complete metaphor for you:

Metrodome Event: Zygi Wilf explains that the existing stadium is old and decrepit and he wants to build a new one, but instead the team plays another year at the Metrodome.
Vikings Event: Brett Favre explains that he’s old and decrepit, but instead they decide to play him as starting quarterback for one more year.

Metrodome Event: Questions arise about the structural integrity of the roof as leaks begin under a 17-inch blanket of snow. 
Vikings Event: Questions arise about the structural integrity of Sidney Rice’s hip as he elects to get surgery at the start of the 2010 season, rather than the end of the 2009 season.

Metrodome Event: Maintenance crews reach for the buckets to catch the drips, but soon realize it is futile.
Vikings Event: Percy Harvin reaches for the Tylenol, but soon realizes he suffers from crippling migraines that cause him to miss multiple games.

Metrodome Event: Roof starts to sag in a threatening manner.
Vikings Event: Team starts to sag in a manner threatening to their playoff chances, beginning the season 2-5.

Metrodome Event: In a last-ditch effort to save the roof, the Metrodome maintenance chief tells his crew to “Get out your shovels, this is going to be a fun ride!”
Vikings Event: In a last-ditch effort to save the season, Vikings trade a third-round draft pick to the Patriots for Randy Moss who triumphantly calls Vikings fans to “Pull your 84 jerseys out, man.  This is going to be a fun ride!"

Metrodome Event: Having been suppressed for hours, the roof finally breaks sending a cascade of snow into the stadium.
Vikings Event: Having been suppressed for years, the story of Brett Favre’s sexual harassment of Jenn Sterger finally breaks sending a cascade of tabloid media into Eden Prairie.

Metrodome Event: The ceiling drops speakers and other A/V equipment indiscriminately onto the field below.
Vikings Event: Brad Childress drops Randy Moss indiscriminately without consulting Zygi in an apparent decision the team doesn’t need future draft picks.

Metrodome Event: Another massive avalanche of snow pours in through the open breach in the roof.  All hope of preventing a collapse is lost.
Vikings Event: Vikings wilt under a massive avalanche of the Packers defense, causing Zygi to fire Childress.  All hope of a playoff berth is lost.

Metrodome Event: The team must frantically negotiate a new venue for their game against the Giants, which ultimately results in relocating to another city, Detroit, that is largely indifferent to the Vikings.
Vikings Event: The team frantically negotiates with the city for a new stadium deal, which could ultimately result in them relocating to another city, possibly Los Angeles, that is largely indifferent to the Vikings and the NFL, period.

Metrodome Event: A giant crater is left in the center of downtown Minneapolis as the community contemplates the clean-up.
Vikings Event: A giant crater is left in the Vikings organization as they contemplate their vacant coaching position, lack of a stadium, geriatric roster and wanton recklessness with future draft picks.

It would be a miracle if Favre manages to play tonight, continuing his NFL-record starts streak at 297 games, but it really doesn’t matter at this point.  The season is lost.  And even a win against the Giants will be bittersweet for Vikings fans, since it will help the Packers’ playoff chances.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Meltdown in Michigan

UW-Eau Claire students celebrate the Metrodome collapse with a game of cornhole today.

It’s December in the Midwest, and that means one thing: dip shits taking their shirts off outside and getting hypothermia.  The blizzard that swept across multiple states this weekend may have also swept away the Packers’ best shot at winning the NFC North and possibly their playoff hopes.

There’s no question weather was a factor in today's game.  With a temperature of 18°F, gusting 26 mph winds that drove the wind chill down to 5°, and nearly 5 inches of snow on the ground, it’s no wonder the Packers’ offense had so many miscues – three costly turnovers, 2 of 12 third-down conversions, 4 sacks allowed, and 7 dropped passes.  Playing in the worst blizzard of the year, Aaron Rodgers managed only 46 yards through the air before being knocked out of the game with a concussion.  Realizing that mother nature had taken away the passing game, the Packers turned to their lethal rushing attack – amassing 41 yards on 18 carries by their running backs, averaging a bruising 2.3 yards per carry in wintry conditions.

Just one problem… Ford Field is INDOORS!!!

Weather would have been a convenient excuse had this game been played in Green Bay, or Chicago, or, this week it turns out, in Minneapolis.  But the Packers were on a fast track in perfect conditions against a 2-10 team that they’ve consistently dominated, winning 18 of their last 20 games and the last 10 in a row.  Some of the post-game coverage attributed the Packers’ loss to Rodgers’ injury, but Matt Flynn was the only spark the offense had today – logging 177 yards in the second half.  Although he gave up a costly interception in the end zone, and under-threw Jennings twice for what could have both been touchdowns, he at least moved the ball.

It’s difficult not to over-react to this game.  Not to go into panic mode.  Of the Packers four remaining games, the Bears and Lions games were most critical since they have the greatest bearing on who wins the NFC North.  The Packers had a tie-break advantage against the Bears.  Now they don’t.  So they will be relying on the Bears to suck as badly as they sucked against the Patriots today for the rest of the stretch.  Our wild card hopes took a big blow as well with Tampa and Philadelphia winning.  Hopefully, the Vikings can beat the Giants tomorrow in Detroit (that should draw a big crowd, eh?).

But it’s hard to think about playoff scenarios right now.  My prevailing reaction is the growing acceptance that maybe the Packers just aren’t the playoff-caliber team we all thought they were.  If you can’t win that game today – if you can’t dig it out when you know your playoff chances are riding on it – then maybe they just don’t have what it takes to make a playoff run.  Maybe they won’t even make the playoffs.  Maybe losing Grant, and Finley, and Barnett, and Tauscher, and Jones, and Chillar and Burnett, and (today at least) Jenkins and Rodgers is just too much to overcome.  Maybe a team that simply cannot rush the ball to save their lives doesn’t deserve to play in the post-season.

The only consolation today was the schadenfreude of the Metrodome collapsing (talk about a metaphor for the Vikings’ season!) and the Bears getting their asses handed to them by the Patriots (which might have been slightly more joyous were they not our next opponent).  Of course, if Rodgers can’t recover from getting his eggs scrambled in time for next week’s game, we will have nearly no chance of winning.  A Sunday Night match-up against Tom Brady in Foxborough sounds like a suicide mission anyway.  Hopefully, they can lick their wounded egos at least put up a fight.  We're going to need every win we can get from here on.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Why Green Bay is the #1 NFL Market

I had a solo trip to Los Angeles this week.  As I said goodbye to my kids, one of them asked, demonstrating their insatiable curiosity for all things football, “Daddy, who is the team from Los Angeles?”

Kids always ask the most honest and logical questions, but often there isn’t a logical response.  Why is it that the second-largest metropolitan area in the US with a population of nearly 15 million has had no NFL team since the Raiders left in 1994.  Furthermore, how is it that a small town in Northeastern Wisconsin can possibly support an NFL team when a media market the size of Los Angeles can’t?  Any rational economic analysis cannot explain why the Packers work.  The numbers just don’t seem to add up.  Yet the Packers have a fan following and financial base that is the envy of professional sports teams around the world.  Consider the following – the entire population of the city of Green Bay is just 101,025, and yet:

  • Lambeau Field holds 73,128 people, 72% of the population of the entire city.
  • There are 112,158 shareholders, more than the entire population of the city.
  • The Packers have sold out 291 consecutive home games, dating back to 1960.
  • There are 83,881 people on the waiting list for season tickets, 126 people from the waiting list were awarded season tickets this year. 
  • At the current rate (averaging about 160/year), fans going on the waiting list today would need to wait 524 years for tickets.

How is this possible?  To answer this question, TriggPack commissioned a market research study to understand the true size of the Green Bay market.  For the purpose of comparison, the study benchmarked Green Bay against the Los Angeles market, where, coincidentally, Curly Lambeau at one point intended to move the team.  They might have been the Los Angeles Packers, a name that makes almost as much sense as the Minnesota-born Los Angeles Lakers.

(Note: these calculations were done in the Bob Hope Airport while being subjected to a string of such torturous 80's hits as Culture Club's "Karma Chameleon" and “Obsession” by Animotion, so I can't take responsibility for their accuracy.  It felt like some sort of cruel experiment to see how long I could last before bludgeoning an airport employee with my carry-on bag.  Little known fact, if you are in an airport, dentist's office or elevator, you have a 78% chance of being subjected to “True” by Spandau Ballet.)

On to the numbers... If you simply look at the total population of each region, it looks like a no-brainer that the Los Angeles market would be bigger.  But peel back the onion and you realize that the population statistics can be misleading.  You have to make a few adjustments and weightings to the population figures to understand the real size of each market.

Here's the actual size of the Green Bay market:

And here's the size of the Los Angeles market:

So, as you can see, the addressable market for the Packers is actually about 32X bigger in terms of adjusted population.  Not only that, but to understand the full market size, spending per person needs to be taken into account.  With the holidays approaching, Packer fans are stocking up on their gear – everything from Packer Crocs to Rubik’s cubes (we have both items, by the way).  If your house is anything like ours, you’ve got so much Packers gear under the tree it looks like an air drop into East Berlin.  Here’s the breakdown of the average annual spending of Packer fans:
  • 4 home game tickets: $400
  • 1 away game ticket: $100
  • 1 Packer jersey (e.g. the third jersey!): $80
  • Updated cheesehead: $19
  • Miscellaneous Packer-branded gear: $200
  • Access to Packers Insider: $25
  • Brats: $150
  • Total: $974
Multiply that average annual spending by the number of fans and you’re talking about a $ 16.3 billion business opportunity!  That makes Green Bay the largest NFL market, dwarfing LA.  No wonder Al Davis moved the Raiders out of town.  But they still can’t sell out in Oakland.  If he had any sense, he’d move the Raiders to Ashwaubenon.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Spark from Starks

Of all the fun things to watch in Sunday’s game against the 49ers, seeing James Starks doing some damage was the highlight for me.  The usual positives you expect from the Packers were all present – another superlative 300-yard, 3-TD, interception-free day from Rodgers; big plays from Jennings and Driver; and a smothering defense that excels at keeping opponents out of the end zone.

But one aspect of the Packers game we’ve become conditioned not to expect is an effective running game.  Although the Packers' running backs combined were still held just under 100 yards, James Starks provided a spark we really haven’t seen in the running game since maybe the Redskins game.  Despite riding the PUP for most of the season, maybe Thompson's instincts were right in holding a place for Starks.  There were several things that stood out about the rookie’s NFL debut:

  • First, he’s big.  The Packers list him at 6-2, but he looked taller than Rodgers (also listed at 6-2) to me – he definitely has an inch or two on all the receivers.
  • Second, he’s physical.  Despite the oft-criticized “upright running style”, Starks finished every play falling forward for a few extra yards – showing none of the hesitation at the point of attack that have cut short so many of Jackson’s runs.
  • Third, he’s quick.  He burst into the hole assertively and was a step away from breaking a couple runs for big gains.  He finished the day with 73 yards on 18 carries – just over 4 yards per carry.

If he turns out to be what he appeared to be today (i.e. a legitimate running threat that defenses will have to account for) then he will have appeared just in the nick of time.  The game started with the same frustration in the opening drive that the Packers suffered from last week.  After easily marching down the field, the drive stalled after a first and goal from the 49ers’ 6-yard line.  Three passing plays later, Mason Crosby’s kick banged off the left upright.  It appeared the Packers were going to continue to completely abandon the run – and, consequently, be ineffective in short-yardage situations.

But as Starks’ carries increased, you could see his confidence increase, as well as the confidence of the coaches in him.  He was asked to carry 6 times on first and 10, gaining an average of 4 yards (9, 3, 2, 5, 5, and 0 yards).  His number was called on 9 of the 17 plays on the Packers’ final drive – accounting for 35 yards, including his long of 16.  And, guess what – when you can run the ball, suddenly screens and play action and everything else the Packers like to do are just that much more effective.

Beat up the dorky kid!!!
About the only thing I didn’t like about the day was the Packers’ throw-back uniforms.  Don’t get me wrong – the blue jerseys with the yellow circle are cool.  It’s just that how much more Packer paraphernalia can I own, for Christ’s sake???  Just when you thought there was nothing left to buy at the Packer Pro Shop, along come these damn throw-back jerseys that instantly rocketed to the top of my kids’ Christmas lists.  We know what you’re up to, Mark Murphy.  What… a home and away jersey at $80 a pop isn’t enough for you?  We need to get the “third jersey” now too?!?  Bastard.  Shockingly, it's the "featured product" in the online store.

The brown faux-leather helmets were a bit of a stretch, though.  And the sideline beanie complete with pompon was downright dorky.  I’ve seen kids get beat up fashion offenses lesser than this.  It’s the kind of hat your mom insists you wear, along with a blaze orange scarf, mismatched mittens and snow boots lined with Wonder bread bags… hypothetically, of course.  If you’re going to do throw-back hats, get something regionally resonant to Northeastern Wisconsin – like this authentic badger pelt hat, which comes with a free shotgun when you buy two.

Get these in green and gold and you'd be on to something!
The only thing that could have made the day better was if the Bears had managed to lose to the Lions’ third-string QB, which they appeared on the verge of doing.  We’ll just have to keep winning.  At least the Buccaneers lost, so we moved ahead of one team in the Wild Card race.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Can the Pack Go 11-5 and Miss the Playoffs?

Will the Packers make it to prom?

The short answer to the question above is yes.  As astonishing as it sounds, Green Bay could go 4-1 down the stretch, end the season at 11-5 (same record as last year), and be on the outside looking in at a first-round playoff game hosted by a 7-9 team from the NFC West.  The proverbial tuxedoed math geek waiting for an invite to prom, while the academically-challenged jock rolls with his posse of cheerleader babes.

Just getting to 11-5 is going to take a fight.  Assuming we hold serve against the 49ers and Lions, we still have a tough road game against New England, and match ups against the Giants and Bears to end the season.  I predicted the Packers would end the season at 11-5, but I assumed a few weeks ago that record would be good enough to get into the post-season.  In fact, as every Packer fan knows, our season would be over if the playoffs started tomorrow.  We have some ground to catch up.  So let’s break it down.

The best path into the post-season would obviously be to win the NFC North.  That’s still very achievable, particularly given the Bears’ tough schedule – which includes three road games against divisional opponents and the top two AFC teams in the Patriots and Jets.  Although they get both those teams at home, which they played tough at in beating the Eagles last week.  Most beneficial to us would be if the Lions or Vikings manage to get a win against them – if we finish with the same record as the Bears, and each win one game against each other, the tie-breaker goes to divisional record.

If the Bears keep it up and win the NFC North, then the Packers are forced to get in via a Wild Card – which could be tricky this year.  There are four legitimate teams vying for the two Wild Card slots: the Packers, Saints, Buccaneers and whoever doesn’t win the NFC East (Eagles or Giants).  What is a little unusual this year is that one division, the NFC West, is so atrocious, and it’s increasing the chances that a team with a high winning percentage from one of the other divisions won’t make the playoffs.  Someone will “win” the NFC West – currently the pathetic St Louis Rams lead the division at 5-6.  But everyone in the division is still mathematically in it.  Hell, even the God-awful, quarterback-tirading, 3-8 Cardinals are only two games out of first.  Not only does this mean that one really bad team will take one of the 6 NFC playoff spots, but it creates a bigger issue for teams like the Packers trying to get a Wild Card.  The NFC South, which already has three good teams, gets to play the NFC West this season.  They also each get to play the Panthers twice.  That’s like 6 free wins for the Falcons, Saints and Bucs!

Assuming the Falcons win the NFC South (a safe bet, since they face the softest remaining schedule of all the NFC teams in playoff contention), then the Saints, currently a game ahead of the Packers at 8-3, and Bucs, at 7-4, would both be in good position for a Wild Card.  At this point, as Packer fans, we should be rooting for the Falcons.  They play both the Saints and Bucs again, and can deal those teams' playoff hopes a blow if they can beat them.  In fact, our worst case scenario in the NFC South is that the Saints win the division and the Falcons finish 11-5 – in which case they’d get the Wild Card due to their head-to-head victory over the Packers Sunday.  Regardless, we need to beat out at least one of the two prospective Wild Cards from the NFC South.

The NFC East is not quite as problematic.  With the Redskins fading fast, it looks like the Eagles or Giants will win the division.  Whoever is second will be vying for the Wild Card.  Presently, the Packers have the same record as both teams at 7-4, and hold the tie break over the Eagles having beaten them on opening day.  If the Packers can beat the Giants at Lambeau in week 16, they will hold tie-breaks over both teams.  The Eagles have a soft schedule – twice against the Cowboys, Texans and Vikings at home, and away against the Giants – so I expect them to win the division.  Which means our game against the Giants could be very important.

Bottom line right now, I feel like if we can get to 11-5, our chances will be very good to make the post-season.  If that's not enough to beat out the Bears, then we'd almost certainly finish ahead of the Giants and Bucs for that last Wild Card spot.  Feels do-able, given how mediocre those two teams seem to be, but it still makes me nervous that we’ll be standing on the staircase waiting for an invite to the dance.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Tramon Williams Gets $33M Contract Extension

The Packers announced that Tramon Williams received a well-earned $33-million, 4-year contract extension today.  Credit to the organization for locking him up now before he becomes a Pro-Bowler, as I suspect he will at the end of this season.  We fans have leveled a lot of criticism pointed at Thompson & Co. for deals they did not make this year, particularly the failure to trade for a stronger running back.  But this was a well-executed deal, made possible by the fact they cut Harris.  And it should be money well spent.  Williams will be the the 14th-highest paid corner in the league, which could be a steal in a year or two if he's still performing at the same level.

Speaking of exceptional young DBs, I continue to be totally impressed by Charlie Peprah.  That guy is improving by leaps and bounds every week.  He led the team in tackles Sunday against Atlanta, and had at least 3 touchdown-saving tackles and/or pass defenses that I saw.  He seems to be just as physical as Atari Bigby was a couple years ago, but more fundamentally sound -- much more disciplined about being in the right place than Bigby was (or even Collins, for that matter, who made a terrible mistake crashing the end on that 4th and goal from the one Sunday).  It's all the more impressive that Peprah has stepped up and improved so much when the Packers needed him most.  Looks like he's earned the starting spot now, and deservedly so.  Those four guys make a pretty stalwart defensive secondary.

One last note: Such a bummer that Brandon Chillar is now on IR as well.  Further depletion of our linebacker corps.