Don't get me wrong, I know that all 16 games in the NFL season are equally important. They all count the same as the rest in the W/L column. The more you win, the better your chances are. It's simple.
I also believe in big games. I believe that certain games are more important than others for reasons that aren't really measurable. Momentum is a concept that people can visualize, but doesn't really exist in a measurable form. Sure, a win or loss streak can be measured, but momentum is so much more than that. It's a level of confidence, a swagger, the ability to execute and achieve your goal. Winning big games can help a team get that.
This week's game against Tennessee is important, just like the other seven that we've played so far. But is it a big game? You could argue that point pretty well. I, however, classify it differently; it's a set-up game for the real big game.
Green Bay is not favored to win the Super Bowl. Do they have the talent to do so? Of course. Every team in the NFL has the raw talent to win games; the teams that win just maximize it through gameplanning and execution. But their expectation isn't a championship, like it was for Dallas, New York, and the Patriots (pre-Bernard Pollard).
But they are widely considered to be worthy of the playoffs. Most of the experts agree that, at this point, it's down to the Packers and Bears for the NFC North title and the playoff berth that comes with it. Therefore, Green Bay's primary objective should be to make the playoffs as the NFC North champion, and the best way to get there is by beating Chicago.
What does that have to do with Tennessee? Nothing, except that it's a set-up game. We play Chicago next week, who will likely be 5-3 after beating Detroit. Next Sunday is a big game. If Green Bay wins next week, they are putting themselves in great position for the remainder of the season. Week 10 is huge for the Pack.
Week 9 against Tennesee, although important, is merely a set-up game. I'm calling it right now: if Green Bay can win against Tennessee, they can definitely win against the Bears and put themselves on the fast track to the NFC North title. If they falter against Tennessee, I'm predicting a Week 10 loss and the possibility of playoffs much, much lessened.
I came up with three matchups that will decide this game. If the Pack can win even just two of them, they could win:
- Tennessee's interior D-Line vs. GB's interior O-Line. Albert Haynesworth is a beast in the most primal sense of the word. He plays defensive tackle the way Greg Oden is supposed to be playing center (stupid injury...). Scott Wells, Jason Spitz, and Daryn Colledge are going to have to at least try and contain him and his counterpart, Tony Brown, who's also playing inspired football. We could very well see the return of week 2-7 Ryan Grant, the one who had nowhere to go and nowhere to hide. The best way to prevent that is to start by neutralizing the Titan tackles.
- Green Bay's recievers vs. Tennessee's defensive backs. Everyone knows that Green Bay has one of the best recieving corps in the league. But people are just now learning that Tennessee has one of the best defensive backfields in the league. Don't forget, Cortland Finnegan and Michael Griffin are tied with Charles Woodson and Nick Collins for the league lead in interceptions with 4 apiece. These guys can cover with the best of them, so it's going to take some great route running but Jennings, Driver, Nelson, Martin, Lee, and Jones (if he plays) to get open.
- Tennessee's running backs vs. GB's linebackers. Yikes. This is perhaps the biggest matchup of the day right here. Tennessee boasts the best "Smash 'n Dash" run game in all of football. LenDale White won't break many more of those 80 yard touchdowns, but he will get past the line of scrimmage and is a huge goal-line threat. Chris Johnson is the perfect complement; a speedy outside runner that can make defenders miss almost at will. Let's hope they don't watch any tape of Felix Jones from week 3.
Much has been said about the state of the LB corps recently. I'm inclined to think that A.J. Hawk's decline is more due to injury than to poor performance and that Barnett's troubles are the more serious issue. If Hawk is healthy and Barnett can figure out how to get back to his 2007 ways, this is a matchup the Packers can win.
On paper, this seems like it should be an easy Tennessee win. They're the best at running the ball, and Green Bay is one of the worst at stopping the run. Combine that with a scary-good defense, and you'll win 80% of your games. Going by the matchups and the available personnel and the overall performance of these two teams, I'd say the most likely outcome is a solid Titans victory, somewhere along the lines of 27-14.
But, I don't know how or why, I have a gut feeling that Green Bay is going to win. Maybe it's because of the bye week. Or maybe it's because I haven't seen them play in so long that I'm getting delirious. But it just seems like the type of game that Green Bay has no business winning but pulls it out in the most unexpected way. I have no clue why, but my gut tells me that the Packers are going to run on the Titans, and it's going to work. Somehow. Maybe they'll use a Mack truck instead of Ryan Grant. But I'm predicting a 20-17 Packer victory this Sunday. I fully expect to be wrong on this prediction. Then again...