Well friends the end of the regular season is upon us. It has been a great season for the Packer and one that has been historic for our franchise. Hopefully we can cap this off right and put this team down for the ages in Packer history. In the meantime though this is a perfect time to evaluate what was happening in our neighborhood this past year and see how our rivals measured up against their hype.....also give a nice forum to just make fun of them for a bit because that never gets old either.
Overall I have to say that the NFC North was a disappointment this year. This was supposed to be the year that the NFC North took its place as the best division in the league and for the most part the franchises couldn't deliver. We were suppose to have three teams push for the playoffs and have them dominate the conference. I'm not sure that happened. Part of it is how terrible the Vikings were (more on that in a bit) part of that comes from the Bears folding (more on that too), but if I am going to point the finger anywhere it's going to be Detroit. Maybe I'm being too hard on them, but this is a team that came up small in big games typically. They were able to make to the playoffs for the first time in forever, but having our traditionally worst team become a real contender would of added cred to the division like the old NFC East. Instead with the Lions not showing up in tough games and the Bears getting the injury bug made the division much more average. Tough, sure, but not quite on the level of the AFC North.
Individual grades after the jump.....
The Chicago Bears: D+
I think my running grades might be a bit harsh for some of our rivals, but each has its own version of disappointment to the season in my mind. For the Bears I think this season is one that puts the handwriting on the wall. The Bears are a team that do not have many contending years left in the tank, and for them to come up short this year is unacceptable. Urlacher and Peppers are beasts to be sure, but they are each getting a bit long in the tooth. Briggs is overrated and Cutler and Forte need serious help. With that the Bears made some questionable decisions this offseason (screwing over the Ravens in the draft, trading Greg Olson for a song, signing reject Cowboys by the truckload) and really none of these moves turned out. Roy Williams was terrible. Marion Barber disappointed and flat out cost them the Bronco game. Sam Hurd just went there to spread his drug empire. Meanwhile Jay Cutler didn't have anyone to throw to besides Forte and he just needed Olson to check down to. Worst of all was the fact that there was no back up plan in place for the Bears when their offensive line was simply offensive. When their luck ran out and Cutler and Forte both got hurt when they needed to make a playoff push the Bears came up short and were unable to get the deal done. This failure means more questions around this franchise and another less year for those aging defensive stars that have kept this franchise relevant for about 10 years now. Not good when the team is coming off an NFC Championship appearance.
The Minnesota Vikings: F
Now this is a team that knows something about a disappointing season after an NFCCG appearance. Perhaps this season shouldn't be an F since they were able to cut down on the drama from last year. After all, their stadium didn't collapse this year and only one player was arrested. That's a step in the right direction right? Well, no, it's not good enough Viking fan. The stadium still isn't done and that means MN has to crap or get off the pot. Something has to get done extra fast or the Vikings are gone and that means our nice little division gets a shake up...a distasteful thought. Let me tell you something Viking fan, I lived in Green Bay when the Packers came asking for money and I lived in the Twin Cities when the Vikings were bucking for a new stadium as well. The Packer came when the economy was good and people were happy....they advertised their ass off, they guilted and begged for about a year before the elections. It was bitter and ugly and they barely got what they wanted. The Vikings sat on their ass and worked through back channels until Thanksgiving when it was almost too late and then threw out a couple decent commercials and hoped the politicians would come through for them. It may not be good enough, and if it's not then they share a large part of the blame for that failure and unfortunately the fans suffer a fate not fan should have to go through. I don't wish that on any of my enemies, even you Viking fan.
On the football side the Vikings matched that poor planning in spades. It all started with someone in Winter Park thinking that they had a chance at the playoffs. This spurred some awful decision making such as: trading for Donovan McNabb, holding on to Bernard Berrian, generally being satisfied with their secondary. At the same time they were doing things that teams who are rebuilding were doing like drafting a QB and letting some expensive free agents just walk out the door (Sydney Rice being the most notable) without really making a splash in free agency. I think the most telling move though was the cutting of Bryant McKinnie. Three weeks before the season they cut their starting LT because he was too fat to play. Understandable? Probably. Excusable? No, especially not when you don't have an adequate replacement on your roster. These decisions led to the worst record in franchise history and a top five draft pick. Congratulations Minnesota Vikings, you are not officially the worst team in the division for two years straight, and you have this title all to yourself now. Get used to it cause you are going to be there a while.
The Detroit Lions: B
I really want to make this a C grade. I really do. The reason for this is because the Lions pretty much did what I expected them to do, just in a very disappointing fashion. I figured they would hang around 10-6 and be a wild card team. I just didn't peg them for the sloppy, emotional, and inconsistent team that played small in big games but talked big all the time. Worse many of their fans have adopted this attitude as well. Despite this I have to give a fairly high grade because this season did allow the Lions to put some nasty history behind them. This franchise is part of the greater NFL again and now the organization and its fans have to figure out the etiquette for this new NFL age. For that I guess they get a pass and get a solid B instead of the C+ that I was really think
Look no further than the two Packer games for a snapshot of the Lions' season. In the first one the Lions needed to win to make a statement to NFL that they had arrived. It was Thanksgiving, their most important game. Hell it was a game they haven't won in what four or five years? They needed to win this game. It was circled as soon as the schedule came out, and you knew that every Lion player, coach, and fan wanted this game so bad they could state it. They screamed and banged their chest going into the game because they were going to beat the Packers. I don't know how many Lion fans even went so far as to say they were they constructed to beat the Packers. What happened? The Lions crapped the bed. Sure you could say it was close and all that, but really the Lions just pissed it away with penalties and foolishness. We all know the culmination of that and as soon as that unfortunate event happened and one their best players left the field the air was taken out of the stadium and the Packers blew the Lions out of the water. To follow that up was this past Sunday. The Lions needed a win to have a good match up in the first playoff game in over a decade. They came out and their defense got owned by our backups. That's just epic fail for a playoff team and tells you that this Lion team is just not made of stern stuff when the pressure is on. I don't care how many comebacks you had against lesser teams Lion fan, when you played real teams you failed. Period. If you make it past the Saints then by all means come back here and pound your chest, but we both know that probably isn't going to happen, so just eat crow and realize your team has a ways to go before you make your Super Bowl push. It's coming but this franchise has a long way to go before it gets there.
One side note. I know he threw for oodles of yards against the Packers today, but crap did Matthew Stafford look awful today. He was overthrowing receivers and missing open passes. I'm fully convinced that if Charles Woodson would of been out there then there probably would of been another pick or two because Stafford's accuracy was just not there. How in the world do you over throw Calvin Johnson? [shakes head] You Lion fans seriously expect me to believe that he needs to go to the Pro Bowl over Eli Manning? Why? I can tell you which QB I fear more going into the playoffs. It's the guy who's actually won at Lambeau and can win games when the lights are bright and the pressure is on. Hint: that's not Stafford. Don't get me wrong Stafford is definitely a franchise guy, but you need to understand that he's not that high in the pecking order of QB. I know Lion fan isn't use to having a guy who isn't a reject or a journeyman or both as QB, but also try to have some sense. Stafford has to grow into being an elite QB and a top three to five QB in the NFC. Especially when the one and two spots are going to be taken by Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers.
The Green Bay Packers. Incomplete
Historic season, but meaningless if there isn't a Super Bowl berth out of this. Despite that potential disappointment that loams ahead I'm going to focus on the positives. Beating the Lions on Thanksgiving when their fans were the most annoying and bragging about how they were going to beat the Packers. Beating the Lions on the last week of the season with our backups (if that doesn't cause a playoff team to have a gut check then nothing but a first round blowout will). Stomping Christian Ponder into the ground on Monday Night Football. Watching Randall Cobb give us a return game. Seeing Aaron Rodgers just put together a magical season that was surprisingly under the radar a bit due to Tebowmania and Drew Brees lighting it up as well. This has been one for the ages, and hopefully the best is yet to come......