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Moving Forward Into The Playoffs

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The loss to Chicago looked really bad and reminded me of the 2002 season. The Packers entered week 17 with a game at the NY Jets and a 12-3 record. If the Packers won that game, they clinched a first round bye and home field throughout the playoffs. Instead they lost 42-17 and had to host a wild card game the next week versus Atlanta which was another embarrassing loss and ended the franchise's perfect playoff record at Lambeau.

That playoff loss to Atlanta was very similar to the loss at Chicago. Atlanta only gained 309 yards on offense compared to the Packers 289 (the Packers had 274 yards on offense to Chicago's 240). The Packers lost to Atlanta 27-7 because they had five turnovers and it was a special teams disaster that included missed field goals and a block punt that was returned for a touchdown. Ironically the Packers led the league with a +17 turnover margin that season.

The biggest differences between the 2007 and 2002 seasons is that the Packers have the first round bye, they have three weeks to get over this game (assuming next week against Detroit isn't another disaster) and get ready for the playoff game. There are probably a lot more differences, but whatever they are the 2002 and 2007 seasons don't have a lot in common and history won't necessarily repeat itself. However the Packers have to do a lot better job at protecting the ball and forcing turnovers.

Still, how could any team lose a game 35-7 during the regular season and then expect to win in the playoffs? Looking back over the last five seasons, three similar regular season games stand out in which the eventual Super Bowl champs lost big. In 2006, Indianapolis was steamrolled 44-17 by Jacksonville in week 14. In 2005, Pittsburgh lost 26-7 at Indianapolis in week 12. In 2003, New England was embarrassed 31-0 at Buffalo in week 1. Going back a little further, in 1996 the Packers lost 21-6 at Dallas in week 12. At least one big regular season loss isn't a sign that you can't win the Super Bowl.

All things considered, after watching Favre struggle in cold weather, it might be better to have to play Dallas at Dallas. FOX pointed out during the Chicago game that he is 2-0 versus Dallas at Lambeau, but 0-9 at Dallas. That's a bit unfair because most of those losses happened at Dallas in the 1990s with seven of those losses coming between 1993 and 1996. What really pissed me off back then was that the NFL schedule makers had the Packers travel to Dallas for four consecutive regular season games. In 1999 he lost at Dallas when he was playing with a broken right thumb and was dealing with the Ray Rhodes experience. He couldn't win in Minnesota for most of the 1990s, but he's won four of his last five games at Minnesota dating back to 2002, so he's proven that he can break a bad trend on the road. However the only loss that concerns me is the loss this season at Dallas when he felt he had to force the ball downfield and instead threw two INTs.

Still I would much rather have lost this game than be Dallas where they win home field advantage but lose WR Terrell Owens to a high ankle sprain. Their offense appears to be completely different without Owens. Philadelphia won at Dallas in large part by shutting him down. At Carolina, he missed the entire second half and Dallas had 270 yards of offense and 17 points in the first half, but only 79 yards and 3 points in the second half without him. Injury guru Will Carroll says "high ankle sprains might be the most difficult injury to deal with in the NFL. Broken bones heal, torn ligaments can be repaired, but high ankle sprains are not only slow-healing but recurrent."He has been discussing the high ankle sprain recently in connection with Seattle's WR D.J. Hackett and NY Jets WR Laveranues Coles. First with Hackett:

The high ankle sprain is likely to slow him slightly and "round off" his routes, but he had these same problems during his brief mid-season play and was effective.
Second on Coles:
Coles' ankle is problematic in that he clearly wants to play, but with a high ankle sprain, there's a question of long-term damage on top of Coles' pain tolerance.
At best Owens will be slowed, and it's likely he will miss playing time and the injury could likely reoccur even after he's had a couple weeks to heal.

Despite an ugly loss at Chicago, the bandwagon can continue on, it can be written off as just one game, and the team can learn from their mistakes (better blocking on special teams and fewer turnovers). There are potential problems, but every NFC playoff team is facing problems or concerns. Dallas has a number of injuries besides Owens while the other four teams will have to win a big playoff game just to have the chance to win at Dallas or Green Bay.