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Monday, December 13, 2004
Three More Games
by Mark Quarderer
Well, we've made it this far. We're 8-5 and in sole possession of first place. One more win probably guarantees us a playoff spot, and if that win is against Minnesota on December 24, it guarantees us the division title.
Our next opponent, Jacksonville, started out the season like a house on fire but has come back to earth in the more recent weeks. They beat Chicago last week, beat Detroit in overtime, and lost to Minnesota. They're a pretty good defensive team, and as we've noted, the Packer offense frequently isn't showing up against good defenses. Nonetheless, you'd have to think that a team like Jacksonville is going to struggle with the cold weather more than Green Bay.
This is definitely not a game the Packers can take for granted, but it's also a very winnable game. If Minnesota loses at Detroit in the early game next week (a real possibility, IMO), then the Packers can guarantee the division title by beating Jacksonville in the late game. So much for incentive.
Following the Jacksonville game is a short week and then a trip to Minnesota to play a Friday afternoon game against the Vikings. At this point, we don't know how much this game will mean. It could be for the division title.....the Vikings could be fighting for their playoff lives.....or it could, depending on what happens next week, not mean very much to Green Bay. Over the last several years, the games against the Vikings have been exceedingly closely contested. But as always, the ultimate barometer for the Packers has been their turnovers......when they turn the ball over once or less, they virtually always win, and when they don't, they don't.
The season concludes at Chicago. This game probably isn't going to mean much to the Bears, as they will be out of contention for the playoffs. If the Packers have taken care of business against Jacksonville and Minnesota, it'll be an opportunity to rest the starters before the playoffs begin. However, if the Packers haven't taken care of business and need this game to win the division title, then it is reassuring to know that the Packers have owned the Bears in Chicago over the last decade.
So of our final three opponents, we have two very good defensive teams and one offensive juggernaut. It is unlikely that we'll hold the Vikings below their season average at home, and the Packers under Sherman are only 3-11 in games where their opponent scores 30 or more (oddly, two of those have been against the Vikings).
So my predicition is that whether or not the Packers win the division title will rest on whether or not the Packer offense can stay on the field, take care of the rock, move the ball, and score points in our final three games. This has been a challenge for the Packers this year, especially against better defenses. Three times in the last four weeks the Packer offense simply hasn't shown up in the first half at all.
The offense is supposed to be the strength of this team. It is supposed to be what separates us from the also rans. This would be a good time for them to show that.