Hot Read: Inconsistent, But Still In It

Make no mistake about it, the Packers are a dangerous team. Dangerous like no one wants to play them? Possibly. But more along the lines of dangerous like a kid running around with scissors. They might do a lot of damage to someone else, but they're also going to hurt themselves. This is the 2003 Green Bay Packers, the best team in the NFL. Or the worst. Depends on the week.

Through 12 games the Packers have inflicted damage on others and themselves in equal portions. There is no more perfect record for this team than the 6-6 mark at which they sit. Half the time, they have looked like world-beaters, dominators, and an offensive juggernaut capable of steamrolling over opponents. Half the time they have looked like bottom feeders, turnover-prone and out of sync on both sides of the ball, with losses to the likes of the Cardinals and Lions. The latter of which ruined more than a few Thanksgiving meals throughout Packerland.

When you're the No. 1 rushing team in football, why do you come out passing and then abandon the run against a mediocre Detroit defense? Only offensive coordinator Tom Rossley knows for sure.

After taking a lot of heat early in the season for unimaginative play calling – particularly in the passing game – Rossley started moving quarterback Brett Favre out of the pocket and drew praise when Favre seemed to recapture his old form. When Favre broke his thumb at St. Louis, it was Rossley who put together an offensive blueprint that had Green Bay running their way to victory in three of four games following the bye.

But last Thursday's game plan seemed to be concocted after some kind of all-night Tryptophan bender. And the execution, barring a handful of plays, wasn't any better. Ahman Green, the league's second-leading rusher heading into that game, got just 13 carries. Favre and his mending thumb, however, threw 37 passes (including three to the other team) in the 22-14 loss.

Still, each time the Packers seem to throw away their season, their bi-polar brethren to the north, the Minnesota Vikings, find a way to keep Green Bay in the postseason hunt. Whether either team wants to or not, someone will be forced to win the division. And it could be by default. Even Chicago, Green Bay's opponent on Sunday, has an outside shot at the title heading into Week 13. That's what passes for parity these days in the NFC (Not For Consumption) North Division.

Minnesota is just a game up on Green Bay at 7-5, but has experienced an even more dramatic roller coaster ride. After starting the season with a win over Green Bay at Lambeau Field, the Vikings cruised to a 6-0 start and looked like the shining star of the NFC, if not the entire league. Quarterback Daunte Culpepper was sharp, Randy Moss was leading off Sportscenter with his touchdown grabs, and their defense – that woeful Viking defense from a year ago – was a turnover machine. They had what seemed like an insurmountable three-game lea d over Green Bay in the division. Then the sky caved in.

The New York Football Giants went into the Metrodome and dealt the Vikings their first loss of the season. Green Bay, San Diego and Oakland piled on to drop the Vikings to 6-4. Only a late game collapse by the Lions allowed the Vikings to stop their slide, but a week later they were pounded by St. Louis, 48-17. Culpepper looks shaky, Moss has cooled off and the ‘whoa' that described their defense early on has been replaced by the more familiar ‘woe.'

As good as the Vikings looked on their way to 6-0; the Packers may have looked even better in their six wins over Detroit, Chicago, Seattle, Minnesota, Tampa Bay and San Francisco. But they don't have much room to criticize. They snatched defeat from the jaws of victory with an overtime loss to the Chiefs and squandered a record -setting day by Green when they let Philadelphia pull out a win on Monday Night Football. Losses to the Cardinals and Lions were inexcusable, while fumbles put them behind the eight ball in St. Louis. Perhaps the only silver lining in their .500 record is that while they still remain a game back from the Vikings, being inconsistent looks a lot better than the tailspin the Vikings are in right now.

With four games remaining, the schedule would also seem to favor the Packers. Green Bay takes on Chicago at Lambeau Field this Sunday before traveling to San Diego and Oakland. The Packers close out the season at home against Denver. Minnesota has Seattle at home, Chicago on the road, Kansas City at home and closes out the regular season with a trip to Arizona.

If Green Bay can run the table – a suggestion that almost seems as ridiculous as it does attainable given their season so far – their chances of winning the division seem good. That would be a far better route to the postseason than relying on tiebreakers (they currently trail Minnesota in division wins) or a wild card berth. And if Green Bay crashes that postseason party, they'll stand as good a chance as any team in the conference of getting to the Super Bowl. Or losing in the first round.

Remember, this team is dangerous.

(W. Keith Roerdink is a freelance writer from Wausau, Wis. and a longtime contributor to the Packer Report. Check out his weekly Hot Read column every Thursday.)


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