Second half awaits

It's been a wild season, and we're only halfway through. <p> The Packers started the season with Super Bowl aspirations, then made an emphatic statement to back up the preseason hype by winning big at Carolina.

Then the wheels came off. A stunning home loss to the lowly Chicago Bears turned into a stunning disaster with three more losses, including two more at Lambeau Field.

Right when many fans and members of the media had written off the team — and as calls for Mike Sherman's head began to surface — somehow the Packers turned everything around. It all started with a Sherman pep talk at Detroit and subsequent blowout victory.

"I told them last night that our back was against the wall so far they had splinters up their (butts)," Sherman said. "I said there's no other place to go but to go out and fight and make something happen. Thankfully, they did that."

The Packers followed the victory at Detroit with a drubbing of Dallas and then a scare at Washington.

Thus, after a 1-4 start, Green Bay enters its Sunday off with a 4-4 record. That's hardly the record the Packers had envisioned when they kicked off the season, but if the Vikings lose Monday night at Indianapolis — and Randy Moss won't play with his hamstring injury — they would fall to 5-3; meaning the Packers could be playing for a tie for the NFC North lead when they square off Nov. 14.

If the Packers hope to qualify for the playoffs, they'll likely have to win six of their final eight games. Here's the rest of this season's schedule.

NOV. 14 VS. MINNESOTA (5-2)

Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper is having a season for the ages. Even without Randy Moss for a couple games, he is leading the NFL with 2,180 yards. His 20 touchdown passes in seven games trails only Peyton Manning's 22 TDs in eight games. The Vikings are more than just a passing team, however. Despite a barrage of injuries at running back and a drug-policy suspension to Onterrio Smith, the Vikes are 11th in the league in rushing.

NOV. 21 AT HOUSTON (4-3)

The Texans have had to rely on the passing game as running back Domanick Davis, a 1,000-yard rusher last season as a rookie, has been held to 2.8 yards per rush this season. Houston is averaging a league-worst 3.3 yards per carry. Not to worry, however. Quarterback David Carr, 2002's No. 1 overall draft pick, has completed 66.0 percent of his passes and thrown for 1,917 yards. Houston's defense is a disappointing 24th in the league.

NOV. 29 VS. ST. LOUIS (4-3)

Like the Packers, the Rams bounced back from a slow start with a three-game winning streak. This is a typical Rams team, with Marc Bulger throwing to electric receivers Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt, and running back Marshall Faulk finding the seams. Bulger has thrown for 1,985 yards in seven games with 10 touchdowns. Faulk is averaging 4.2 yards per rush with three touchdowns — and has added 28 receptions — and first-round pick Steven Jackson is averaging 5.7 yards per carry.

DEC. 5 AT PHILADELPHIA (7-0)

The additions of Terrell Owens and Jevon Kearse have had the desired impact. With Kearse collecting six sacks, the Eagles have been superb on defense. With the exception of the 31 points allowed at Cleveland, the Eagles haven't allowed more than 17 points in a game this season and held two teams to single figures. Owens has been his big-play, big-mouthed self with 42 catches and nine touchdowns. With Owens' ability to get open taking the pressure off the other receivers, quarterback Donovan McNabb is playing like a league MVP. He has completed 64.2 percent of his passes for 1,972 yards, 14 touchdowns and three interceptions.

DEC. 12 VS. DETROIT (4-3)

The Lions are 1-2 at home but 3-1 on the road. The Packers were lucky to play Detroit without star rookie wide receiver Roy Williams, who has 24 catches for 362 yards and five scores despite missing two full games. The running game is a problem, with a 3.3 yards-per-rush average, but the Lions run defense is yielding just 3.5 yards per crack. Nonetheless, Detroit ranks 29th in the league in total defense.

DEC. 19 VS. JACKSONVILLE (5-3)

The Jaguars are one of the league's surprise teams. Even if the weather is frigid, it should be a close game. Six of their eight games have been decided by seven points or less, and one of those games was a 14-point outcome only because a last-second interception was returned for a touchdown. Quarterback Byron Leftwich is living up to his 2003 first-round billing, completing 64.8 percent of his passes for 1,891 yards and nine touchdowns. Running back Fred Taylor (510 yards) is his usual, productive self. One of the best defenses in the league last year, Jacksonville stands just 21st this year.

DEC. 24 AT MINNESOTA (5-2)

A Christmas Eve game in the Metrodome should be a shootout. The Vikings rank 25th in the league in defense, including 27th against the pass. Green Bay is 23rd in yards allowed per rush (4.6) while Minnesota is 27th (4.7). On the other side of the ball, Minnesota's offense converts 51.7 percent of its third downs while Green Bay is second at 50.9 percent.

JAN. 2 AT CHICAGO (2-5)

Incredibly, of the remaining teams on the schedule, Chicago's defense is the best the Packers will face. The Bears rank 11th in total defense, thanks in large part to a 33 percent conversion rate allowed on third downs. Offense has been the problem. Chicago has reached 20 points just three times. Thomas Jones has rushed for 511 yards, and tore apart the Packers for 152 yards in the first meeting. Starting quarterback Rex Grossman is out for the season with a knee injury and backup Jonathan Quinn is injured and ineffective. That left rookie Craig Krenzel starting last week against San Francisco.


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