Commentary: Why not the Packers?

Christmas is the season of hope, and some bad fortune in Philadelphia and Friday's scintillating comeback at Minnesota have given Packers fans a healthy dose of hope for a happy new year and a happy start to February, as well.

These Packers are a lot like the school flirt, however. Just when you are ready to embrace them, they're off doing their own thing. For the flirt, it was to ditch me to find a guy who actually looked good and had some money-making potential. For the Packers, it's to lay enough rotten eggs at Lambeau Field to make ol' Vince turn in his grave if only to have his nose pointing the other direction.

Even my mom, her eyesight ravaged by her heinous multiple sclerosis, told me she realized the Packers weren't going anywhere this season.

Anywhere, as any Packers fan will tell you, is Jacksonville for the Super Bowl.

A severe ankle injury to Eagles receiver Terrell Owens, however, has opened the door for the Packers and a bunch of other NFC teams who should be destined for the golf course but instead will be forced to play another week.

Enough has been written and said about the NFC so I won't belabor the point. Plenty has been written and said about the Packers, but those are points worth belaboring.

The Packers' defense can't stop anybody. The Packers' kick coverage teams can't stop anybody. The Packers force turnovers about as often as President Bush admits a mistake. If defensive-holding and illegal-use-of-the-hands penalties were worth points, the Packers would be undefeated.

Yet here we are, in this hap, hap, happiest time of the year, with a glimmer of hope. The Packers have more flaws than a $10 diamond, but Brett Favre's preseason Super Bowl-or-bust proclamation hasn't gone bust, though the engine is belching enough smoke to raise the Earth's temperature another degree.

Top-seeded Philadelphia remains the team to beat with Donovan McNabb at quarterback, Brian Westbrook at running back and a defense that gives up everything but points. But without the superhuman Owens, the challenge of stopping their offense is a lot less daunting. If the Eagles' offense can be held in check, a break here and there could push the Packers to victory.

Second-seeded Atlanta may be the worst 10-4 team in league history. The Packers' defense can't stop the opponents' passing games, but Falcons quarterback Michael Vick has the accuracy of a kindergartner's spitball shooter. If the Falcons install the single-wing offense, with Vick running left and Vick running right, a Packers defense that treats tackling as if it's optional would be in deep trouble. Meanwhile, in the juiciest of subplots, deposed defensive coordinator Ed Donatell is running the defensive show in Atlanta.

The Packers are locked into the third seed, and the other three NFC playoff spots are up for grabs among Carolina, New Orleans, Seattle and Minnesota. There isn't a team in that pathetic bunch you wouldn't pick the Packers to whoop up on Lambeau, but then again there's not a team in the bunch that would surprise you if they whooped up on the Packers instead.

If coach Mike Sherman has committed one unpardonable sin, it's that he has let the Lambeau Field mystique disappear like those Christmas cookies sitting on my counter. During the Mike Holmgren mini-Glory Years, the Packers won 25 straight at Lambeau. The famed Frozen Tundra was a house of horrors for the opposition, no matter if was 60 degrees or 6 degrees.

That's all changed the past few seasons under Sherman. The Packers finished 4-4 at home this season. Not even the brutal winter weather matters anymore, as the Detroit Domers and Jacksonville Floridians proved in back-to-back weeks earlier this month. The Packers have lost one Lambeau Field playoff game in franchise history, and that was under Sherman. Brett Favre has lost only two games with temperatures of 35 or below at kickoff, and those came under Sherman.

You know what? None of it matters. The bad defense doesn't matter. The disappearing home-field advantage doesn't matter. Some suspect coaching doesn't matter.

Bask in the victory over the hated Vikings. Bask in another gem by Favre, because who knows how many more times we'll witness such a masterful artist at work. Bask in the fact the Packers' defense actually forced a couple of punts Friday. Bask in the glory of this team, for all of its warts, showing some fight after a 1-4 start by running off eights wins in 10 games to keep the division championship. Bask in the Eagles' misfortune. Bask in the ultimate Christmas present, a gift that keeps on giving: The Packers play in the NFC, a conference so weak that a defense that couldn't tackle a running back laying in the fetal position can actually harbor Super Bowl hopes.

Bask in all of that. Savor it. Do anything but try to figure out this team, because it will just spoil your appetite for the rest of those Christmas cookies.

Huber writes for packerreport.com and The Green Bay News-Chronicle, where this originally was published. Contact him via e-mail at packwriter@hotmail.com


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