'Tis better to take than to give

The Green Bay Packers are either defying logic or living on borrowed time.

One statistic trumps all others in the NFL, and that's turnover ratio. While it's better to give than to receive during the holiday season, the same is not true during football season. Especially during the playoff season.

"I count my blessings every time we win a game where we are minus in the turnover ratio," said Packers coach Mike Sherman. "To go deep in the playoffs, you can't have a big minus differential in turnovers."

The Packers, however, compiled a big minus differential in the regular season. The Packers finished 27th in the league in turnover ratio at minus-14, coming on a franchise-record-low 15 takeaways and 29 giveaways.

That the Packers managed to win 10 games, including nine of the 11, breaks a jaw-dropping trend.

"So many coaches preach it. But I kept my own stats on it," former Buffalo coach Marv Levy told the Denver Post. "Here's what I found: Teams that gain the most yards win 54 percent of the time, but teams that lead the turnover battle win 70 percent of the time. And what happens if you take the turnover battle by two? You win 91 percent of the time."

"That's the winning edge in pro football these days, period," Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden said. "If you look at the turnover ratio, teams that are on the upside of the turnover ratio are generally the teams that are at the top of their divisions."

The Packers won the turnover battle in only four games this season, and they won all four times. Moreover, they finished even in the turnover battle twice and won both of those games, too.

That's only six games. In the 10 games in which the Packers lost the turnover battle, they managed to steal victory four times. Three of those games came during the six-game midseason winning streak, with the Packers turning it over seven times and taking the ball away twice in victories against Washington, Minnesota and Houston.

Also among those four victories came both triumphs against Minnesota, which visits Lambeau Field for Sunday's NFC wild-card playoff game. The Packers lost a fumble and forced no turnovers in a 34-31 victory at Lambeau. A month later, the Packers beat the Vikings by the same score despite forcing no turnovers and having a Brett Favre interception ran back for a touchdown.

Winning without forcing a miscue is nothing new for these Packers. They posted a bagel in the takeaway column seven times and managed to win five times.

If the Packers want to make a playoff run this year, Sherman says the defense must make the type of big plays they made against the Bears in the regular-season finale, when Darren Sharper ran back an interception for a touchdown.

"I hope our defense can win a game for us," Sherman said. "In the past, they've helped us a couple times this year. And in the playoffs, they're going to have to win a game for us."

The defense at least has made its few chances count. Sharper scored three touchdowns this season, and was joined in the end zone by Ahmad Carroll and Michael Hawthorne.

"It was nice to see ‘Sharp' get the interception (against the Bears)," Sherman said. "To his credit, he's put three in the end zone. But we have to do more of that."

That will be difficult against the Vikings. In his last two seasons, Daunte Culpepper has thrown 22 interceptions — 11 each in 2003 and 2004 — in 1,002 pass attempts. He's coming off an MVP-caliber season in which he led the league in passing yards and threw 39 touchdown passes. In two games against the Packers, he threw seven touchdown passes and no interceptions in 67 attempts.

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