Home-field advantage?

PackerReport.com's Doug Ritchay explains why the first step toward the playoffs for the Green Bay Packers is winning their home games

Remember the days when an opponent walked into Lambeau Field and knew its chances of leaving with a win were about as likely as the tundra not being frozen when January arrived?

For most of quarterback Brett Favre's career, Lambeau Field was one of, if not the most, difficult places for a visitor to play. At one point during Favre's run, the Packers won 25 straight games at the historic field – the second-longest home winning streak in NFL history.

The success translated into no worse than an 8-8 season for Favre from 1992 to 2004. That ended in 2005, when the Packers plummeted to 4-12.

Since the start of 2005, the Packers' record at Lambeau Field is 4-8, so until the Packers re-establish their dominance at Lambeau Field talk of the playoffs will just be that – talk.

Look at any playoff team and it wins at home. During Favre's first playoff season in Green Bay (1993), the Packers were 6-2 at home. Some non-playoff teams win at home. But the bottom line to becoming a playoff team is first winning at home.

I'll go further. The best teams are dominant at home. The Packers proved that during their Super Bowl seasons of 1996 and 1997, going 16-0.

The Packers can go a long way in changing their fortunes at home Sunday when New England comes calling. The Patriots are riding their first two-game losing streak since 2002. Most believe New England losing three straight is as likely as Bill Belichick showing up on the cover of G.Q. The Patriots don't lose three in a row, so for the Packers to hang an "L" on them would be monumental. It could be the start of the Packers regaining their home-field edge.

Nonetheless, New England has to feel good about its chances Sunday, considering the Packers' lack of success this season at home. The Bears beat the Packers 26-0 in Week 1, registering the first shutout by an opponent since Oct. 17, 1991 – a 10-0 loss to Chicago.

The next week against New Orleans, the Packers blew a 13-0 lead to lose 34-27, and the next home game the Packers were driving for a potential game-winning TD when Favre was sacked and fumbled in the final minutes to lose 23-20 to St. Louis. Green Bay's only home win this year came against Arizona, who some claim couldn't beat Ohio State. Furthermore, in the last 12 home games, Favre has thrown 16 touchdown passes and 17 interceptions, while the Bears have outscored the Packers 50-17 in their last two visits to Green Bay.

The Packers' demise at home can be stretched back to the 2004 postseason, when Minnesota beat the Packers 31-17, handing the Packers their second playoff loss in three years at Lambeau Field. That came on the heels of a warm-weather team in Jacksonville winning at Lambeau Field in December to end the 2004 regular-season home schedule. Warm-weather teams winning in December at Lambeau Field used to never happen, but since 2005 a lot of things have happened in Lambeau Field few of us have ever seen.

In order for the Packers to change their fortunes at home the first thing which must change is Favre. His numbers over the last two seasons at home aren't good. However, he has thrown five TDS and 3 INTs at home this season, showing a sign he isn't color blind like many of us thought last season when he tossed 29 INTs.

Favre has always been the barometer for the Packers. He's good, the Packers are good. He's bad, the Packers are bad.

Second, the defense must come together and create turnovers and play physical. This will be more difficult to have happen than Favre turning his game around. Favre's play has improved, but the defense, under first-year coordinator Bob Sanders, ranks last in the NFL in pass defense and seems to make colossal mistakes week after week in pass coverage.

Going up against Tom Brady on Sunday, the defense will get a chance to shine and turn things around as a unit. Assuming Favre continues his solid play and doesn't make big mistakes, the start of the Packers being a feared home team rests with the defense.

The Packers can't do it just with Favre, they need the defense to come around and play well. If not, the Packers will fall to 1-4 this season at home, guaranteeing the Packers back-to-back seasons of non-winning records at home since 1990-91.

Those seasons were dreadful, which means 2006, after some good signs, could be headed in that direction after all.

Doug Ritchay

Doug Ritchay is a longtime sportswriter and former Packers beat writer for the Green Bay News-Chronicle. E-mail at dritchay@sbcglobal.net.

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