What is it like to be the second seeded team in the conference, to have the home game in the NFC conference final, and still be the underdog against the sixth seed? The answer may be found in the different paths these teams took to make it to the end.
The Packers were a fashionable pre-season pick to come out of the NFC while the Bears were down on the list of strong teams and were expected to struggle for a playoff spot. In week three of the season these long-time division rivals met on a Monday night in Chicago—each team having won their opening two games, though in different ways.
The Packers won the opener in Philadelphia and knocked out starting quarterback Kevin Kolb–which began the re-birth of Michael Vick. The Bears won a tight one at home against Detroit when Lion receiver Calvin Johnson’s game winning touchdown catch was ruled incomplete by a controversial reversal after instant replay.
That week three result created the separation between the teams that an entire season could not be bridged. And the result was created by the discrepancy in penalties—the Packers were hit with a franchise record 18 penalties while the Bears made only five. Incidentally, the Packers are a franchise that is 90 years old and are typically in the middle of the pack among the most penalized teams in the league. The Bears won by three.
Thereafter the teams followed completely different paths. The Packers, having already lost starting running back Ryan Grant in week one, continued to suffer from the injury bug, losing, among many others, their all-star tight end Jermichael Finley, and middle linebacker Nick Barnett—one of four linebackers the team lost for the season. By the end of the year the Packers had lost 17 players to injury and a league leading 91 man games by their original starting line-up.
When the Packers lost Aaron Rodgers (above) to his second concussion during a late season loss in Detroit it appeared as if the season, that began with such promise, was going to end with the team on the outside of the playoffs. Back up Matt Flynn did an admirable job and kept the Packers close the following week in New England but the Patriots proved to be too much for the hurting Packers. Suddenly the team was faced with a simple task—win or the season would be officially over.
The playoffs began for this team two weeks before its official start—two home games in which the Packers proved that they were a playoff team by destroying the NY Giants and then beating the Bears to get in.
Meanwhile the Bears combined an improved offence with some very good fortune—three times the Bears faced a team starting its third strong quarterback (the Bears naturally won all three) and as the season progressed seemed to have the hand of George Halas guiding them from above. It was not unexpected then when the Bears clinched the division against the Vikings third strong quarterback while playing the game in a frozen outdoor stadium.
The good fortune did not leave the Bears once the playoffs began. Instead of facing the defending champions from New Orleans the Bears were fortunate that Seattle rode a boisterous home crowd to their best performance of the season and a narrow upset of the Saints. And just in case the Seahawks were able to miraculously repeat their effort the following week the warm climate west coast team was hit with a strong Chicago winter storm during the game against the Bears.
The Packers and Eagles contested a game in Philadelphia in the wild card playoff round much like the game that is anticipated being played on Sunday. It was cold, the ground was a little slick, and each offence had to work for every yard gained against solid defences. The game in Atlanta was completely different.
Packer quarterback Aaron Rodgers proved to be a bit of a soothsayer when he said that he looked forward to playing in Atlanta and in a dome. After three consecutive must-wins playing outside in the middle of winter he said he was glad the Packers were playing in a climate controlled environment—and he showed how much he appreciated it by having the game of his life and leading the Packers to a rout of the number one seeded Falcons.
So now the NFL’s longest standing rivalry plays out in the playoffs for only the second time in nearly a century. Two teams that are similar in that they play defence as if they play in cold weather—the difference lies in the fact that Green Bay’s offence is far more explosive and far more likely to make the big plays that could key the result.
Of course if the game plays out the way the season has then the Packer will suffer a couple of key injuries, the Bears will be the beneficiary of a few controversial calls and some good fortune will smile on Chicago as they will win a close one. But then maybe, as they say, all good things must come to an end.
For the Bears they hope their good fortune lasts two more games. For the Packers they have to hope that their good play of the past four weeks is a sign that their fortunes have stabilized and that, during this game, bad luck will not arise again.
…Oh, the e-mails and the comments that I received for making what I believed to be a simple statement last week. After nearly two decades of futility I expected there to be much more frustration among Blue Jay fans but I guess baseball fans in this country have a limitless amount of patience. Growing up in Montreal during the Canadiens dynasty years I got used to watching competitive clubs every year—not every twenty years. I guess that’s why there are so many Maple Leaf fans out there muttering the catch phrase—‘wait until next year’.
…So the billionaire New Jersey owner gets on his private jet and flies halfway across the world to put an end to the Carmelo Anthony trade talks. Saying that it had taken too long and had become too expensive Mikhail Prokhorov officially ended the speculation and cancelled a proposed meeting with Anthony. Of course in business dealings there never really is an end until the absolute end—and that end comes with NBA trade deadline February 24. Until that time any talk about the deal being over is mere speculation.
…And I guess I can rename the Toronto Raptor basketball club. From now on they will officially be known as the Toronto Fodder. They are every opposing coach’s dream—a team that will force his team to play well to win. And win they will. Without an offensive closer capable of carrying the club during tough times and without the experience needed to avoid late game meltdowns the club has become the perfect opponent. Maybe the Generals would be a more appropriate nickname since they are making the rest of the league look like the Globetrotters.Tags: Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, NFL