One eye on each No. 2

By Os Davis  |   Monday, December 24, 2007  |  Comments( 0 )

Green Bay Packers
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Somehow managing to keep one eye each on the Indianapolis Colts and Green Bay Packers, two teams running on parallel tracks while figuring prominently in the playoff picture, two 12-2 teams entering Sunday, each now locked into No. 2 seed in its conference.

But as each game played out and the final scores posted, two dramatically different stories were told.

Sure, the margins alone -- Colts win by 23 even after surrendering seven points on the Texans' first drive, Pack is never in a 35-7 laugher at Chicago -- tell of divergent Sundays. Perhaps there's a greater story to be gleaned here, though, an outcome reflecting general tendency. Though three weeks is plenty of time for Mike McCarthy, et al. to make adjustments, Packer backers have to be slightly concerned.

The differences between a potential back-to-back champion and a team that looked like playoff upset fodder on Sunday? How about ...

Experience. In general, Green Bay looked out of sync and mentally elsewhere while old man Favre looked mostly old. Botched snaps from center Scott Wells, nightmarish special-teams play -- in short, these were the Packers of about 18 months ago.

Indianapolis, too, looked like a mid-2006 version of themselves -- except better. The rush defense has woken up at some point within the last season and a half: Overall, the Colts have gone from giving up 332 yards per game (despite the league's No. 2 passing 'D') in 2006 to just 274.6 this season, good for third-best overall. On offense, the Peyton Manning machine is even outscoring last year's edition, 29.3-26.7 per game. By the way, these guys won the Super Bowl.

Quarterback. No one will deny that Manning is at his peak right now, but many are in heavy denial about a recent decline and a disturbing tendency or two in Favre.

Don't look now, but since his out-of-the-head performance at Detroit (31 of 41 for 381 yards, three TDs, zero picks) four games ago, Favre has gone 56 of 99 for 700 yards while throwing four TDs against seven interceptions; the numbers make for a QB rating of 62.68 and ominous indication of tiredness.

Hopefully for Green Bay, the break will do Favre some good in recuperating. All Indy has to worry about is getting too relaxed, though getting a first-round playoff bye is nothing new to them.

Could weather be a problem? All right, so the Packers were playing away and had the NFC North locked up awhile ago; every team loses a few, right? Perhaps. Except the best teams by definition don't lose the surprise ones; again compare the Colts, who have lost by a combined six points to the AFC's first and third seeds. And freakish weather cannot be an excuse in January: Jacksonville, New England and even Cleveland this month clawed out wins on hostile turf in inclement conditions.

Back in the days before the Lambeau mystique was blown away by a guy named Michael Vick and his upstart Atlanta Falcons in 2002, the television broadcasts always included the obligatory "Brett Favre is 3,447-0 in games played below 34 degrees" statistic. They don't do that anymore, because for most of this decade the Lambeau edge hasn't existed and the Packers are just another good team that needs breaks when the mercury dips.

Weaponry. What puts the Colts - in addition to only the Patriots - on the NFL's uppermost tier is depth. Throughout the Dungy and Belichick Eras, injuries have repeatedly been overcome through mix-and-match patchwork secondaries or receiving corps or offensive lines.

But check out the drive Indy assembled beginning at 3:48 in the first quarter: Plays go to Joseph Addai, Addai again, Kenton Keith, Dwight Clark, Keith, Keith, Reggie Wayne, Keith, Bryan Fletcher, Anthony Gonzalez, Keith, Addai for the touchdown. The next drive went sack of Manning, Wayne, Ben Utecht, Keith, Keith, Clark, Clark, Clark for the touchdown. And after Adam Vinatieri made it 17-7 and half-man, half-lethal weapon Bob Sanders turned the next play from scrimmage into an interception, well, that just didn't seem fair. These guys have injuries? With an arsenal like this, who can tell?

While in Wisconsin, it's swell to have old reliables like Donald Driver and amazing to have the incredible, out-of-nowhere Ryan Grant to fill the yawning void the Pack sported at halfback for the first eight games or so, any team this side of the Patriots would kill for a depth chart like Indy's. One gets the sense that a single injury could knock Green Bay right out of the playoffs well before tickets to Dallas are booked.

In recent years, particularly when an Indianapolis-New England showdown is featured, the AFC championship game has been billed the "true Super Bowl" by smart-alecks in the media and online. It seems there's no way to avoid this label in 2008, either, for even if Favre and the Packers sneak through the NFC to take on those 18-0 bad guys, we'll still reckon that the Colts were better.

Eyes on the prize all year-round at
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About Os Davis

Os Davis has taken a twisted route to get to in his nearly 17 years in professional writing, working in any number of capacities in the sportswriting, news reporting and film criticism worlds. In print media, Os has served as editor at a few publications, including Albuquerque's...
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