24

January

Packers Game Balls and Lame Calls: NFC Champions Edition -On to Super Bowl XLV

First of all let me get one thing out of the way:

WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Ok, with that out of my system let’s move on.

Green Bay Packers 21, Chicago Bears 14. The Packers are headed to Super Bowl XLV in Dallas to face the Pittsburgh Steelers on February 6.

As thrilling as the spoils of victory have been, the game turned out to be a near 60 minute heart attack for Packers. The game wasn’t over until a Sam Shields interception with under a minute to play after the Packers let the Bears back into the game after getting out in front 14-0.

So who gets a Game Ball and who gets a Lame Call for the NFC Championship?

Let’s take a gander.

Game Balls


RB James Starks

Starks didn’t break the century mark, but his ability to break some big runs opened up a lot of playaction opportunities for the passing game.
As the sudden “star” of these 2010 playoffs, “Neo” (as Starks is called) has given much needed life to what was a lifeless Packers rushing attack and finally helped bring the Packers” offense into balance at the most critical time of the year.

His touchdown run put the Packers up 14-0 and the Packers were able to remain aggressive on defense the rest of the game, allowing Dom Capers the chance to work his magic to ensure the Bears had no chance.

CB Sam Shields

His two picks were crucial to sealing the Packers win, with his second one being the obvious dagger to the heart of the Bears’ hopes of advancing to the Super Bowl.

Not bad for an undrafted rookie free agent. Not bad at all.

NT B.J. Raji

The Bears had “The Fridge,” now we have “The Freezer.”

Raji showed off his underrated pass coverage ability picking off Caleb Hanie deep in Bears territory and taking it in for the touchdown.

After nearly channeling his inner Leon Lett by holding the ball out in celebration before reaching the end zone, Raji put an exclamation point on his emergence this season as one of the most athletic nose tackles in the NFL.

QB Aaron Rodgers

23

January

Packers 21 Bears 14 – Jekyll & Hyde Packers Hang on, Next Stop: Super Bowl

The Packers and the Bears met today in what was expected to be a classic game – it wasn’t. The first half was total domination by the Packers’ defense, knocking Jay Cutler out of the game in the process. They really only had one thing to worry about – Matt Forte

The Packers’ offense had little trouble moving the ball against the Bears, but their age-old problem of leaving points on the table reared it’s ugly head once again. This, of course, kept the Bears within striking distance the whole game.

Had Aaron Rodgers not tackled Brian Urlacher after throwing the ball right to him, this would have been a one score game and just a Devin Hester return away from being tied.

But the Packers special teams were also at the top of their game. Tim Mathsay had another fantastic day against the Bears. Using an assortment of different types of kicks and various placements, the Packers kept the Bears off-balance and were able to pin them deep on many occasions.

In the second half, however, the Packers seemingly forgot everything they did right in the first half. Either that, or the Bears just finally showed up for this game.

The play calling got conservative and the defense lost it’s swagger, allowing Caleb Hanie, a 3rd string QB to lead the Bears on two touchdown drives.

Only two huge interceptions by the Packers saved the day, a pick-six by BJ Raji and the now-traditional game ending INT, this time by Sam Shields.

Exhale…

My game day impressions:

PREGAME:

I’ve tried very hard to avoid a “polluted mindset” this week, not reading any outside articles about the Packers Bears matchup. While normally I devour that stuff, this week seemed different. After all, it’s the third time the Packers are playing the Bears. I already know how I feel about both teams and this game.

My simple feeling is that the Packers are the better team and will win the game. Unless they kill themselves with mistakes, as they did in the first meeting this season.

MY KEY TO THE GAME: If I had to pick JUST ONE thing, it would be this: Stop Matt Forte. And that doesn’t just mean on the ground. He is arguably more dangerous to the Packers catching passes than running.  Force Cutler and the Bears into third and longs and the INTs will follow.

4

January

On Tilt: The Psychology of Lovie Smith’s Texas Hold ‘em Showdown Against the Packers

In poker there is a psychological phenomenon called tilt; basically tilt occurs when player becomes too emotionally invested in the hands that he plays. Usually this occurs after losing a big hand, and instead of taking it as “losing the battle but not the war” the player adopts a more aggressive and less optimal strategy in order to make up for the loss.

Unfortunately this almost always backfires, being on tilt often results in making bad decisions; which then loses more hands, which then snowballs until players make incredibly stupid decisions on the chance that one hand can bring them back.

What does this have to do with football? Lovie Smith went on tilt with the Chicago Bears against the Green Bay Packers and lost, and it might cost them more than just this game. (If you know nothing about Texas Hold’em I recommend checking out this wiki article or none of this allegory is going to make sense)

The Deal: Lovie Smith gets dealt a pretty bad hand, his team has already qualified for the playoffs and with the Atlanta win against Carolina in the morning, they are also locked into the 2nd seed in the NFC, essentially making the Packers game a meaningless one.

The only reason to even play is that the Packers happen to be the bitter rivals of the Bears, and knocking them out of the playoffs would be a little bit of vindication after getting swept by the Packers last year.

However, the risk of hurting a player is quite high (see Wes Welker last year), and common sense dictates that regardless of the emotional victory beating the Packers would be, the starters should be pulled quickly to avoid getting stuck in a bad position.

The Bet: Love Smith announces publicly that his starters will play a significant part of the game, even though it means nothing to them. In my opinion this was a bluff, ironically more for his own team than for the Packers. The Packers had to win in order to qualify for the playoffs so it really didn’t matter who they had to play.  For the Bears, if the starters thought that they had to be ready for a full game then perhaps they would be more driven and focused during the week and during the game.