Let's Look Ahead, Shall We?

This is the time of week I typically post my Packers preview blog. Break down the matchups and try to figure out what we expect to see in the upcoming game. But with the injuries mounting and the playoff picture getting clearer, I thought I'd look ahead to where we expect this team to be in three weeks.

Oh, you want a preview? OK, here's the Cliff's notes version: let's go back to the fall of '92. "Aladdin" was at the top of the box office, while us single guys chose to check out Sharon Stone and "Basic Instinct." Meanwhile in Green Bay, someone named Brett Favre replaced the injured Don Majkowski as the starter.

Sunday night, for the first time since, the Packers' starting quarterback can't go. Aaron Rodgers has not passed concussion tests and is not ready to return to the field. So Matt Flynn gets his first career start. At New England. In prime time. Against Tom Brady, who's won 26 straight games at home. Oh, and the Patriots have won their last two games against decent teams, the Jets and Bears, by a combined score of 81-10.

Good luck, Matt. Oh, on top of that, linebacker Frank Zombo is out, joining Nick Barnett, Brady Poppinga, Brandon Chillar and Brad Jones--fellow linebackers who are all on IR. Cullen Jenkins will miss another game and safety Anthony Smith was placed on IR as well on Saturday. The Packers, at 8-5, enter this game without 9 starters from their opening day roster.

It's too bad. With Rodgers in there, the Pack matches up pretty well with the Patriots, who rely on a very young secondary--including a pair of rookies and a free agent at cornerback. It had all the makings of a shootout, but with Flynn in there against likely MVP Tom Brady it now looks like a mismatch on paper.

So let's take the glass-half-empty approach and assume the Pack loses Sunday night. What does that do to their playoff chances? Well, it gives the Bears the NFC North title if they can beat Joe Webb and the Vikings in the elements at TCF Bank Stadium on Monday night, for starters. So we have to look at the wildcard chances.

First off, they will have to win their final two games at Lambeau, against the Giants and Bears. Anything short of that and the season ends on January 2nd. So, with a record of 10-6 the Pack needs either the Eagles or Giants to lose two of their last three games and Tampa Bay to lose one of its last three.

The easiest path begins on Sunday, if the Eagles can beat the Giants in NJ in a rematch of a game Philly won a month ago. If the Pack takes out the Giants next week, both teams have six losses. Tampa Bay closes at home with Detroit and Seattle and then at New Orleans. That finale looks tough for them--unless the Saints are locked into a wildcard and decide to rest some guys.

The Pack would own the tiebreaker in a three-way tie with the Giants and Bucs because of the fourth tiebreaker, strength of victory--which measures the combined records of teams you beat. The Pack holds an insurmountable edge in this category.

So if this all goes down and the Pack sneaks in as the sixth seed in the NFC, they would face a road game wildcard weekend against the #3 seed: most likely the Bears. They would meet back to back, just like the Packers and Cardinals did a year ago.

A playoff game at Soldier Field between the Pack and Bears would be beyond intense. But there's much work to be done. You gotta hope that Aaron Rodgers recovers from his concussion and is cleared to take the field. Then you have to go ahead and win the home games. Along the way, we need a little help from our friends.


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