Sunday, June 5, 2011

Tempering Our Highest of Expectations for 2011

I've been commissioner of my football fantasy league for 14 years.  We were one of the first leagues to use long before it was bought out by CBSSportsline (a fact I remind them of every year I negotiate my league fee).  After all that time, I've come to a conclusion.

You see, I've won my league three times in that time period, and in each of those championship seasons not once did I actually win my division crown.  Yep, in all three championships, I was a wild card who just happened to be the team to win both games in the playoff weeks.  Teams that had dominated, gone the whole season with perhaps just one loss, often fell apart in the final weeks as their players were rested for the playoffs, or suffered injuries late in the season.

Thus, my conclusion:  winning a championship is all about who's hottest, lastest.

At least in fantasy football:  the real game is obviously a far more complicated animal not driven purely by statistical number-jumping.  But, looking closely at the Packers' over time, being the hottest team lastest may have equaled a Super Bowl trophy, and give us pause before anointing  any "dynasty" labels.

You see, I've long noticed that the Packers under Mike McCarthy have been an up-and-down team, with streaks of wins and streaks of losses.  I surmised in the past that McCarthy's Packers seem to need to have their backs against a wall in order to truly get it together, and if you really think about the end of last season, with every game over those last six essentially an elimination game (on the road, nonetheless), it only adds to my theory.

Prior to the 2010 season, the Green Bay Packers had put up streaks as follows over McCarthy's tenure as coach:


Breaking down last season as a microcosm, the streaks (fully aided and abetted by injuries) continued the pattern.


What's my point?  Well, you can take it however you like, but if you are a streaky team, there's something to be said for going on one of your hottest streaks in January.  In fact, that's probably the best time to do it.  And, the Packers did that last year.

Not that there's anything derogatory about it in the least...and if the streak equaled a Super Bowl trophy for the Green Bay Packers, it's the greatest streak in the world.  In fact, just like most of the season, many of those games were never put away until late in the fourth quarter, requiring a herculean interception on a game-tying or game-winning drive to restart our arrested hearts again. 

The New And Improved Cardiac Pack, indeed.

The interesting question for 2011 is going to be if the Packers are going to swagger onto the field like defending champions, or if this will continue to be the same streaky club we've seen over the last five years.  You can make a case for it either way.

On the former's argument, the Packers have been perpetually one of the youngest teams in the league since McCarthy took over as coach, which may factor in to the Packers previous streakiness.  With a Super Bowl victory, a lot of these young players have grown up fast, seeing what the fruits of their labor can bring.  The Packers return a matured core group of players who led the team to the Super Bowl last year, including most of the team leaders.  More importantly, they return their GM, Coach, and defensive coordinator that built and guided this team to that Super Bowl.

Not to be overlooked, of course, is that the Packers won the Super Bowl with a M*A*S*H unit on the field.  In addition to returning those starters who were on the field in North Texas, the team will be bringing many key veterans off the IR and back into training camp.  How much more lethal could the Packers have been with Ryan Grant, Nick Barnett, Jermichael Finley, Morgan Burnett, and Brad Jones on the field?  We will soon find out, giving the Packers plenty of options in shaping their starting lineup, as well as allowing Mad Scientist Dom Capers even more ingredients to experiment with in his kitchen.

However, looking at the "glass-half-empty" side of it all, the Packers will continue to be a young team, and frankly, a team that had a hard time putting together complete games, even in their final six-game winning streak.  Aaron Rodgers had plenty of rough games later in the season, and the offense disappeared for quarters at a time.  On many occasions, I used the word "ugly" to describe a Packer late-season win.  The Packers won, but this isn't necessarily a team that consistently fires on all cylinders.

And, while I look forward to seeing many of our injured veteran players back, there are many who wonder if the Packers weren't actually better off with Ryan Grant and Nick Barnett out of the lineup.  Losing Grant meant that the Packers had every excuse to keep the ball in Aaron Rodgers' hands, and many of us at least quietly admit that Desmond Bishop appears to be a better fit in Capers' 3-4 scheme than Barnett.  Bringing back Grant in a "backfield by committee" means forcing carries to keep everyone happy, and there aren't enough middle linebacker positions for the starting caliber MLB's we have. 

Heck, even veteran backup Charlie Peprah has earned his spot next to Nick Collins.  Now we're going to bring back Burnett?  And, there are some journalists who have tossed it out there than Finley's subtraction may have actually added to the offense, that he was too much of a focal point for Rodgers before his injury.

Now, before you pile on and accuse me of heresy with assorted colorful adjectives, my goal is not to rain on our Packers' victory parade, nor to be overly negative as we approach a highly-anticipated 2011 season, already with the high expectations of being a "dynasty" season.  Not my point, not my intent.

However, I would gently remind each of us that there is no greater feeling that the slow build from zero expectations to the mighty heights of supreme victory, something we've felt twice in the last twenty years under two different GMs.  But, there is no greater disappointment than watching our highest expectations fall apart, either.  The eventual decline of a team can be torn apart even faster by the emotion and anger than comes from disappointed fans.  You've invested your emotion on nothing less than a Super Bowl, and to not get a return on that investment is hard to take.

As the Packers (hopefully) square off in the season opener against the one team we were most happy not to face in the playoffs last year, we're going to hope for a convincing 1-0 start to 2011, and many will quickly extrapolate that to mean we're Super Bowl-bound again.  I'm reminding all of us that every team is 0-0, and it will take a long seventeen weeks before we know who is even in the playoffs, much less the Super Bowl.

The Packers are in as good of a position to make it back to the Super Bowl as any team in the league.  They said the same thing about the Saints last year at this time, too.  The important thing is to cherish our Super Bowl win and our tenure as defending champions but, as McCarthy preached so much to his players last year, to take each game as they come instead of looking ahead.

Every season starts our with hopes, dreams, an aspirations of greatness, and this year is no different.  I fear, however, for the number of people who will scream, wailing and gnashing teeth, if the Packers don't suddenly start out 4-0 and sit atop the NFL rankings each week.  I've learned many times over the last few years that what happens early in the season is far from a predictor of how the season will turn out.

In the case of Mike McCarthy's Packers, you can likely count on a dizzying roller coaster ride that will hopefully end up at the highest point, just like last year.  Sit back, enjoy the journey.


BigSnakeMan said...

I believe this is good advice, especially when you consider that it was only through a fortunate set of circumstances largely beyond their control that the Packers made the playoffs last season. 'Super Bowl or Bust' may sound nice but that attitude can set fans up for a nasty fall if virtually everything doesn't fall into place.

This team shows a lot of promise; just enjoy the ride, Packers fans.

John Rehor said...

Last year should offer a blueprint for fans to follow. Even when things look bright, things happen which can throw the Packers off course (Detroit game). On the other hand, when things look bleak (stacking injury totals), it is important to stay focused and work together to achieve the goal of a Super Bowl victory.

The Packers don't need to start out 10-0 to be considered a power in the NFL. They need to stay as a team, and not let circumstances deviate them from the goal. Last year proved they can do this-next year should be no dfferent

Anonymous said...

If any team can repeat, it's ours. But every year is unique, e.g. injuries, fluke plays, etc. Let's get it on!!!

BigBayBlues said...

Let's get this season started to see if the Pack can repeat. I can't wait!!!

BigBayBlues said...

This article makes a great point. You have to enjoy the process. Like Holmgren said, "The journey is the reward." I mark times in my life by Packers seasons like 1972, 1983, 1989, 2011. Part of the fun is just watching the team you love with friends and family. And we've got a lot of family in Packer nation.