It's was fun to look into a crystal ball and predict the future, especially in the height of summer trying to figure out which team has a Super Bowl feel to it.
The Packers this summer looked super, and I had them going to the big game. Since then, though, their vaunted offense has not been as dazzling as I thought, and their defense -- which was suspect even in the summer -- has been more suspect than I once thought.
So what happened? Some might say injuries, yet even when the Packers were completely healthy their offense was not zooming along.
The first noticeable weakness in the Packers' offense is their lack of a power runner, a back who can break tackles and make those tough yards and make an opposing defense respect the run -- if even a little. The Saints, who were devastated with injuries in their backfield, found Chris Ivory to add to their already talented team. Meanwhile, the Packers placed their hopes in Brandon Jackson, who has yet to prove he is more than just a nickel runner operating best when the formation is spread.
No one watching the Packers on tape respects their running game, therefore the burden of offensive success falls squarely onto the shoulders of Aaron Rodgers. They rank 27th in rushes and completions combine, averaging slightly over 43. Part of the problem why Green Bay isn't ranked higher in this area are the drops, as the Packers average almost eight dropped passes a game, ranking 18th in the league. Last year the Packers offense averaged almost 49 rushes and completions ranking seventh in the league, and although there is only a five-play decline from a year ago, this is significant.
Losing Ryan Grant did hurt this team, and their reluctance to supplement their running game with another back affects their production. John Kuhn runs hard, but he he looks more like a West Coast fullback.
The most glaring weakness with the Packers' passing game besides the dropped passes is their inability to gain yards after the catch. There was a time when their wide receivers were the best in yards after the catch, but now they rank 18th in the NFL. They still make big plays, having 21 pass plays of more than 20 yards -- with four touchdowns -- ranking fourth, but the inability to break tackles and make the extra yards is hurting the Packers.
Which then leads to their defense, because even though the offense is not as explosive as it appeared this summer, they still rank second in the league in first-half point differential (plus 33), tied for second with Pittsburgh. Yet their defense can't seem to ever get control of the game, or increase the lead, making the one key play that can put the game away. In fact, they allow the fifth most points in the fourth quarter.
This Sunday against the Brett Favre-led Vikings, the Packers can't drop passes, they need to find a running game, and when they get the lead, put the game away with their ability to scheme and put pressure with their defense. That is the formula they need to be successful and for them to be SUPER.
The script: My first 15
1. The Bengals offense must find its identity quickly or risk losing its season. Cincinnati has hopes of being an explosive offense, but the reality is it hasn't scored more than 24 points in the last 14 games, and quarterback Carson Palmer has only two performances with a rating above 100 since 2008. My advice? Hand the ball off, play defense and don't make the constant mistakes that have cost them this year. Forget feeding the monster called T.Ochocinco and start doing the things that win games.
2. Things are so bad in Buffalo this year, the Bills have yet to go into halftime with a lead and, as we all know, have yet to end a game with a lead. Their offense is not ready for primetime and facing the tough defensive front of the Ravens this week will not help the Bills find their rhythm anytime soon. They are a long way from winning games this year, and until they find their solution at quarterback, restoring this once proud franchise to their winning ways will take a long time.
3. I don't have any evidence to document my sense that the Panthers can beat the 49ers. But in theory this is the kind of game (like the Bears game) that if the Panthers can get the Niners to continue their giving ways, (quarterback Alex Smith is responsible for 10 turnovers) the Panthers can play on a short field and win. Carolina will have to stop the 49ers' run game behind Frank Gore, something they were unable to do against the Bears, if they want to win. I wish I had the guts to call this one.
4. Third down has been a nightmare for the Bears' offense. In two games this season, they failed to even convert one third down and in another game (vs. Dallas) they only converted one. All the Bears' offensive woes show up on third down, especially their lack of pass protection in their offensive line. It would be hard to call plays for anyone with the Bears' line. The Redskins can attack the pocket, but this is the kind of game that the 'Skins must be discipline with their rush and not go crazy calling blitzes.
5. Dolphins season-ticket holders have had a great home schedule so far -- the Jets, Patriots and now the Steelers. Unfortunately, they haven't seen their team win and this week might be the toughest one yet. The Dolphins have the toughness to beat the Steelers, along with the ability to harass quarterback Ben Roethlisberger into making mistakes. Miami will have to throw the ball well to win, and in order to do that it must come up with a good scheme in pass protection -- which the 'Fins always seem to do.
6. Can anyone play better than Cameron Wake has this year? He has been a force coming off the edge for the Dolphins, and this week against Flozell Adams of the Steelers, Wake will need to have his best game to pressure the Steelers and force them into making mistakes. This game will feature two teams with outstanding edge rushers, and the winner will be the team that can handle the edge pressure best.
7. Sam Bradford is the best thing that has happened to the city of St. Louis, and now there is hope for its football team to return to being competitive. Bradford has played well at home and, at times, well on the road, but the Rams as a team need to step up their game when they travel. Tampa might have three wins, but they do not have the look of a team that can win many more. The Rams should win this game, if they bring their play in home games with them on the road.
8. The Cardinals, coming off their bye week have to travel, and for them that is never good. They have been outscored 82-17 in their last two road games, and Seattle is one of the toughest road venues in the league. The Seahawks finally won a road game, and if they can hold serve at home, might be able to win the NFC West as the other West teams are also not good when packing their bags.
9. The Raiders have won three in a row in Denver, and so far this year Denver is only 1-2 at home. The Broncos move the ball well, and last week incorporated Tim Tebow into their red-zone offense, but they often do not make the key plays and have let a few wins slip away. The Raiders might have to use Kyle Boller as their starting quarterback due to the health of Bruce Gradkowski and Jason Campbell. Playing behind this bad offensive line of the Raiders is a safety risk for any quarterback.
10. The Chiefs are for real on defense, and watching them on offense last week against the Texans, they looked really good -- but everyone should look good against the Texans. This is a key game for the Chiefs, because they are better than the Jags in all areas. Even Kansas City's offense should have success, but the Chiefs are still a young team, and young teams struggle in games they are supposed to win. If they take the wounded Jags for granted they could get beat.
11. Saints rookie running back Chris Ivory looked really good running the ball against the Bucs last week. New Orleans' offensive line came off the ball and knocked the Bucs' defensive front on its heels. This week, look for the Saints to create mismatches in the Browns' secondary as they do not have the speed to match up with the Saints' wide outs.
12. Whether its Kerry Collins or Vince Young at quarterback, the Titans will need to spread the field to then run the ball on Philadelphia. Tennessee is bigger and stronger in its offensive line and should control the line of scrimmage against the Eagles' defensive front. This is a game that, if the Titans win it, will be because they threw the ball early and ran late.
13. The Titans play their defensive ends extremely wide, which will take away some of the bootlegs and naked plays the Eagles' offense loves to run. Without receiver DeSean Jackson in the lineup, the Titans can now double Jeremy Maclin and force the ball to go to either Jason Avant or Brent Celek. The key for the Eagles is if their offensive line plays well on the road and can deal with the crowd noise of the Titans' fans. Tennessee is on a two-game home losing streak -- good thing for the Titans I am not heading to Nashville this weekend, as I have seen both homes losses.
14. The Patriots adding running back Danny Woodhead has really enhanced their offense. Woodhead can run with burst and power, he can catch, and he has demonstrated an ability to pass protect. He has not just replaced Kevin Faulk, but he has improved the Pats' offense.
15. Even though the Chargers did not give up a score on special teams this past weekend, they still allowed the Rams to win field position and play on a short field. The Chargers were sloppy in St Louis, and now they are wounded as well. Without Malcom Floyd and maybe Antonio Gates, the Chargers will struggle to get the ball down the field. For the Chargers to win, they will need to make big plays.
Second and long
» The Falcons have been outscored 45-14 in the first quarter this season, the most points allowed in the first quarter this season.
» With all the talk about helmet-to-helmet hits, it should be noted that Steelers linebacker James Harrison leads the league since 2007 in forcing the most fumbles with 22. Harrison is not a dirty player, but rather he is an extremely physical player.
One of the keys to Rams quarterback Sam Bradford's success this year lies with the Rams' defense. Week 6 marked the fifth time in six games that the Rams held an opponent scoreless in the first quarter. They've allowed just three points in the first quarter all season, which ranks second in the league. By not getting behind early, the burden of having to throw all the time does not fall onto Bradford.
See you at the game...
Off to Atlanta this week to watch the Bengals face the Falcons, which has the potential to be a great game to see live and on TV. For television viewers, the crew from CBS will be Gus Johnson and Steve Tasker. Johnson always seems to get great games, and seems to be a fixture each week on NFL Replay. I am excited for the game, make sure to say hello.