I think the NFL's season structure compares pretty well with a five act play. Each team's 16 games breaks down into four sections of four games each, representing the first four acts, with the fifth act being the playoffs. In most five act plays, the first is exposition, or background information. The stage is being set for the rising action. We learn a little bit about the setting, the principal characters, their motivations, desires, and goals, and what sort of adversity those characters may have to face if they want to reach those goals. If the NFL season is a play, we've just concluded Act One.
Continuing the analogy, if the Packers are a character in the play that is the NFL season, I'm not sure what we really know about them. At 2-2, they're a bit of a mystery. (Contrast that to a team like the Saints, who are probably one of the characters who died in the first act. It's a tough year to be a Saints fan.) Are the Packers a team on the rise? Will they continue to get in their own way? What sort of potential do they really have?
I think this Sunday will show us a lot about what kind of team (or character) the Packers are. Good teams take care of business against teams they're supposed to beat, and on paper, the Colts should be a relatively easy win for the Packers. But there's just something about this year's team that makes me feel like I need to reevaluate the term "easy win," at least as far as the Packers go. If the 2011 offense was walking out onto the field this week, I'd drive to Vegas and put money on the over in this game. But this year's team? Well, it's become pretty clear that the offense isn't entirely there...yet. Could this be the week they really break out? What will we learn as the curtain rises on Act Two?
5 - Touchdown passes by Andrew Luck through his first three NFL games. For comparison's sake, Aaron Rodgers had fewer than five touchdown passes in the first three games of this season, although he exploded with four last week. Luck has been solid but unspectacular to start his career, but he's shown flashes of the potential that made him the number one pick in April. That said...
4 - Interceptions thrown by Andrew Luck through his first three NFL games. Luck has had his share of, well, bad luck. Most of Luck's struggles probably have something to do with the fact that he was drafted by a team that was bad enough to earn the top pick in the draft. The Indianapolis defense is nothing special, and other than Reggie Wayne, the cupboard is pretty bare on offense. The point is, Mr. Luck hasn't gotten a whole lot of help, so some growing pains are to be expected.
3 - Touchdowns by James Jones so far this season, putting him on pace to catch 12 this year. That would be five more than he's ever caught in a season, eclipsing his career high of seven from last year. I'm not saying he's going to do it, but he's been the most consistent Packer receiver this year. Sure, Jordy Nelson and Jermichael Finley have been a little bit better statistically, but Jones has come up with the big catches when they matter and he's been the preferred target in the red zone. The way he's playing, I don't expect that to change when Greg Jennings finally comes back.
2 - Interceptions by Tramon Williams through four games. For my money, interceptions are a little bit like sacks. They're very important, but you can be considered a great defender without them. I think if you're a good corner, you'll get your interceptions eventually, but you're not necessarily a good corner just because you get interceptions. Does that make sense? At any rate, I think Tramon Williams has been a good corner this year...and he's gotten interceptions. Moving on.
1 - Sacks by Nick Perry so far this season. Here's a question for you: has Nick Perry been an effective player so far this season? If you say no based on stats, I'm not sure that's a good answer, at least not based on his individual stats. I think it's true that the Packers have been rushing the passer much better this season, and Perry, whether he's producing a lot of sacks or not, has been a part of that. Based on what I've seen, Perry can push around just about any offensive lineman, but he hasn't shown the ability to mix in multiple moves. Given that he's still learning a new position, I say that's okay. Clay Matthews was in a similar position during his rookie season, and he didn't even crack the starting lineup until Week Four, but in Week Six he had his first multi-sack game. Could Perry do the same thing? It's certainly possible.
The Packers and Colts haven't met since 2008, and that matchup wasn't a close one. Peyton Manning was less than Manning-like (21/42, 229 yards, 0 TD, 2 INT) while Aaron Rodgers put up pedestrian but proficient numbers (21/28, 186 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT). By far the most notable moment of this game was Aaron Rouse's 99-yard interception return for a touchdown, captured in this Zapruder-esque fan film.
And just because I miss him, here's Nick Collins taking one to the house in the same game. Man, he was an athlete! (He still is a great athlete...he's just a great athlete with really fragile neck bones.) (There's also another good view of the Rouse play in that video as well.)
Meet a Colt - Reggie Wayne - WR - 6', 198 lbs. - 12th NFL season
A first round pick in 2001, Wayne has always been a consistent threat at receiver. Of course, much of that had to do with the guy throwing the ball. Peyton Manning could probably make me look pretty good at receiver. In fact, Peyton, if you're reading this and you're looking for another big receiver, give me a call. I'm available.
Anyhow, Reggie Wayne is pretty good, regardless of who is passing. His numbers so far this season (23 receptions, 294 yards, 1 touchdown) are basically in line with his career averages, so he's still a formidable threat. I think Tramon Williams will likely spend much of his Sunday afternoon hanging out with Wayne, trying to prevent him from adding to his season totals.
The Packers Will Win If...
...they play to their potential. On paper, these two teams shouldn't be in the same league, but I'm still not sure exactly what this 2012 Packer team is. Are they super talented and underachieving? Are they not quite as good as last year and we just haven't figured it out? A quarter of the way through the season, I'm not quite sure, but I guess that's why we play the games.
The Colts Will Win If...
...they sack Aaron Rodgers at least 6 times and force three turnovers. It's going to have to happen on defense for Indianapolis. Every team that's slowed the Packers has done it by getting pressure on Rodgers, and they're going to have to have a LOT of pressure to get it done on Sunday.
One More Thing
Indianapolis head coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia this week, a day before his birthday. I don't want to trivialize a serious disease, but I think it could have one of two effects on his team this week. It could either motivate them to play above their potential and give the Packers a serious scare this week, perhaps even knocking them off, or it could put them on the brink of collapse, ready to break at the slightest provocation. Of those two, I think the first one is probably more likely. By all accounts, Pagano was almost universally admired and respected, and I think that could stoke the fires in Indy this week. It's something to consider, at least.
The Pick - Green Bay: 31 Indianapolis: 17
Even with the potential emotional ammunition for Indianapolis, I just don't see an upset happening. The Packers have more talent than even an exceptionally motivated Colts team should be able to overcome. That said, Andrew Luck has yet to really have a coming out party against a good team...
The Rest (Home team in ALL CAPS)
RAMS over Cardinals STEELERS over Eagles GIANTS over Browns Falcons over REDSKINS BENGALS over Dolphins Ravens over CHIEFS PANTHERS over Seahawks Bears over JAGUARS PATRIOTS over Broncos 49ERS over Bills VIKINGS over Titans SAINTS over Chargers TEXANS over Jets
Last Week: 10-5
Season Total: 39-24 (.619)