The Green Bay Packers have put themselves right where they need to be. They're on a three-game winning streak with a bye week that will allow Brett Favre to get healthy, Darren Sharper can get healthy, and other key members of the team can heal up for the second half run to the playoffs.
If I had told you before the season that the Packers would be 4-4 after eight games, you would have been disappointed. But if you look at how this year has gone, there's only one team in the NFC that has jumped out ahead of everybody, and that's the Philadelphia Eagles. Other than them, no one has really established themselves as a team that is a lock for a playoff spot.
Following the bye week, the Packers have a date at Lambeau Field with the Minnesota Vikings, which will be a key game to shaping the NFC standings. I remember telling you guys a couple of weeks ago that these teams were starting to come back to the pack. Detroit, the Giants, St. Louis - teams that we have had concerns about their hot starts - the Packers still have games left with a lot of contending teams on the schedule, so their fate is really in their hands.
Although 4-4 is not where we all would like to be, it's still not that bad. Sitting at .500 right now at the half-way point, I'd say is pretty good, especially from where this team is coming from.
There have been a lot of highlights over the first eight games, many of them on the offensive side of the ball. If I were to make my picks for the first half All-Pro team, there would be a lot of guys from the Packers offense on that squad.
Right now, I think Chad Clifton is playing better than any tackle in the league. Although Ahman Green was plagued by some fumbles during the losing skid early in the year, he is still one of the top backs in the NFC and his numbers will continue to show that over the course of the year.
Javon Walker, whose breakout season has come as a surprise to many so-called experts, is having a great year and leads the NFL in receiving yards and has already set career highs with 46 catches for 783 yards, plus he's caught seven touchdowns. He's definitely on the All-Pro team at this point.
I think Mike Wahle would get a lot of votes also, since he's pretty much been dominating every defensive tackle that has lined up across from him.
Donald Driver, Marco Rivera and Mark Tauscher would also have to get some consideration for the job that they have done so far this year.
At this point, I don't think any of the guys on defense would make the mid-season All-Pro team, but if they keep up the way they've been playing the past few weeks, I wouldn't be surprised to see some Packers on that list by the end of the year.
I think Ryan Longwell would have to be the All-Pro kicker at this point, and it seems like the NFL agrees with me after giving him the NFC Special Teams Player of the Month award earlier this week. He's kicking field goals with his usual consistent accuracy, and if you haven't noticed, his kickoffs have been pretty good as well.
On to the second half of the season.
During this bye week, the coaches have been working extremely hard to come up with new game plans keep the upcoming opponents on their toes. It appears that teams have lately been focusing on stopping Ahman Green and the running game. I expect the Packers to open the run up by doing some different kinds of play-action and some different run schemes.
That's what you do during the bye week - you find out some way to open it up for your particular players.
On offense during the second half, the one thing that must be focused on is cutting down the turnovers. I think if the turnovers in the first half of the season had been limited to about half of what they were, you could easily be looking at a 6-2 team at this point of the season.
Defensively, one thing that will be stressed will be forcing turnovers - stripping the ball and picking off passes. Turnovers don't just happen when you're on defense, you have to create them. I also think the Packers have to tackle better down the stretch. If you're a good tackling defense and can limit the amount of big plays, you'll be in any game at the end.
I think that one area that will definitely be improved in the second half is in the play of the special teams. Coach John Bonamego will be putting in some new wrinkles in the return game and changing up some schemes during the bye week. You'll be able to see the blocking schemes that will help to get a healthy Najeh Davenport one-on-one with the kicker on some kickoff returns.
Overall, I think the game plans drawn up by the coaching staff have been very good through eight games, and I expect them to come up with some more great calls over the next few months.
The team is excited for the second half of the season and I know you fans are too. I think this Packers team is starting to hit its stride. I look for the Green Bay Packers to pick up six or seven wins over the second half of the year, get into the playoffs and do some damage.
*LeRoy Butler played 12 seasons for the Green Bay Packers, helping them to two Super Bowls and earning NFL All-Decade Honors for the 1990s, before retiring in July 2002. This season Butler is again providing exclusive analysis to Packers.com beginning with training camp and later with a breakdown of the upcoming game on Saturdays, followed by a column and Q&A session on Tuesdays during the preseason and regular season.
Butler's autobiography, 'The LeRoy Butler Story ... From Wheelchair to the Lambeau Leap,' is available on his website, leroybutler36.com.*