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NFC North is a division on the rise


Rob from Oshkosh, WI

The more I've read your column, the more I've started to agree with you about stats. They are a misleading gauge of success. I especially think you can't use them to compare the old-timers to the newer generations of players, considering how stats like sacks weren't kept track of back then. Despite this, it seems to me this league loves stats. Are there any stats you foresee the league starting to keep track of in the future that they don't now?

If there's a position that has room for the creation of stats, it's the offensive line. Once upon a time, an erstwhile college sports information director, who was trying to get publicity for an offensive lineman, invented a "pancakes" stat. He asked the line coach to count up the number of times the lineman put a defender on his back and then after every game the SID would update the player's "pancakes" stat. It was a good gimmick. The figure was greatly inflated, as you might think. I wouldn't mind the creation of some kind of stat that indicates wins for an offensive lineman against defenders. Obviously, something like that couldn't be monitored and wouldn't be official, but anything would be welcome. How about a stars rating system for offensive linemen? Some kind of gauge would be helpful for fans and media in gaining an appreciation for who the best linemen are.

Dan from Sugar Land, TX

I would love to see the Packers on HBO's "Hard Knocks," but unfortunately I think it stands for everything that Ted Thompson is against. I do think that some team should do it. I have never seen such an insightful show that gives fans a glimpse into the life of football stars, coaches and players on the bubble fighting for roster spots. What are your thoughts?

I think there's about as much chance of the Packers being on "Hard Knocks" as there is of me being on "Jersey Shore."

Ted from Madison, WI

What, in your opinion, constitutes "dirty" play?

I think it's defined by intent and intent is difficult to define. I'm not talking about the intent to deliver a clean and appropriate blow with enough force to knock a competitor out of the game. I have no problem with that kind of hit. It's a tough game for tough guys and if you can't handle that kind of hit, then this isn't for you. I'm talking about the intent of a player to deliver a blow he knows is not legal, or he knows is not appropriate. By not appropriate, I mean far from the action. That, in my opinion, constitutes dirty play.

Matt from Jacksonville, FL

I just Googled "We'll kick to the clock." Wow! If I was a coach, I would give whoever is representing the team for the coin toss a little index card with exactly what he should say written on it.

When you tell a guy to say receive or kick, that's usually not a problem. It's when you stir in the word defend that problems can occur. Defend can enter the election process on a windy day. I can remember from some years ago a college player saying, "We want the wind." It was almost as though you could see the referee wince, as if to say, "Oh, no, the poor kid's gonna screw it up." There is no election for we want the wind. You have to know which way the wind is going and then identify the goal you wish to defend that'll put your back to that goal. The next election will go to your opponent, who will likely elect to receive the kickoff, which means you'll be kicking with the wind.

Jerry from Orlando, FL

Ted Thompson is quick to deflect praise for his achievements, always saying he is only mimicking what Ron Wolf did when he was GM. I don't think the facts support this. Outside of Woodson and Pickett, Thompson built his Super Bowl team through the draft. Look at Wolf's blue-chip players: Favre, White, Dotson, Brown, Jones, Robinson, Jackson, Rison and Howard. All picked up through free agency or trades. I think Thompson has his own vision on how to construct a championship team and is the better GM. What say you?

I think you're trying to pick a fight. How could you ever argue that trading for Brett Favre and signing Reggie White in free agency wasn't sheer genius? Those are the two players around whom the Packers of the 1990s were built. Without them, those other guys would've been just guys. Let's look at the quarterbacks that came out in the 1992 draft, the year Wolf traded for Favre: David Klingler, Tommy Maddox, Matt Blundin, Tony Sacca, Craig Erickson, Casey Weldon, Will Furrer, Chris Hakel, Jeff Blake, Ricky Jones, Kent Graham, Bucky Richardson, Mike Pawlawski, Brad Johnson, T.J. Rubley, Ty Detmer, Darian Hagan, Mark Barsotti, Keithen McCant, Cornelius Benton and Matt Rodgers. You see any Favres in there? You find football players where you find football players, and it appears to me that Wolf knew he wasn't gonna find a quarterback in that draft.

Bernabe from Monterrey, Mexico

Just wanted to let you know that in my experience it's the people that never played the game that care about stats. When you're out on the field, you don't count how many tackles or interceptions you've made; you don't count the yards, all you care about is winning the game. You keep track of the score and the first-down marker. People who never played don't understand this because they're at home keeping stats. The tackle Roethlisberger made to save Bettis' fumble is just marked as a tackle in the stat book, but that gave them a championship.

I looked up Roethlisberger's stats in that game. He threw a couple of touchdown passes and had a 95.3 passer rating. At that point in the game, his statistics were good enough. He should've just let the guy score. Hey, stats are everything, right?

Aaron from Jacksonville, FL

In today's game, for which position is it harder to get to 10,000 yards, running back or wide receiver?

If you were the only receiver on the field, I would say it would be a lot easier to get to 10,000 yards receiving than it is for a back to get to 10,000 yards rushing, but the proliferation of three and four-receiver formations is causing the ball to be spread around to a lot of guys, and that's what makes it tough to keep pace with running backs. The running back doesn't have nearly as much competition for carries as wide receivers have among each other for receptions.

Shane from Brodhead, WI

In response to a question about the Texans, I didn't realize there were two teams with the same name during the same time. The only early Texans team I had heard about was the one that became the Chiefs.

There weren't two teams with the same name during the same time. The Dallas Texans of 1952 belonged to the NFL and became the Baltimore Colts the following season. The Dallas Texans of the AFL came into existence in 1960 and became the Kansas City Chiefs in '63. Now we have the Houston Texans, another expansion franchise.

Ryan from Lowell, WI

Maybe since Nick loves stats so much, he should become a Chargers fan.

Number one on offense, number one on defense, but they didn't even make it into the playoffs. For the 2010 San Diego Chargers, stats were meaningless.

Tracy from Harrisburg, PA

As thrilling as it was to win the championship, I'm sure many fans will agree it was a little disappointing that the Packers failed to take the division. I would enjoy hearing your thoughts, opinions, projections for the NFC North in 2011.

I think whatever disappointment was associated with not winning the NFC North last season was extinguished when the Packers won in Chicago in the NFC title game. That was, in effect, a one-game playoff for the NFC North title. This is a division on the rise. It currently houses the league champion, the NFC runnerup and a team in hard ascent. The Lions are going to be a contender. I've said it before and I'll say it again: The Thanksgiving Day game in Detroit is going to be one of the season's premier matchups. I like what the Bears did in the draft. The whole thing there revolves around Jay Cutler. Will he rebound from the NFC title game? If he does, and it's possible that game could turn out to be a career-changer for him, the Bears will continue to be tough. There are no guarantees in this division. I don't know that the road to the playoffs could ever be as difficult as it was for the Packers last season, but their 2011 schedule is formidable.

Courtney from Great Falls, MT

While I agree the salary cap and the revenue system needs fixing, the general consensus is that there is parity and, basically, in any given year, any team can win the Super Bowl. No team dominates for longer than two years. It's difficult enough to repeat but, in the third year (or longer), teams end up having to rebuild and are simply unable to three-peat. Prior to that, odds were better for teams to truly be a dynasty; the Packers are the only team to have three-peated and they have done it twice. Today, free agency is playing a huge role. How do you see all this factoring in?

You're all over the board, Courtney. The Packers haven't three-peated since Lombardi was the coach. Using then to get a gauge on now is nonsensical. First of all, there were two leagues back then and the product was diluted. Secondly, a lot of teams in the league were just trying to stay alive financially; the explosion in the game's popularity and the revenue it would generate had yet to arrive. What that means is that several teams in the league couldn't even realistically think of competing for a title. If you're making a pitch for the salary cap system as a field-leveler and as a device for promoting parity, then I'll agree with you to a point. The salary cap system has been good for the game, but in recent years it failed in its prime directive: control salaries. It hasn't done that in recent years and it has gotten so bad that the cap minimum threatens to put a lot of low-revenue teams in the red. That is not a system for promoting parity.

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