On the first Saturday of every month, Mark will write about a topic of interest to Packers fans and the organization, and then answer five fan questions. Fans are encouraged to email Mark with their name and hometown at: *MurphyTakes5@packers.com.*
Several years ago, the NFL decided to make all of the Week 17 games matchups between division rivals. The thought was that this would help ensure that more of the games in the final week would be meaningful. From the Packers' perspective, the change has certainly been a smart one for the League.
On Sunday night (the game was flexed from noon to 7:30 p.m. – flexing has been another move made by the League, to ensure that the best games are nationally televised), the Packers will host the Minnesota Vikings with the NFC North title on the line. This will be the third straight year we've played for the NFC North championship in a Week 17 game (and the second straight year hosting the game). Interestingly, each game has been against a different division rival. Although both the Packers and Vikings have already clinched playoff spots, there is still much at stake. The winner will host a wild-card game next weekend, while the loser will have to go on the road. Home games are important to all playoff teams, but are especially important to the Packers. We have a great homefield advantage at Lambeau Field, and home playoff games are also important because of the economic impact they have on the local community. As a community-owned team, this is a great way for us to benefit the local economy. Also, since we are by far the smallest market in the NFL, the relative impact of an extra home game is much more significant. We estimate the economic impact of each home game is $14-$15 million.
The atmosphere at Lambeau Field on Sunday night should be electric. We're playing a Vikings team that is well coached by Mike Zimmer, and playing very well now. They had an impressive win over the Giants on Sunday night. Although we are coming off a very disappointing loss at Arizona, I'm confident that our team will bounce back and play well on Sunday night. It should be exciting – exactly what the League envisioned when they made the scheduling change.
Now, on to your questions:
Jim from Baileys Harbor, WI
Have you seen the movie "Concussion"?
I haven't seen it yet, Jim, but I do plan to soon. Although the movie is very critical of the NFL (and how the League handled the concussion issue in the past), I do think it presents an opportunity to discuss this important issue that affects so many people across many sports and activities. Also, although the League hasn't been perfect on this front in recent years, I do think we have made many positive moves to make the game safer and, most importantly, have changed the culture of the game in terms of not using the helmet as a weapon. Over the past decade, the League has adopted 39 safety-related rules changes. From 2012 to 2014, concussions during the regular season have declined 35 percent. The League has also invested millions in research, and has been very supportive of USA Football's Heads Up Football program at the youth and high school levels.
Richard from Albany, NY
What did you think of the League's suspension of Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.?
I was very supportive of the suspension. I thought his behavior in the game against Carolina was outrageous (I should also say that Carolina's Josh Norman was not without blame). In my answer to the last question, I talked about all the positive steps the League has taken to make the game safer. After watching the Panthers-Giants game, and Beckham Jr.'s antics, it is clear there is still much more work to be done. I was disappointed that the game officials didn't eject him from the game. When a player has three unsportsmanlike penalties called against him in one game, it's a clear sign that he is out of control. The League's suspension of Beckham Jr. does send a strong message to all players that this type of behavior will not be tolerated.
Jack from Reno, NV
Do you think there will be a team (or teams) in LA next season?
Thanks, Jack. This is one of the most important questions facing the League, and the resolution of this issue will have a tremendous impact on the League for many years. We've had two owners' meetings this fall dedicated primarily to the LA issue, and have another meeting Jan. 12-13 where we are likely to vote on the relocation applications of the Chargers, Raiders and Rams. The Owners' Committee on LA Opportunities has been working on this issue for the past year and I believe their recommendations will be very persuasive. The three home markets – San Diego, Oakland and St. Louis – had to submit their stadium proposals to the Committee this week. It appears that St. Louis has the most attractive stadium proposal, with $400 million in public money for a $1.1 billion riverfront stadium. Funding for San Diego's proposal is contingent on a public referendum in the spring, and Oakland has no viable stadium proposal. To answer your question, John, I do think there will be two teams in LA next year. It will be very interesting, though, to see how the voting goes, since NFL rules require 24 (of 32) votes for approval of the relocation applications.
Margaret from Milwaukee, WI
Do you think Charles Woodson will go into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a Packer?
First, Charles will absolutely be a Hall of Famer, and very likely on the first ballot. However, players do not go into the Hall of Fame as a member of a specific team. He will just go in as a player. Now, we will obviously be very pleased when he goes into the Hall of Fame, and we will reserve a prominent place in our Hall of Fame and Lambeau Field for him, but he will not be designated as a Packer or Raider in Canton. I was very pleased to see the ceremony following the Chargers-Raiders game after Charles announced his retirement. I thought it was a great moment for Charles, the Raiders and the League. It is very rare that a player is able to retire and leave the game on his own terms. Charles is one of my all-time favorite players, not only for all that he did for the Packers as a player, but for the way he played the game and how he represented the Packers.
Cassandra from Wausau, WI
My question is - what is your favorite Lambeau Field meal?
I have to admit, Cassandra, that I love brats, especially with peppers, onions and mustard. I've always liked brats, but there is something about gamedays at Lambeau Field that makes them taste even better.