The first half of the season is in the books, and the Green Bay Packers find themselves within striking distance of the NFC North division lead with a record of 4-4, just one game behind the division-leading Minnesota Vikings. Those same Vikings happen to also be Sunday's opponent coming into Lambeau Field.
If recent history holds true to form in 2004, look for the Green and Gold to make a strong run through the final eight games, as they have become known for making a strong push to the finish line under GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman.
Since Sherman took the reins as Head Coach in 2000, the Packers have amassed a record of 23-9 (.719 winning percentage), closing the seasons with stretches of 6-2, 6-2, 5-3, and 6-2. Coincidentally, the Packers have been afforded a coveted mid-season bye week by the NFL's schedule-makers in each of those seasons, with their post-bye record an even more impressive 27-10 (.730).
Once again, Green Bay's bye week fell in the middle of the season, and the Packers seem poised to become a second half powerhouse once more.
Sherman knows that he has to see the same kind of upswing in 2004 that his teams have shown during his tenure, and he knows what it will take to make that happen.
"We've been a pretty good second half team, and we have continued to improve through each of the second halves of the season," said the coach. "That has to happen with this team as well.
"We have to get much better at the giveaway/takeaway margin, which obviously I bring up every week and either win or lose that battle. Usually when we lose that battle, you're going to lose the ballgame. We're minus-10 right now and that's way too much. We'd like to get that down to zero in the next eight ballgames and whittle away at that number. If we do, I think we'll have some success."
Another reason why Sherman thinks that his teams have had success in November and December has been their effective play in the tricky conditions Lambeau Field presents in the cold-weather months. He knows that the Packers will need to use this home-field advantage to boost their current 1-3 record in their storied home.
"Our quarterback can throw the ball at Lambeau Field through all the different air currents that occur," Sherman said. "Our kicker is a very good kicker in Lambeau. I think we gain an advantage this time of year in Lambeau Field. Hopefully we'll utilize that advantage - we haven't to this point this year."
That strong-armed quarterback, Brett Favre, wasn't sure just what it is that makes the Packers such a tough team in the later months, but acknowledged that they've been at their best when the games mean the most.
"I think it comes down to the type of guys that you have and the ability to handle the elements," said Favre. "I'm not saying that we're the best guys for the conditions, but I've been asked that question so many times of 'How do you play so well in the cold conditions being from Mississippi?' The way I look at is - which is the truth - if I can't do it, they'll pay somebody else to do it.
"I'm not saying that all our guys have that mentality, but we know it's going to be tough conditions, and for whatever reason, we just have handled it better than the opponent."
Right tackle Mark Tauscher believes that the team's power running game, as well as the climatic conditions plays a role in the Packers' late-season success.
"We love playing in the cold, and I think that has something to do with it," said the offensive lineman. "We feel like we get stronger as the season goes on with the style of play that we have and it really comes down to us as a team executing the plan, because the plan has worked. It's been proven over the last four years that it works."
Sunday starts the run to the finish line, with first place in the division on the line. While the conditions might not quite be frigid, the game-time temperature for the 3:15 p.m. kickoff is expected to be around 40°, and the Packers will have their first chance to show off their second-half strength.