If you need to appreciate how quickly life in the NFL can change, use this Sunday's matchup between the Rams and the Packers as an indicator.
Just four short years ago, Rams Head Coach Steve Spagnuolo was a young coach on the rise, and the Giants defense he coordinated on that cold night at Lambeau Field in the 2007 playoffs launched him as a leading head coach candidate.
Spagnuolo's defense, which would lead the Giants to a win in the Super Bowl against undefeated New England, intercepted Brett Favre twice on that frigid night at Lambeau. The second of those interceptions was in overtime and was followed by a game-deciding field goal.
Meanwhile, a young quarterback stood along the Packers sideline, huddled in a long coat, no doubt, and oblivious to what the true meaning of the night would be: the end of one era in Packers football and the soon-to-be start of a new era. That young quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, would be the centerpiece of that new era.
Four seasons later, Spagnuolo returns to Lambeau Field this Sunday as the coach of a 0-4 team that is struggling in its rebuilding efforts to get over the hump. It has a first-pick-of-the-draft quarterback, but more pieces are needed.
On the other sideline this Sunday, Rodgers will stand as the premier player in the game. Since that playoff loss on Jan. 20, 2008, the night winter arrived in Green Bay, Rodgers stepped into his future amidst a firestorm of protest, endured the barbs that go with a losing season, led his team to the playoffs the following season, led the Packers to the Super Bowl title and won the game's MVP award last season, and sits now atop the NFL passer rankings, 13.4 ratings points higher than the next highest-rated quarterback, Tom Brady.
What a difference four years has made.
Rodgers has gone from a quarterback a lot of fans and media didn't think the Packers needed to draft, to the face of the franchise and the league. The kid in the long coat in Jan. of '08, the one the TV camera's eye ignored, is now recognizable in every city, town and village in America.
He is the quarterback of a 5-0 team that is on an 11-game winning streak that is causing its fans to dream wild dreams, and nary is heard a discouraging word. That's what can happen in four short years in the NFL.
Here are 10 things the Packers have to do to beat the Rams:
1. Focus—When you're playing this well, you don't wanna get sloppy.
2. Beware Steven Jackson—He's the one star-quality player the Rams have. Jackson is a big, talented back that can take it the distance if you don't wrap him up.
3. Execute—The Packers would seem to be on the verge of a higher level of performance. This would be a good week to take it up a notch.
4. Run the ball—The Rams are dead last against the run. Why make this more difficult than necessary?
5. Dazzle them—A young, struggling team that has lost three of its top four cornerbacks might be overwhelmed by the weapons the Packers can run onto the field.
6. Sack the quarterback—The Rams are dead last in the league in sacks allowed per pass play. Hey, no excuses this week.
7. Press the issue—The Rams are also last in the league in yards per play. No reason to play it soft, right?
8. Get off the field—The Rams are 31st in third-down efficiency.
9. Look at the tape—Did Spagnuolo's defense do anything special schematically in that 2007 playoff game?
10. Be the best—The national perception is that the Packers ARE the best. Additional coverage - Oct. 13