Monday Morning Reverie: The Bye Week Addition

This is what I Imagine it's like when Ryan Braun and Aaron Rodgers spend time together
1. There is a problem with doing a Monday Morning weekend review, sometimes not much happened.  Such was the case in the Wisconsin sports world this weekend.  Oh sure there was the Brewers On Deck event, which carries about as many story lines as you would expect a glorified autograph session to supply.

The event is fantastic for kids and fans, but it doesn't supply much fodder for the pen of the opinion writer.  The biggest story coming out of this year's fanfest was that Rickie Weeks doesn't want to negotiate a contract extension once spring training has started because he wants to be able to focus on the season.  That's all well and good but doesn't seem to be that big of a deal.  Corey Hart signed his extension in the midst of his career season and it didn't seem to effect him much.

The Brewers and Weeks seem at the moment to not be overly close, but I could see that changing very quickly. When a Weeks deal does happen, expect it to come together very quickly.

2. Let's see, what else do we have this wonderful bye week?  How about some negative Packer news?  Aaron Rodgers made some comments about the way that players on injured reserve decided to handle their rehab and Nick Barnett took offense.

The whole team photo controversy has seemed a bit absurd to me from the start.  The reason injured reserve players weren't going to be included was simply because they were scheduled to arrive in Ft. Worth on Friday while the rest of the team would already be there and take the picture on Thursday.  It became an issue when Barnett and fellow twitter teammate Jermichael Finley decided to comment in the public domain.

Both players should have just kept there mouths shut, because if the Packers proved anything in this season's home stretch it was that Green Bay didn't need them to win.  Wisconsin State Journal writer Tom Oates said it best on his own twitter account:
"If Rodgers ripped Barnett, others on IR who left town, he did it on purpose. Guess is guys in locker room feel same way."
Rodgers speaks for the Packers, he won over the locker room when Brett Favre left by his play on the field and the way he handled himself behind the scene.  Oates really summed it up perfectly.

Apparently it's all good now and the two have talked it out.  Barnett has apparently quit twitter now (again) and with his future as a Green Bay Packer looking increasingly dim distractions like this have to lessen those prospects.

This whole picture thing has been weird and awkward and really pointless.

3.  There were actual sports this weekend, but I dodged one result for very obvious reasons.  The Badger Men's Basketball team fell at Happy Valley on Saturday, breaking Wisconsin's 12 game winning streak over Penn State.

Stats that jump out in the lost are the impressively low three free throw attempts the Badgers took and the 6-20 three point shooting.  Both numbers are recipes for a loss for a Bo Ryan team (and just about any team).

What this game also illuminated was the complete lack of consistency from any player not named Leuer, Taylor or Nankivil.  Josh Gasser, coming off Wisconsin's first ever triple double and the first by an NCAA Freshman since Magic Johnson, scored only two point in 28 minutes before fouling out.  Tim Jarmusz had five points but that was it for scoring aside from the Badgers big three.

Don't expect this to become a trend, but flaws like this can be very costly come tournament time.

4.  Bucky's hockey teams provided some bright spots this weekend at least.  The Men took a trip to the Upper Peninsula and came back with a pair of wins.  The four points they took from Michigan Tech over the weekend places Wisconsin in fourth place in the conference, four behind leader North Dakota and just a pair behind third place Minnesota-Duluth.

On Friday night the Badgers trailed 2-1 in the second period before Junior Defender Jake Gardiner and Freshman Forward Mark Zengerle scored within 30 seconds of each other and the Badgers never looked back, winning 4-2.  Saturday's game was all about Patrick Johnson, the Senior Winger had a goal and two assists on the way to a 4-1 victory.

Zengerle has been a star for Wisconsin this season.  He sits at third on the team with 32 points and leads the way with 27 assists, not bad for a Freshman.   Beating Michigan Tech this season hasn't been hard though, the Huskies haven't won a game since October 15, that's a 22-game winless streak.

5. The women's program provided a nice story on Saturday as well.  Facing the No. 4 team in the country in the Minnesota Gophers the No. 1 Badgers held their second "Fill the Bowl" game hoping to set the attendance record for a women's hockey game.  Tickets were sold for just $1 with the cost of tickets being donated to the Second Harvest Food Bank.  Safe to say it was a smashing success, the Badgers sold 10,668 tickets setting the record as well as earning that same amount for the food bank.

Fans in attendance were treated to a 3-1 Wisconsin victory that clinched the WCHA title.  Women's hockey can be a fantastic sport to watch when both teams are on the same level (but often teams are not which is why the sport is still slow growing) and both Minnesota and Wisconsin are world class teams.  Good hockey is good hockey.


Baseball's All-Wisconsin Team

Some states have a rich tradition of turning out terrific sports players.  Texas and Florida are renowned for the athletes they bring into the world of football.  Indiana has a rich basketball tradition (Hoosiers!) and California is, well California.  Be it football, basketball, baseball or just about any other sport (except maybe hockey) the Golden State has turned out more than it's share of sports stars.

So what about Wisconsin?  More specifically, what about Wisconsin born players contributions to the world of Major League Baseball?  I'm glad you asked, here is your pro baseball All-Wisconsin team.

Catcher - Damian Miller - Born in La Crosse, Miller went to West Salem high school and is the backstop for the All-Wisconsin team.  He bounced around for much of his career, playing for five teams in 11 seasons.  Miller came into the league with Minnesota and finished with the hometown Brewers.  He made his debut in 1997 and played his last game in 2007.

For his career Miller hit .262 with his best season coming in 2001 he hit .271 and drove in 47 runs for the Arizona Diamondbacks (and won the world series).  Miller's final three years with the Brewers were mediocre at best but being a local boy he was instantly popular among fans.

First Base - Ed Konetchy - The pickings were slim for Wisconsin-born first baseman, so the best of the bunch falls to Konetchy.  Born in 1885, he made his major league debut with St. Louis in 1907.  Over a 15 year career he batted .281 and drove in 992 runs.  Not much of a power hitter though, Konetchy never hit more than 11 home runs in a season, for his career he had 74 long balls.

He played for six teams in his career, the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates, Pittsburgh Rebels (who only existed for two seasons), Boston Braves, Brooklyn Robins (who would ultimately become the Brooklyn Dodgers then the Los Angeles Dodgers) and finished his career with the Philadelphia Phillies.  Konetchy played his last game in 1921 and died in 1947 in Ft. Worth, TX.

Second Base - Jim Gantner - Of course Gantner makes this list.  Born in Fond du Lac, Gantner sweetens the pot by attending the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.  He debuted with the home team Milwaukee Brewers in 1976 and spent his entire 17-year career with the Crew.

Gantner was a career .274 hitter while manning second base for the Brewers only World Series run.  He is third on the franchise list for career games played, fourth in runs scored and fourth in hits.  Gantner played his last game in 1992 but still is a regular face at Miller Park.

Third Base - Joe Randa - Longtime Kansas City Royal, Randa takes the third base spot.  Born in Milwaukee and a graduate of Kettle-Moraine High School in Wales, he played 12 seasons in the big leagues.  Randa debuted in 1995 with KC, leading off a career in which he hit .284.

Randa's best career year came in 2000, when he hit .304 with 15 home runs and a career high 106 runs driven in.  He played his last game in 2006 with the Pirates.  For his career he slugged 123 home runs and drove in 739 runs.  Randa was never great, but he was always solid.

Shortstop - Harvey Kuenn - It's easy to forget, because most don't realize it, but Harvey Keunn was a pretty good player before he moved into the front office.  Kuenn played 15 seasons in the major leagues.  He was born in West Allis and went to the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Kuenn made his debut in 1952 with Detroit but took off in 1953 when he won the Rookie of the Year award and finished 15th in MVP voting; Kuenn had 209 hits that year and batted .308.  For his career he finished over 2000 hits, over 350 doubles and 951 runs scored.

Kuenn played his last game in 1966 and became Manager of the Brewers on two separate occasions, first in 1975 and then again in 1982-83 when Harvey's Wallbangers made the World Series.  He died in 1988 in Peoria, Arizona.

Left Field - Al Simmons - Born in 1902 in Milwaukee, Simmons might have been the best fielder that the state of Wisconsin ever produced and maybe the best player.  He made his debut in 1924 with the Philadelphia Athletics and had 183 hits that season.  He followed that campaign up with a 253 hit season that still stands as the fifth most in baseball history and the most every by a right-handed hitter.

That season Simmons had 253 hits he batted .387, one of three seasons he batted over .380.  He finished top 5 in MVP voting four times in his career and had runs scoring seasons of 144 and 152.  His career batting average finished at .334 over 20 seasons.  Simmons had 2,927 hits, just shy of 3,000, but slugged more than 500 doubles and more than 300 home runs.

He played his last game in the big leagues in 1944.  Simmons was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1953, he died three years later in Milwaukee at the age of 54.

Center Field - Ginger Beaumont - Figuring out the outfield positions might have been the toughest, but when you stumble across a player with a name like Ginger Beaumont and listed as a center fielder you take notice.  Beaumont was born in Rochester, Wis. in 1876 and attended school at Beloit College.  He made his major league debut in 1899 with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Beaumont had a solid career, but not spectacular.  He was a career .311 hitter over 12 major league seasons.  His best year came in 1903 when he batted .341 with 137 runs scored.  Beaumont had 209 hits that season, his runs scored and hits led the National League that year.

Beaumont played his last game in 1910 as a member of the Chicago Cubs.  He died in 1956 in Burlington, Wis.

Right Field - Andy Pafko - Born in 1921 in Boyceville, Pafko takes the right field spot on the All-Wisconsin Team.  He made his debut with the Chicago Cubs in 1943 and played 17 big league seasons.  Pafko was the definition of a role player, playing a role on four World Series teams including the 1957 World Champion Milwaukee Braves.

His best seasons came as a member of the Cubs however.  Pafko twice drove in more than 100 runs with Chicago and he hit 36 home runs in 1950.  His best claim to fame though, might be the fact that he was playing in Left Field when Bobby Thompson hit the famous "shot heard round the world."

Pafko played his last game with the Milwaukee Braves in 1959.  His last appearance in baseball was when he sang "Take me out to the Ball Game" at Wrigley Field in 2008.

Starting Pitcher - Kid Nichols - There won't be a modern player among them but you can't go wrong with a trio of Hall of Famers for your starting pitching selections.  Taking the lead is the Madison born Charles Augustus Nichols, otherwise known as Kid.  Nichols is one of those names you think of when the history of the national pastime, maybe not on the level of a Rogers Hornsby or Tedd Williams or Cy Young but it harkens to a different era.

Nichols made his Major League debut in 1890 as a member of the Boston Beaneaters.  In his 15 seasons he won 361 games, breaking the 30-win mark seven times.  A different era, a different game.  Nichols played his last game in 1906 at the age of 36.  He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1949.  Kid Nichols died in 1953 in Kansas City at the age of 83.

Starting Pitcher - Addie Joss - The second of Wisconsin's Hall of Fame pitching trio is the dominant Addie Joss.  Born in Woodland, Wis.  Joss attended to the University of Wisconsin-Madison and made his Major League debut with the Cleveland Bronchos (who would become the Cleveland Naps, then the Cleveland Indians) in 1902.

In his nine seasons he won 160 games and had an ERA of 1.89.  He pitched the fourth perfect game in baseball history but had his career cut short by disease.  He died in 1911 in Toledo, Ohio of tubercular meningitis.  Despite the abbreviation of his career he was elected to the baseball Hall of Fame in 1978 by the Veteran's Committee.

Starting Pitcher - Burleigh Grimes - The player known as "Ol' Stubblebeard" because he never shaved on days he pitched, Burleigh Grimes was born in Emerald in 1893.  He made his big league debut in 1916 with the Pittsburgh Pirates and went on to win 270 games over 19 seasons.  

What he might be best known for though is being the very last pitcher in baseball to legally throw a spitball.  When the pitch was banned in 1920, Grimes was one of 17 veterans to be allowed to continue to throw the pitch.  14 years later when he threw his last pitch, he was the very last of those 20 still in the game.

Grimes was also reputed to have what some would call an ill temperament. Grimes once threw at a batter warming up in the on-deck circle.  In 1964 he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee.  Grimes died in 1985 in Clear Lake, he was 92.

Closer - Bob Wickman - Hey, look at that, Bob Wickman makes the list.  The Green Bay native and former University of Wisconsin-Whitewater pitcher, Wickman is hands down the best closer to come out of the Badger state.  He made his debut with the New York Yankees in 1992 as a starter but moved to the bullpen in his sophomore season.

Wickman became a full-time closer in 1998 with the Brewers, saving 25 games that year.  Wickman would remain a closer for a number of years after, leading the American League with 45 saves in 2005 and finished his career with 267 saves over 15 seasons.

He was no Mariano Rivera but somehow Bob Wickman got the job done for a somewhat surprisingly long time.  Wickman last pitched in 2007.

There you have it.  The best that Wisconsin has had to offer the sport of baseball.  Not a great group, but not a bad one either.  And of course much love must go to the ever useful Baseball Reference for making this post possible.


Out of the Shadows

The Freezer. What a great name, and how perfect that he earned it against the franchise that once housed the Fridge and plays for the team he trampled to earn the moniker.

But while everyone is talking about BJ Raji's interception for a touchdown, let's not forget his involvement in the first score of the game. I mean, how beautiful was that Aaron Rodgers naked bootleg? It was brilliant. A play which was probably the best Mike McCarthy has ever drawn up, one which stamped an exclamation point on a debilitating opening drive and stated, "You can't stop us."

There's some irony in that statement when you consider the Bears tried to do the same thing after winning the coin toss. They elected to defer, unwittingly setting the stage for the Packers to grab the game by the throat. To be fair, it was a bold move, and one McCarthy used this season against the Vikings with success.

In their second game, the Packers gave the Vikings the ball first with the mentality that their defense could set the tone early, get the ball back with the score still even, and have the opening possession of the second half. This is what Lovie Smith had in mind when he made that call.

But he couldn't have envisioned Aaron Rodgers making his defense look like practice dummies, going 4-4 with completions of 22, 26, 6, and 22 yards. He likely figured there would be at least one 3rd down the Packers would have to convert. And when BJ Raji came into the game on 2nd and 1, there's no way he saw the ensuing naked bootleg that put the Packers up 7-0.

The beauty in the play wasn't just in the misdirection, either. It was the set up.

This wasn't the first time the Packers showed this package in this situation. They lined up in the exact same formation against the Falcons and John Kuhn ran behind BJ Raji for a touchdown. The move turned heads--it was such a slap in the face of Atlanta. Green Bay basically told the world that they were going to run the ball and where they were going to go, and Atlanta still couldn't stop it. For a moment, Mike McCarthy was Mike Ditka, and Raji was William "Refrigerator" Perry. And you'd better believe the Bears were preparing for what has been dubbed the Elephant formation. They've had it coming for 25 years.

When the Chicago Bears unleashed the Fridge on the Green Bay Packer defense in 1985, it left a lasting scar which is felt by fans who never even saw the play live. As a defensive tackle, there's no way the Packers could have prepared for him as a lead blocker, let alone a running back, and LB George Cumby was never the same player after his meetings with the Fridge. The embarrassment Perry caused the Packers and their fans lasted years, and stings each time the replays are shown.

So when Raji came into the game, the Bears had to be thinking Mike McCarthy was out to exact revenge on behalf of Cumby and coach Forrest Gregg. Packers fans everywhere were hoping for it. Bears fans were dreading it. The Bears defense was prepared for it.

At least they thought they were.

I think what I liked most about the play was its defiance towards history. Although it would have provided some nice symmetry for sports writers such as myself to wax poetic over, had Raji gotten the ball it would've been a copy-cat play; coaching plagiarism committed by McCarthy. Instead McCarthy took the play and turned it on its head, creating a new memory which simultaneously overshadows the old one and stands alone. Mike catches a lot of flack for his play-calling, but he deserves credit here.

There have been other hurdles cleared this season as well. This Super Bowl marks the beginning of a new era for the Green Bay Packers, one which finally leaves the legendary 1996 team behind. Much has been made this week about Aaron Rodgers building his own legacy, stepping out from behind the Favre shadow. Personally, I feel he's been free from said shadow all season, but that's beside the point. The way you escape such a shadow is not by walking an already trodden path, but by blazing your own. Aaron Rodgers has done that since he took his first snap as a starter in 2008, and the man who drafted him, Ted Thompson, is finally getting his due for doing the same.

But amidst all of the larger-scale accomplishments, I'll remember Rodgers' bootleg very fondly. Not as him separating himself from Favre, but as the moment Mike McCarthy eclipsed the massive shadow of the Fridge with the Freezer. And he did it his way.


Veni, Vidi, Vici!! Hail to the Victors!

Veni, Vidi, Vici!! Hail to the Victors!!

Congratulations Packer fans, and thanks for sharing your forum with me this season. The Packers are headed to Dallas to tackle the Steelers in Superbowl XLV!!

As Bears fans are left scratching our heads and asking, "what just happened?" We are pondering whether our franchise quarterback 'tapped out' or not. (I'm not saying he did.) Not what we were hoping to be talking about today!

Conversely, Packer fans are secure in the knowledge they have the better team and a much more mature leader at QB. While the Bears finally have found some "stability" at our team's least stable position since the 1940s, it has been put into the hands of an aloof, immature, albeit talented gun slinger. While Cutler is capable of looking like Bart Starr and Brett Favre at times, as recently as last week during the Seahawks drubbing, he all too easily slides back into his shell when things are going poorly.

On the other side of the coin is Aaron Rodgers. He is more accurate than Cutler with a better arm while being just as nimble. Both of these guys got their respective teams to the NFC championship game with excellent play.

The real difference between the two? Maturity. Plain and simple. While Aaron Rodgers is secure in his own skin; fun loving, and goofing around with his teammates on the sidelines. Cutler sits alone, refusing to "coach" Caleb Hanie when he needs it most. Rodgers is a guy who loves to compete, loves to win, and loves his teammates. It shows. Rodgers does not take being an NFL starting quarterback for granted as so many others do. (Google Ben Roethlisberger's civilian track record for comparison as well as Michael Vick's.) His level of emotional maturity should not be underrated in the overall performance of his team.

This is magnified when you compare him to Jay Cutler. Cutler takes all the aforementioned for granted. Blessed with size, speed, and good looks, he acts as though he is entitled to his position as a starting QB in the NFL. He is a prima donna who believes his spot on the main stage is his birthright. Granted you want this level of confidence in your field general. But without humility it boils over into cockiness which is never a good thing.

We Bears fans were blind to the fact Cutler whined his way out of Denver forcing a trade; we were getting a guy who threw for 4500 yards!! We were willing to accept his impetuous nature and aloof demeanor, he was Joe Cool. Maybe a redux of Jim McMahon?? If that got us to the Superbowl we could easily see past all the other stuff. If we had won yesterday I'm not writing this article today! The grapes always taste sour after you lose and we have no shortage in Chicago this morning. What I'm saying is Cutler can still get us to and win the Superbowl, but to do so he will need to grow up. He needs a "Rod Tidwell moment." The greedy self absorbed wide receiver in the movie, Jerry Maguire. Like Cutler, Rod is a self absorbed selfish player who is looking to "get paid" for his talent without realizing he needs to leave everything on the field in his athletic effort while embracing the "team" aspect of the game emotionally. Until Cutler experiences this spiritual 'kick to the head' and grows up, his team, da Bears, will not advance.

I wish the best of luck to the Packers in Superbowl XLV. If the Bears can't be in the big game there is a small point of pride knowing the two best teams in the NFC this year came from the North. We lost to the better team with a better leader at the helm! Sure Aaron Rodgers isn't Julius Caesar, but he came, he saw, he conquered!!


Packers vs. Bears: Our Picks


Packers and Bears. Three games this season, three weeks to analyze match-ups. There's really not much left to say; every angle has been analyzed and scrutinized by the media until the topic was pulverized. So without further ado, here are our predictions for the NFC Championship:

Dustin (@diddy05) - Here's the thing, I don't enjoy making picks. Might seem weird to you, but in my mind, I like to tell myself that the team I'm rooting for will lose. Why? Not sure, sort of a superstitious thing I suppose. I even went so far as making a bet against the Badgers in the NCAA tourney while I was in Vegas some years ago, which I'm certain Mark will never let me hear the end of. Because of that, I'll ignore my crazy feelings, after all superstitions are just hokum, right? So, I'll say what I actually think. I think the Packers are a superior team, that's not exactly earth shattering, most people would agree with that. However, when it comes to a Packers/Bears games, the most talented team isn't necessarily the victor. I'm going to say it's a close game, and a fairly low scoring affair where a Cutler mistake will ultimately do in the Bears. 17-14 Green Bay punches its ticket to Dallas! Of course, if I'm wrong, blame Mark for teasing me about the Badger game and thus messing with my superstitions.

Dick (dbauhs) - I started the week very confident in a win, and my predicted score has gotten closer and closer as the game approached. I have no doubt that the Packers are the more talented team, but in the playoffs disrespect is one of the greatest motivators, and the Bears have received plenty of it thanks to the hundreds of sports writers penciling the Pack into the Super Bowl. As recently as yesterday, my pick was 13-10 Bears for just that reason.

But last night I thought about the Rodgers factor. This season Rodgers has orchestrated some beautiful TD drives late in games, including one in the 4th quarter in the most recent CHI-GB game. I'm thinking 5 minutes remaining, the Bears just took a 13-10 lead on a field goal. Rodgers then takes the Pack downfield in a crushing 4 minute drive for the go ahead TD, and unlike in past years, the defense picks off Jay Cutler to seal the win. Pack wins 17 -13, and everyone in Wisconsin rejoices as Donald Driver triumphantly hoists the George Halas trophy over his head in Chicago.

Brian (BBauhs) - The Packers will win.

There. Got that out of the way.

This will be a game that is talked about for years to come. People are right when they say this is like the Super Bowl. Both teams are playing at a high level, reaching their peaks at the right time.

However, I think the Packers' peak is higher than the Bears'. I admit I have a hard time predicting how the Packers' offense will perform against the Bears' defense. The Bears have kept Rodgers and Co. in check thus far, perhaps better than any other team. I do, though, think that the Packers' defense will put a nice sleeper hold on the Chicago offense Sunday. The Packer defense is just too good right now. The secondary will be able to hold in the Bear receivers, and their gigantic defensive line will allow AJ Hawk and Desmond Bishop to roam free and punish runners all day. Clay Matthews will do his thing, and here's hoping Erik Walden has a repeat performance. Packers 24 - Bears 13


Bears-Packers....... The X Factor


We at the Tap love our local brews, but sometimes you've gotta try out of state crafts. We can admit that Goose Island makes good beer, even if we do prefer New Glarus. Here's one more from Dave of BullsBearsCubsSoxHoxx.

It's NFC Championship Eve!! The biggest showdown in Bears vs. Packers history draws near!! Who is going to come out on top?? Who advances to big D??

We all know the Packers O is on fire and Aaron Rodgers will not only win the game but ascend straight to Packer heaven thereafter, Clay Matthews, Tramon Williams, B.J. Raji, Charles Woodson and company are primed after a huge performance in Atlanta. Conversely, The Bears D dominated Seattle for 3 1/2 quarters Sunday and when they aren't outsmarting themselves, ie. Matt Forte chucking ill advised passes, the Bears Offense can be dangerous as well, as Jay Cutler has shown of late.

Where the Bears don't match the Pack in offensive firepower they make up for with special teams. Devin Hester, Danieal Manning, Robbie Gould, Corey Graham not to mention long snapper Patrick Mannelly, are pivotal players on the top special teams unit in the league. This is "X" factor number one to a Bears victory Sunday. The Bears Special teams can turn the complexion of the game quickly on it's ear as Hester's punt return TD in September cemented the win over the Pack or as Corey Graham showed Sunday twice downing a Brad Maynard punt inside the 5 yard line.

XF2 is Tommie Harris, a pro bowl selection in 2006 but mostly a non impact since, injured and benched over and over for failure to produce, has suddenly resurfaced with 3 sacks in the last 2 games! If he can continue to apply pressure from the nose tackle spot this frees up Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije ever so slightly and greatly increases the Bears chances of getting to the nimble Aaron Rodgers, a huge key to slowing the mighty Pack attack.

XF3 for Chicago is playoff experience, not to mention there is still a sizeable core left from the Bears 2006 run, head coach, Lovie Smith has been to and won an NFC championship game before. This may be a small intangible as McCarthy has been to and lost 23-20 to the Giants , but in the end knowing how to close out a close game may clinch the trip to Dallas. McCarthy has shown on at least two occassions this past season of making very poor clock decisions with under 2 minutes left.

XF4, home field advantage; There is a huge difference between Atlanta's delightfully smooth next turf running track and climate controlled environment and the horrendous condition of the "grass" and howling winds in Soldier Field. Having seen it up close last Sunday, I can attest the footing is tenuous at best with chunks of turf torn loose on every play. It's much closer to a litter box than a field! This will definitely slow both teams passing games.

Lastly XF5 is Bears kicker Robbie "good as" Gould. Not only is Robbie the league leader in all time accuracy, 86% , but he knows first hand how to handle the unstable conditions in Soldier Field better than all others. If it comes down to a field goal late in the game,Robbie Gould is the guy you want kicking for your side!

To be fair, I will present the X factors for Green Bay. These hinge more on weaknesses than strengths for the Pack.

XF Number One; for the Bears to win we need red hot cornerback Tramon Williams to cool off!! The Bears need to find a way to exploit the Packers backfield coverage by throwing in seams and for shorter yardage. Going deep on this guy has failed to produce! 3 playoff interceptions at key junctures are a very large reason the Pack has advanced to Soldier Field this week. The game saving endzone pick against Philly and another endzone grab just like it against the Falcons, not to forget the lightening quick momentum swing brought on by his 70 yard pick six just before halftime last week!! Additionally finding a way to limit Clay Matthews as well as B.J "big as a meat locker" Raji are the key to freeing up Jay Cutler and the Bears attack.

XF2 Packers special teams. As evidenced only last week the Packers kickoff coverage team is average at best, yielding a 102 yard return for a TD against Atlanta. Luckily the Bears are the best on the opposite side of the coin!! Please kick to Devin, feel free!!

Lastly, XF3 as previously mentioned clock management could count for alot if the score is tight late! Here's hoping McCarthy does another lousy job with the clock and his T.O. allottment!!

Overall these games rarely live up to the amount of hype pumped in beforehand. Most likely we will see a spirited battle. Someone unexpected, unmentioned, will play the game of their lives influencing the outcome. The Packers O will be less potent, the Bears D will have some slip ups but I also see Devin Hester coming through in crunch time while the Pack muffs an extra point along the way.....Bears win 24-23!! Hello Superbowl!! LET'S GO BEARS!!!! I will be counting the minutes until 2 o'clock Sunday!! Dave Kuhlman dave@onyerleft.com


The Joy and Agony of Sport Rivalries

I was recently asked why fans of both the Packers and Bears are getting so ridiculously amped up, talking mad trash, and acting like their team will for sure win. Because, obviously, one of the teams will lose, and then those fans will feel embarrassed and be more upset than normal, by having spewed venom all week towards the winning opponent and their fans.

My answer: "Because it's fun!"

Well, truth is, I didn't have a better on the spot answer. That's all it is, fun. The trash talking, is fun. The ribbing of the other team, and being ribbed back, well, it's fun! When your team defeats the opposing team, it makes the victory that much sweeter. Likewise, losing to a team you've spent a lifetime "hating" can be devastating!

But, that question did make me think a little bit. Why do we fans put ourselves through this? The simple answer, the joys of winning far outweigh the pains of losing. The joy of winning is true joy in a fan's life, but losing? Well, I said the word "devastating" earlier, but almost all of us realize that it is just a game, and in the grand scheme of life, losing a sporting event means nothing. So while we're truly joyous over victories, our lives are not truly devastated over losses.

Would I be happy if the Packers won this Sunday regardless of who they were playing, yes, I'd still be ecstatic! So, why have we sports fans, throughout the country, created these heated rivalries that could potentially let us down more than if we didn't have them? I think for those that wonder that, you need to ask these questions: Why see a tear-jerker if it just makes you sad? And why see a horror movie, if it's going to scare you? No one likes to be sad or terrified, right? Yet for the sake of entertainment, we enjoy it. Another example: Why should I like one person and hate another person in reality shows? Neither have done anything to me personally, but I feel "love" and "hate" almost the same as if I've known them my entire life, so I tune in each week to hope 'Person A' is voted off and that 'Person B' continues the game. Having these feelings, and creating a vested interest, makes the reality show that much more interesting, and thus, more entertaining.

Sports is exactly that, entertainment! We fans enjoy the complex range of emotions that sports brings, and having a "villain", like in any good movie, drives the entertainment value up. Winning is great, but winning against a rival is even better. Similarly, losing sucks, but losing to a rival, is painful. It's the range of emotions that sports brings, that keeps up coming back for more. Think of it as an ongoing soap opera, the "villain" might have won this round, but eventually "good" will prevail. And like any good soap opera, the "villain" doesn't just go away, no, they keep coming back. And no matter which side you decide is the "villain" or the "hero", the Packers vs Bears "soap opera" is the longest running in all of professional football, having been played 181 times over 90 years, so the seeds of "hatred" run deep throughout generations.

Of course, In my case, and in most of our readers' case, let's hope good prevails once more in a "season finale" of sorts: GO PACK GO!


Emotion is for fans...and Jay Cutler

Heeere Cutler Cutler Cutler...Nice Cutler...Want some cheese?

I honestly can't remember the last time I had as much fun watching a Packers game as I did last Saturday night. Tramon Williams was positively electric in the first half, and I found myself jumping and screaming, high fiving family members as he took Matt Ryan's pass to the house. Meanwhile Aaron Rodgers played as perfect a game as a quarterback can play. This left me incredibly stoked for a match-up with the Bears.

I wanted to write more about the Packers-Bears rivalry this week, but two things stopped me. For one, we've touched a lot on that topic this season, and there's little left to be said. But moreso than that, Mike McCarthy has downplayed the importance of the rivalry all week, and I think it's important to explore why.

In his press conferences he's acknowledged the rivalry and its importance to the fans, and that his players are aware of said importance. But he's also very clear that it's the fans who this particular match-up matters most to, not the players. This stands in stark contrast to Lovie Smith, who has played up the Packers-Bears rivalry from day one.

Then McCarthy made an interesting comment. When asked if he's pushed the historical relevance of this playoff match-up, he said that after teaching the newcomers about the history leading into the first match-up, he feels they "get it" and don't need the constant reminder. If you think back to last season, you'll recall McCarthy learning this the hard way.

With Brett Favre in his first year as a Viking, by several accounts there was added pressure for each match up. The result was the Packers pressing too hard in each game, and though they played hard in each, the opposing veteran QB calmly shredded the secondary twice en route to a season sweep. Mike McCarthy learned what happens when you put too much emphasis on one game, and you'll note that this season he has been very consistent with how he approaches each week. That business-like approach is really paying dividends for the Packers in the playoffs, and figures to keep his players' focused this weekend.

Meanwhile, Lovie's decision to put so many chips on wins over the Packers could potentially
backfire with his more emotional players. Emotion can be a powerful tool in football when reined in, but when it boils over players make mental errors. When I look at the Bears, the player that is most prone to boiling over is Jay Cutler. The irony is I don't think Cutler even buys into the rivalry. He's a bit of an anti-star, sitting sulkily at the podium after games regardless of outcome, refusing to become part of the Chicago scene. So Smith's approach shouldn't affect him, in theory. But Cutler has shown a tendency to let his frustration get the best of him, and the Packers defense can capitalize on that.

Dom Capers' defense is engineered to get into the head of the quarterback, to force them to make poor throws. The likes of BJ Raji and Clay Matthews terrorize the backfield while Tramon Williams and Nick Collins snatch errant passes from the air. And of course there's Charles Woodson, who does both. The past four weeks they've gotten into the heads of QBs Eli Manning, Michael Vick, Matt Ryan, and, yes, Jay Cutler. I see no reason why they won't do it again.


Baby steps key to Favre reconciliation

I can't wait to see Robert Brooks streaking down the field for a 99-yard touchdown thisweekend. It's one of those clips that doesn't get old.

As the oldest rivalry in the NFL is revisited this weekend, the history between the to teams will be brought up by the talking heads in the booth no doubt. The Packers and Bears have met 182 times and share 21 championships. Past games will be brought up, like how these teams last met in the playoffs in 1941. Even though he won't be playing, or even be in the stadium, Brett Favre will be brought up. It may not be fair, but it is going to happen.

The timing wasn’t great. In fact it was pretty crappy. When Favre submitted his retirement* papers after the Packers defeated the top-seeded Falcons to advance to the NFC Championship game, he stole a little spotlight from the much deserving team.

While doing this may create a distraction for the Packers, it also gave him a chance to do something he hasn’t done in a while. He gave the Packers credit.

Favre came out in an email and said that he feels the Packers are the best team left, and that he hopes they win the Super Bowl, even calling Aaron Rodgers the “best quarterback.” He went on to talk about being content with his legacy and having no hard feelings towards the Packers.

There have been many reports over the last few years that have created a rift between the quarterback and his former fan-base/team. The reports that he kept to himself in a separate locker room, and reluctance to tutor Rodgers damaged the fun loving team-first image most of us had of old number 4. More reports about a month ago that Favre told Bear defensive end Julius Peppers to go beat the Packers in a few weeks showed a player still holding a grudge.

So what are these new comments supposed to mean? Is Favre yelling a giant "Noonan!" to the Packers before their big game? Maybe with the act of retirement* he is also offering an olive branch.

While it may seem to some that Favre was just waving his arms to take some attention away from his former team, I think it was a hard but necessary step forward in reconciling his relationship with the green and gold.

We as fans don’t have to do anything at the moment, because we’re focused on the task at hand, cheering our team on this weekend in a game that would already be important but is magnified because the Bears are the opponent. Eventually though, we will have to reciprocate Favre’s step, for he will always be a Packer.

We have moved on as fans, but in a football rich state, we always cherish the past. We still tell the stories of Vince Lombardi's speeches, Bart Starr's ice bowl dive and Max McGee's hungover Super Bowl performance. We know what this team has been built upon over the years. It doesn’t have to be tomorrow, or next year, but eventually the kid who took over back in 1992 will be back in Titletown and he will receive a standing ovation. It’s good to know he sees that too.

*= if you believe it


It Just Doesn't Get Any Better Than This!!

Today's brew is an import: Chicago-native Dave Kuhlman, of BullsBearsCubsSoxHoxx, brings a south-of-the-border view of the Packers-Bears game.

Harkening back to the 1986 Old Milwaukee commercial where four buddies are gathered around a roaring campfire while cracking open some frosty beers, 'It just doesn't get any better than this'!! Bears vs. Packers , winner goes to Superbowl XLV!! Not since the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor (The Germans? 'Let him go, he's on a roll') have these titans clashed in the post season. The Bears came out on top 33-14 in Wrigley Field. That was not one generation or two but three plus generations ago. Nearly 70 years have passed.

That being said, the dream matchup is about to take place less than 5 days from now. I'm sure George Halas and Curly Lambeau imagined meeting more often after that historic 1941 matchup, but it just hasn't materialized until now.

Maybe the rivalry hasn't been what it once was; full of venom and hatred on both sidelines, both teams intentionally trying to injure and or at least embarrass the other. Maybe players have been sending congenial texts across battle lines, damn unlimited texting plans!! (I doubt Papa or Curly would like that very much!) Maybe the storied intensity of the rivalry is gone for good.

Or now, with all the chips on the table, the Halas Trophy, then the Lombardi at stake, these two wizened charter members of the NFL will rain blows upon each other like two desperate UFC cage fighters until one heavyweight finally taps out. How could they not? If these two do not come out slugging they don't belong in this game!!

I've been a Bears fan since I can remember and Super Bowls aside, I cannot remember being this excited about a Bears game ever! Many predict the Packers dancing into town, pounding on the Bears for awhile, and then punching their ticket for Dallas. They are now Vegas favorites to take it all. In an ordinary season, I'd probably say you're right. But in a year where we thought the Bears would be battling Detroit for 3rd place in the NFC North, a lot of unusual breaks and bounces have gone the Bears way all paving the road to hosting the NFC title match. Is it too much to ask old MOJO to keep rolling our way??

At this point, conventional wisdom had the Patriots set to easily walk away the all the hardware. Sorry Gisell-ichek!! I don't know if the Bears will get there but it's gonna be really fun to watch! I'll give a full breakdown and prediction later in the week. GO BEARS!!!!!


Monday Morning Reverie: The Total Domination Edition

70 Yards to Paydirt
1. There really is no better word than Domination for what the Packers did to Atlanta on Saturday night.  Everything went the way of the green and gold as the pack rolled to a 48-21 victory.  In nearly every facet of the game the Packers were better than their opponent.  By far this was the best game that the team has played this season and all indications are they are peaking at the right time.

Isn't that what's most important?  It's not about who the best team is at the beginning of the year or even the end of the season (didn't go so well for New England), it's about being the best team in the playoffs.  Right now the Packers look like they might be the best team in the playoffs.

2. Kudos to Aaron Rodgers for Saturday's perfect performance.  His stat line against Atlanta was flawless, 31 of 36 for 366 yards passing, three touchdowns through the air and for good measure he ran one in.  Rodgers has had no problem elevating his game in the post-season and put on the kind of performance that stories are told about.  When his opposite number Matt Ryan was folding and failing, Rodgers led the Packers to a second straight road playoff win.

Kudos need to go out to Tramon Williams as well.  He now has three interceptions in these playoffs and his pick six before half was a game breaker.  Williams making that read and jumping Ryan's pass opened up a two score lead when the game was very much in doubt.  Teams have gone after him in the last two weeks and he has made them pay.  The Williams and Charles Woodson combination is not too bad is it.

3. How happy must the league be to have two long time rivals like the Packers and Bears playing in the NFC title game.  This has none of the manufactured rivalry that Rex Ryan creates for the Jets but a genuine dislike and history that no other pro football rivalry can boast.  No offense Jets-Steelers, but only one of you have the same type of legitimacy.

While the AFC championship will be led up to with odd statements from Ryan about how this game is personal and perhaps profanity the Packers and Bears will just be about the football game.  As a football purist, you can't ask for much more.  Even for a casual fan this game will hold more appeal than anything the Seahawks and Falcons could have brought to the table.

4. It's time to remove "Matty Ice" from the pantheon of sports nicknames.  Matt Ryan earned that nickname in college for his cool manner and his strong play when the game mattered most.  That was college, this is now.  Ryan was not good for the Falcons, his decision making was incredibly poor.  First hanging the pass into the endzone that was picked off by Tramon Williams and again when he forced the out route that ended in the Williams' pick six.

You can't be a clutch player and bomb the way Ryan did on Saturday. Period.  When the pressure was on he was cooked.  If the Falcons make a return trip to the playoffs next season (if there is a next season) the pressure to win will squarely on the shoulders of Matt Ryan.

5. Bo's bunch is back at it, knocking off the then ranked No. 16 Fighting Illini on Saturday.  The Badgers, 13-4 overall and 3-2 in the Big Ten, are doing what Bo Ryan teams do - Winning.  The Big Ten is deeper this year then it has been in recent memory but Wisconsin has proven they play with good teams.  They've been neck and neck in games with Minnesota, Illinois and Michigan State.

Jordan Taylor and John Leuer have been outstanding so far this year, which is necessary because the scoring depth is not there.  The Badgers will continue to win games and will make the tournament, but how far they go this year will depend on the consistency they get out of Taylor and Leuer.  Those two players have the talent to take this team a long ways.


Why, Why, Why

Will Matt Ryan be the Hero this week?
It's just a day away now, the game that proves the Green Bay Packers legitimacy as Super Bowl contenders or the end of the season.  Winners and losers, it won't be any simpler than that by this time Sunday.  A rematch of teams that played each other to the wire just a over a month ago.  Will the outcome be the same?  Will new story lines emerge?

Why the Packers will Win

Offensively, James Starks will not put up the numbers he put up a week ago in Philadelphia, but his impact will be felt just the same.  The Packers will demonstrate a commitment to the run early that will prevent the Atlanta safeties from playing deep and taking away the long ball.  With the safeties forced to respect the run Greg Jennings will prove to be this week's hero with a long pass play or two.

Defensively the Packers will do something they couldn't the first time these two teams met - put pressure on Matt Ryan.  Clay Matthews will draw the attention but Charles Woodson coming off the corner will prove the game changer.  A more aggressive blitz package will let Woodson get hits on Ryan, disrupting his rhythm and forcing mistakes.

Also the strong play of B.J. Raji will continue.  Raji has been a force in the second half of the season and he will prove the difference in the run game, tying up blockers and freeing up A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop to make plays against the Falcons ground game.

In a hard fought game the Packers make just enough big plays to win.  The real difference is going to be a lack of mistakes.  No turnovers and very few penalties turn out to be the difference.

Why the Packers will Lose

Where the run game proved to be the difference against the Eagles last week, a poor game plan and lack of commitment will completely invalidate the Packers new-found weapon.  With little early success Mike McCarthy scraps the run game and passes the ball to excess.  Facing a one-dimensional offense the Falcon defense can sit back and bend but not break.  They pressure Aaron Rodgers and hold the Packers to field goals instead of touchdowns.

Due to a growing number of three and outs with nothing but passes and the occasional Rodgers scramble, Green Bay rarely possesses the ball, putting the pressure on the defense to stop long Falcon drives.  The defensive front seven holds strong early, but as the five, six, seven minute drives mount time of possession and scoring chances will swing massively in favor of Atlanta.

Michael Turner proves a difference maker since he is nearly unstoppable at the goal line.  The game is close, but a rested Falcon team wins the war of attrition late.

The Pick

If you base your pick on the first time these two teams met, you could flip a coin to decide the winner.  The Packers barely lost that game and barring a special teams breakdown and facemasking penalty they go into overtime with all the momentum on their side.  These are different teams then when they met back in November though.

To make my pick I look solely at the play-calling of Mike McCarthy.  If he commits to a run game despite what little results he gets early, the Packers win.  If he doesn't, they lose.  The Falcons are too good to fall at home to a one-dimensional offense.

Falcons 17, Packers 10


The Starks Factor

Welcome to Starks week. It wasn't planned, but when a guy does what he did, there's going to be a buzz.

Indeed, everybody is talking about James Starks. Once a pipe-dream savior in the minds of only the most obsessive Packers fans, he's now fresh off his first 100-yard game and appears to be the best running back on the team. Not to take anything away from the other guys--they have their roles--but he combines the best features of Brandon Jackson and John Kuhn and adds his own explosive element to the position. Add the bonus of a pair of fresh legs at a time when most players are tiring, and people are saying he's going to be the key difference maker this Saturday at Atlanta.

But why? He's only had one game as the featured back. Could a rookie RB honestly make the #6 Packers sudden favorites over the #1 seeded Atlanta Falcons? A team who already beat them in week 12? To answer that, let's take a look at why Green Bay lost to Atlanta in the regular season.

Going into week 12, the Packers seemed to have figured out how to best utilize their non-injured personnel. Mike McCarthy finally embraced the team for what it was: a passing machine with little need for a ground attack, while the defense terrorized quarterbacks and forced turnovers like it was 2009 all over again. The team owned a +75 scoring margin in the previous 3 games, and everything was rolling.

Then came Atlanta.

The Falcons were the fabled Tortoise to the Packers' Hare. While Green Bay racked up the passing yardage and played an incredibly aggressive brand of football, the Falcons played it slow and steady, taking the Packers' play making defense out of the equation. Aaron Rodgers out-threw his counterpart Matt Ryan 344-197, yet in the end the Falcons outlasted the Packers and Matt Bryant hit the final field goal to win 20-17. By all counts it was a great game, a rare playoff preview that actually lived up to its billing.

But as close as the game was, the difference between the teams could be summed up with two plays: Aaron Rodgers' fumble at the goal line on a sneak attempt and Michael Turner's 1 yard TD run. Essentially, the Falcons had a reliable running back, and the Packers didn't.

But Starks changes that. Granted, he won't have the surprise factor on his side this time around, but I'm not sure that will even matter. Green Bay's problem on the goal line was that the quick Brandon Jackson couldn't fall forward when met by a linebacker, while John Kuhn took too long to get to the line of scrimmage for falling forward to even matter. The 6'2" 220 lb. Starks can get to the line and power the ball through the plane for the touchdown.

Do I think Starks will carry the team on his back? No. But I do think he can fill the void.

Five other things I look forward to seeing this weekend:
  • No Flags - These two teams were the two least penalized in the NFC this season, and the Packers had their second highest penalty total in the first meeting with eight. I'd look for a much more disciplined Packers squad this time around.

  • Who will be the surprise contributor? The Packers champion their depth, and frequently this season an unexpected player emerges to help them win a game. Against the Giants Jordy Nelson set the tone early, the Bears saw Erik Walden burst out with 3 sacks, and the Eagles were trampled under the cleats of Starks. Perhaps FB Quinn Johnson will find the end-zone?

  • Receiver Redemption - My gut says the receivers will bounce back in a big way after an embarrassing showing at Philadlephia. James Jones in particular has shown a knack this season for following up poor performances with solid games.

  • Let Woodson do what he does best - I loved what Dom Capers did with Charles Woodson last week: let him roam the middle of the field and disrupt in whatever way he deems fit, be it by blitzing, dropping into a zone or simply shadowing the QB. Woodson has lost a step, but his instincts and knowledge of the game make him a very valuable weapon. Hopefully Capers uses him again to help disrupt the always calm Matt Ryan.

  • Stopping Weems - The Falcons special teams played a big role in the first match-up, with Eric Weems getting a big kick return to set up the game winning field goal. Though it's gone through some rough spots, the Packers' kick coverage has improved since the New England game, and if Slocum can keep Weems contained it will go a long way toward getting him off the hot seat.


Rookies stepping up for Packers in playoffs

What a special class.

Finding one or two starters in a draft class is typical, but sometimes it can take a few years of development. Every once in a while a team scores a draft class where it finds several players who contribute, but it still may take a few years. Due to the obscene amount of injuries incurred by the Packers this year, the 2010 rookie class has gotten a chance to show its stuff in its first year and it helped them upset the Eagles Sunday.

The Packers have gotten 36 starts out of their rookies this season. Bryan Bulaga has stepped in for injured tackle Mark Tauscher and although Bulaga has had growing pains, he hasn’t been a problem. Morgan Burnett filled in nicely for injured safety Atari Bigby, but Burnett also fell victim to the injury bug and only got to start four games. Andrew Quarless has filled in for Jermichael Finley, C.J. Wilson has filled in at times at defensive tackle, and Sam Shields and Frank Zombo have both been amazing for undrafted free agents, amassing 14 starts between them.

Oh yeah, and that James Starks guy.

With Ryan Grant going down in the first game, so did the Packers’ running game. They have struggled all season to try and replace the production Grant had provided the last several years. Brandon Jackson has shown some glimpses of success, but ultimately dances around a little too much behind the line of scrimmage.

Starks, after missing the first half of the season while recovering on the PUP list, showed a spark against the 49ers in week 12, but didn’t really show up again until last week against the Eagles. Starks showed what the running had been lacking so far by hitting the hole and he hitting it with zeal.

That was just what the Packers needed. A running performance like the 123-yard game Starks had Sunday allowed the Packers to keep the ball out of the Eagles’ hands. The four-yard runs also allowed for more favorable second and third down situations.

Against the Eagles’ offense, the Packers’ defense was going to have its hands full. Everyone knew that. The Eagles had arguably the most explosive offense in the NFL this season with Michael Vick, DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy.

On the defensive side of the ball, C.J. Wilson put in some time against the Eagles, registering one tackle. But Sam Shields made his presence felt right away, hanging step for step with Eagles receiver Jeremy Maclin, knocking the ball away from Maclin just as he was about to come down with a long gain early in the game. Shields ended up with four tackles and one pass defended in the game, and Jackson and Maclin combined for only five catches and no touchdowns.

Shields has done that all season, continuing the impressive transition from wide receiver to cornerback he started his senior year at the University of Miami (Fl). With the Packers playing nickel defense pretty often and Charles Woodson moving into the slot in those situations, Shields is a basically a starter, making six official starts in the regular season. If he continues at the rate he is progressing, Shields will be a valued member of the defense for years to come.

Last season against the Cardinals in the playoffs, the secondary was victimized to put it nicely. This season, the emergence of Shields along with Tramon Williams has minimized that problem. The defense has allowed only 16 passing touchdowns this season versus 29 last season.

The running game was a problem this season, and Starks might be the spark the offense needs to take that extra step to make opposing defenses account for more than Aaron Rodgers and the passing game.

With Shields, Starks, and the rest of the rookies that are contributing right now, the Packers could be poised for a deep playoff run.

Just ask the Eagles.


Prospecting: Andre Lamontagne

Time again for another look into the Brewers Farm System.  Today's target? Pitcher Andre Lamontagne.

Who is Andre Lamontagne?

An 11th round pick by Milwaukee in 2009, Lamontagne was drafted after four years of college; he spent his first two years with Long Beach State and his last two at Oral Roberts University.  His last season with ORU he struck out 72 batters with a 2.97 ERA in 75.2 innings pitched.  Lamontagne was named first team all-summit league as a Senior.

So far, he's been fast-tracked a bit by the Brewers, likely because of his time in college and the fact that he will be 25 at the start of 2011.  In 2009, his first professional season, he spent the entire year with rookie league Helena, both as a starter and in relief.  Last year he opened the season in relief with Wisconsin (Low A) where he pitched to the tune of a 2.36 ERA.  Lamontagne pitched his way all the way to Double-A Huntsville and finished the season in the starting rotation.

Lamontagne is 6'5" and 208 lbs, a right-handed pitcher and enjoyed success as both a starter and a reliever in 2010.  He has a big frame, which can lend itself to velocity but most reports indicate that he operates best in the low-90's with his fastball.  From what I could find he has a decent cutter and an improving changeup.

The Good

He's a solid pitcher that has performed well at every level he has pitched at.  Lamontagne has done a pretty good job striking batters out, with 79 K's in 86.2 innings.  Not bad for a guy who doesn't have a true power arm or a plus breaking ball.

Lamontagne also performed well in the closer's role last season.  He saw time finishing games for all three teams he played for, recording saves at Wisconsin, Brevard County and Huntsville.  While closing at the minor league level and the major league level are vastly different, versatility is never a bad thing.

When he first moved to the starting rotation, Lamontagne was dominant as well.  In his first 11 innings as a starter he struck out eight and gave up only two hits.  Not bad for a guy who spent the first nearly four months of the season in the bullpen.

The Bad

One area that Lamontagne will need to work on is his walk rate.  Last season he walked 44 batters, essentially one every other inning.  Whether his future is as a reliever or starter he will need to cut down on the walks.  Good relievers post 1-2-3 innings and good starters limit their walks to keep the pitch count down.  Lamontagne's walks will be one number to keep on eye on in 2011.

The other area that will be watched is his transition back to starting.  He wore down at the end of 2011 after being moved into the rotation but that is something that can't happen again.  In two of his last four starts he gave up more than four runs.  Consistency as a starter is an area that Lamontagne will require attention.

The Outlook

This will be an important season for Lamontagne's development as a player.  He should start the year with Double-A Huntsville and in the starting rotation though his ultimate future will probably be as a relief pitcher.  The Brewers need to gain a larger sampling size of what he can do as a starting pitcher before relegating him to the pen.

The reason that he would seem to have more of a future as a reliever is that walk rate.  He's had his best successes so far in relief and although he deserves every opportunity to prove he can start right now that just doesn't look like his best fit.

But that comes back to why 2011 is such an important year in Lamontagne's development.  If he can establish himself as a starting pitcher great, but if he performs well in relief he will earn his way to Triple-A either late this season or to start next, putting him in a position to help the big club sooner than later.


Monday Morning Reverie: The Wildcard Edition

1. Amazing what a running game can do for an offense.  Without the contributions that James Starks made to the Packers offense on Sunday night, Green Bay could not have beaten the Philadelphia Eagles.  In cold weather, facing a talented and well coached team, the Packers needed to have a physical presence in the running game to take the pressure off Aaron Rodgers.  Starks brought just that.

His 123 rushing yards (a Packers postseason record for a rookie) were just what the doctor ordered.  At next week's game in Atlanta conditions will suit the Packer's passing game, but Coach Mike McCarthy would be remiss if he forgot the run game that got him through the wildcard round.

2. Development is tantamount to a Ted Thompson managed team.  Many of his signings and draft picks aren't players who contribute to the team right off the bat but through good coaching they turn into impact players.  Several of those players were on display on Saturday night, especially on the defensive side of the ball.  Desmond Bishop, Nick Collins and Cullen Jenkins are terrific examples but it was Tramon Williams whose interception sealed the deal.

Williams improvement over his career is well documented but that doesn't make it any less impressive.  He has gone from defensive liability to shutdown corner and gives hope to the prospects of players like Charlie Peprah and Jarrett Bush.  Peprah has been better than average as a fill-in safety for the injured Atari Bigby and Morgan Burnett.  The jury is still out on Bush, but it was on Tramon Williams just a couple years ago too.

3. It Seemed Like every time Donald Driver caught the ball on Sunday night it was in a situation where Green Bay absolutely needed the completion.  I'm sure there is a statistic for how many of his catches were for first downs but I don't have it.

What I do know is Driver came up big for Aaron Rodgers on a night where Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson were shutdown and James Jones (unsurprisingly) couldn't catch.  The veteran may be running on fumes for the rest of this season but he'll give everything he's got.  He left the game with an injury and hopefully it wasn't serious because while Driver's production can be replaced his leadership can't.

4. The Run that Marshawn Lynch made against the New Orleans Saints on Saturday afternoon was a monster in effort, power and bad tackling.  Sure the Saints did an awful job of tackling on that play but the way that Lynch threw down defensive back Tracy Porter was the exclamation point on an impressive performance by Seattle.

Even so, one run doesn't make up for the poor season Lynch had.  If he can parlay this into a strong postseason and get the Seahawks another win than maybe I would think the Packers should've dealt for him when the Bills were trading.  Until then it's just one play, albeit a phenomenal one.

5. Overtime has been a killer for the Badger men's hockey team in recent years.  The Badgers hadn't won a game in OT since October of 2007 - before Saturday night.  After blowing a 3-0 lead Bucky tied visiting Canisius on a Craig Smith goal with just over three and a half minutes to play.

That set the stage for another overtime game for Wisconsin, but Saturday night's story had a different ending.  Defenseman Justin Schultz lit the lamp to give the Badgers the win and the series sweep.  Schultz is the team's second leading scorer and Wisconsin has now won seven straight heading into next weekend's series at No. 5 Minnesota-Duluth.