Time to rename the Black-and-Blue division. Traditionally the home of the 7-3 frozen-tundra slugfest, the division has become downright sissified. Detroit is on pace to set a franchise record for points scored in a season, and Chicago, Green Bay and Minnesota are close. Does anybody here play defense anymore? If you want to find bruises these days, you have to look to the end zone Cheeseheads in Green Bay. Whenever he catches a touchdown pass at home (and that happened twice again on Sunday against the Buccaneers), Packer wideout Robert Brooks climbs the retaining wall behind the end zone and throws himself into the arms of the delirious fans. That's as physical as it gets in the NFC Central these days.
Whatever, the Central is looking more and more like Green Bay's division in 1995. At 8-4 the Packers not only lead the Bears by a game but, based on their sweep of the season series, also hold the tiebreaker advantage. Here's how the NFC Central race shapes up with four weeks left in the season.
The Packers are closing in on their first outright division championship since 1972. If they get it, they should thank Brett Favre.
Favre is the league's best young quarterback, a Dan Marino on training wheels. In a 35-13 victory over the Bucs on Sunday, Favre threw for three touchdown passes, increasing his league-leading total to 28 and prompting Tampa Bay coach Sam Wyche to say, "Brett Favre might be the hottest player in the NFL right now."
If they can run the table and if San Francisco stumbles once down the stretch, the Pack would be looking at a first-round playoff bye. And with home games against Cincinnati and Pittsburgh sandwiched around road games at Tampa Bay and New Orleans, going undefeated the rest of the way doesn't sound so far-fetched.
After a nifty 5-2 start the Bucs have become, well, the Bucs. The loss to the Packers, their fourth in five games, dropped them to 6-6. Their once-bright playoff hopes are dimming. With nothing but division games left against teams that are also playing for their postseason lives, it's tough to find more than one victory in Tampa Bay's remaining four games: at Minnesota, home versus Green Bay, at Chicago and back home against Detroit.
But look at the bright side. The Bucs have lost 10 or more games every year since the strike-shortened 1982 season, meaning that the magic number for ending that streak is one win.
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