Cory's Corner: Does a weak division hurt Green Bay?

The NFC Central/North Division has usually been pretty competitive.

Just not recently.

In the last three years, the Packers are VIP members of the Winners Club — and then there’s everyone else. Green Bay is the only team to finish over .500 all three years.

Detroit finished 11-5 in 2014 and Minnesota was 11-5 in 2015.

Chicago is turning into the new Detroit. The Bears lost their featured running back and top tight end from a year ago. They also have one of the most enigmatic quarterbacks in the league and a defense that cannot stop running water.

Does this hurt Green Bay’s perception? In the next 15-20 years will the Packers be criticized because they played in a terrible division? You could make the same argument for the Patriots, who have won the paltry AFC East seven years in a row and 12 out of 13 years.

The Vikings appear like they are poised to take the next step. They won the division last year and are doubling-down on that momentum with a new stadium opening this fall. However, was Teddy Bridgewater’s success last season a mirage? Can 31-year-old Adrian Peterson churn over 90 yards a game and get into the end zone 10 times? If either of those questions is answered with a no, the Vikings will get shipwrecked.

The Lions have been licking their wounds since Calvin Johnson decided to hang up his helmet. They turned the other cheek and quickly signed, wait for it, Marvin Jones? He was a complementary wideout for A.J. Green in Cincinnati and now he’s being expected to follow in the footsteps of a better receiver in Johnson. The team doesn’t have a featured back on the roster, which will make Matthew Stafford morph into Jay Cutler — plenty of deep center field interceptions.

And like I said, the Bears are even worse. The Bears still don’t have a guy on defense that offenses have to worry about. And frankly, you could make the same argument about the offensive side of the ball. Because, how is Alshon Jeffery going to be a star in an offense devoid of a solid running game, a suitable tight end and a quarterback that loves to take unnecessary risks?

On paper, the Packers should win this division going away. Granted, injuries are always worrisome, but right now it’s by far the Packers’ division to lose. They have the best quarterback, best wide receiver depth, best tight end, best offensive line depth and best secondary.

Obviously, the whole thing starts anew July 25 when players start furnishing St. Norbert College dorm rooms with plenty of fridges and fans.

But make no mistake, this Packers are playing a different game right now. They aren’t just winning, they are retooling and doing it again. And again. 

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Cory Jennerjohn is a graduate from UW-Oshkosh and has been in sports media for over 15 years. He was a co-host on "Clubhouse Live" and has also done various radio and TV work as well. He has written for newspapers, magazines and websites. He currently is a columnist for CHTV and also does various podcasts. He recently earned his Masters degree from the University of Iowa. He can be found on Twitter: @Coryjennerjohn

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Comments (33)

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

July 09, 2016 at 07:07 am

Maybe having had a weak division has hurt GB, but overall I think not much. Playing good competition sharpens one's own game usually, but this is football. Injuries are more predictive of success than in most sports. Also, as pointed out here ad nauseam, you have to get into the playoffs to win a SB. We've generally had enough tough games on our schedule to sharpen our game. Either way, I think the division looks tougher.

Minnesota looks good. Detroit still looks pretty bad. The Lions need Taylor Decker to play at least decently right away, Tomlinson to take a jump, Ebron to show something. Golden Tate was supposed to complement Megatron and now Marvin Jones is supposed to complement Tate. Need Levy to be healthy and some DBs to have career years.

Chicago has likely improved. On defense, Travathan and Freeman at ILB should be much, much better than McClellin and Christian Jones. McPhee and Houston complete the LB corps. Akiem Hicks should be a quality addition to go with Eddie Goldman, Ego Ferguson, and Sutton. The bears got one of my draft crushes in Jonathan Bullard, and took Floyd (though I'm not a fan). Still has issues in the secondary. On Offense, they get White back to pair with Alshon. Ertz is okay at TE. Eddie Royal and the injured Wilson can be decent complements. I am curious to see if a guy I was intrigued by, UFDA TE Ben Braunecker, sticks. Cody Whitehair should start, and Massie at RT and Kyle Long at RG is better than last year. Still, got Cutler and his issues. They lost Forte and Martellus Bennett. Chicago looks mediocre, but not a doormat. We will have to play decent to beat them - I mean probably not a game where we can lose three fumbles and still win comfortably.

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Bearmeat's picture

July 09, 2016 at 10:19 am

TGR,

I have to disagree with several of your points. I don't think the division is actually getting better. I think the Vikings are just the latest "Ooooh who's going to challenge GB" flavor of the month. IMHO, they have no other options after their 31 year old RB. They will go as he goes - which won't be much longer. Teddy is NOT going to win them games - especially with an injury prone TE, a slot WR, a rookie who plays the X, and a retread OL. Teddy just doesn't have the physical ability to be more than average - not to mention elevate mediocre players around him. That said, their defense is going to be quite good.

The Bears front 7 will be very good, but they'll be able to be passed on. They're a 1 trick pony on offense. White might be great. Or he might flame out. Zach Miller is an injury waiting to happen. And who knows with Cutty.

The Lions are going to be very very bad.

I expect GB to walk away with the division. At least 2 games, probably 3. 13-3 or better IMO. I'm more concerned about Seattle and Arizona. I do think the Panthers are going to regress, but they'll make the playoffs.

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NickPerry's picture

July 10, 2016 at 10:59 am

I started to write a comment very much like this one yesterday and ended up erasing and going to the beach so thank you TGR, you brought up some of the points I thought of too, especially on the Bears. The Bears front 7 will be much improved this year and the LB group could be one of the better groups in the NFL. Eddie Goldman is a stud and adding Bullard in the 3rd was a steal. Fox has rebuilt the Front 7 of this defense in 2 years to one that teams will have problems with.

Minnesota signed Boone and Smith, both had "Off Years" last season. If they play like last season no worries, if they play like 2 or 3 years ago they could be tough. It's still hard for me to understand all the "Hoopla" over Bridgewater though. He threw 14 TD's last year, just like he did as a rookie but with 3 fewer Interceptions, but like Bearmeat always says he never throws the ball farther than 5 yards! If the Vikings had taken Derek Carr I'd be more concerned, I just don't believe Bridgewater will ever be more than a "Game Manager" but not one good enough to get them anywhere. Last season Peterson said "I'm going to run for 2500 yards" and he didn't come close. This season he thinks their going to the SB, I think he'll be off on that prediction by a lot too. After last season he has another 382 touches including playoffs, another 382 touches of wear and tear on his 31 1/2 year old body. This is a guy who will fall of the ledge with little warning IMO. Either that or body parts will begin to breakdown and fail. When that happens then what?

I know I've said it 100 times but I really believe this WR Group will be SOOOO much better this year. Not just because of Nelsons return, but because all the WR not named Nelson or Cobb are a year older and have a coach. After last season, the way the WR AND Rodgers played, Van Pelts head must have been ready to explode on Monday Mornings. If Eddie Lacy is with Tony Horton and not in Louisiani eating Crawfish then I think he'll be okay. If not, I hope Crockett turns into the next Adrian Foster (Great UDFA RB) and Starks has another season in him minus the fumbles.

Edit... Lets not forget Cook, the author he suggested the Packers are better at the TE position. I for one can't wait to see him running down the seam or across the middle on a crossing route and Rodgers hitting him in stride. I've saw several highlights of this guy catching a 10 yard pass and turning it into a long gain. PLUS they have a better TE coach than years past.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

July 10, 2016 at 07:54 am

Bearmeat, I am more worried about Seattle, Arizona and Carolina as well. Guess I think MN will win 10 games, Chicago 7, and Detroit 5. I do think we will sweep MN. I think with Nelson and Cook and a slimmer Lacy, our offense will be much better and our defense will be a notch better. Happy to catch MN early - it usually takes a rookie WR several games, sometimes several seasons, to be effective.

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Bearmeat's picture

July 10, 2016 at 06:59 pm

Fair TGR.

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Lphill's picture

July 09, 2016 at 08:55 am

Did the Lions get better when they got a new stadium? No , so why should that matter for the Vikings , Peterson comes up small in big games and I think Bridgewater has peaked , yes their defense is solid but weak O line and not a strong group of receivers will hold them back.

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TarynsEyes's picture

July 09, 2016 at 09:16 am

" Does this hurt Green Bay’s perception? In the next 15-20 years will the Packers be criticized because they played in a terrible division? You could make the same argument for the Patriots, who have won the paltry AFC East seven years in a row and 12 out of 13 years."

We don't need to wait the next 15-20 years especially if you use the Patriots as comparison. They have at least taken advantage of a paltry division, your opinion, via their post season accolades where the Packers have proved more closer in post season to being a mere step better than the paltry division in which they reside.

Consider only the years of Brady with those of Rodgers and of Favre to make the number equal. Let's also erase the injury excuse, which many will offer as being more a Packer issue in regard to failure, and toss out the cheaters bs that will be used by same against the Patriots as to success, though injuries have befallen them also and the loss of the QB for an entire season which the Packers have not but some will make 9 equal 16 via the Abbott and Costello mathematics.

Who here in Packer land wouldn't swap post season achievements with the Patriots, especially since we have had two future Hall of Fame QB ' S to their one.

I expect a huge number of dislikes from the blind homers which will prove...the truth hurts....or the Division was wasn't as paltry as meant to be as referenced in comparison to the AFC East for the Patriots and the Packers aren't/haven't been as superior as the propaganda. : )

Something about cake and eating it too.

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Bearmeat's picture

July 09, 2016 at 10:08 am

You're not wrong Taryn. The Patriots have been better in almost every measure than GB since 2000. But the Patriots are really the only team over that time span that has been more successful.

The Steelers and Giants have won more super bowls since 2000 than GB has, but both have been straight up awful for years in that stretch too.

Since 2000, GB was bad in 2005 and 2008, and they have won their division more than any team other than the Pats too. They haven't missed the playoffs other than that. That's a helluva accomplishment.

GB will be remembered until TT/MM as a very good team. That's already decided. If they win another super bowl, they'll be remembered as one of the great teams.

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Denver's picture

July 09, 2016 at 11:02 am

You shouldn't get any dislikes IMO...seems to me you pretty much nailed it.

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dobber's picture

July 09, 2016 at 12:36 pm

Agreed.

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Bearmeat's picture

July 09, 2016 at 10:16 am

Corey,

I agree with most of your points. I think you're a little hard on the Bears though. If things go ok for them on offense, they'll hover around .500.

I applaud you for having the balls to not jump on the Vikings bandwagon. They overachieved last year and are due for a massive regression. They don't have talent on offense.

Ultimately, JMO, but GB has taken advantage of a sub-par division, and they'll continue to do so for several more years. That's not a bad thing - but what matters is how they can do in January.

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DrealynWilliams's picture

July 09, 2016 at 10:28 am

I thought Cow would've beaten us all to this one...

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Tundraboy's picture

July 10, 2016 at 12:49 pm

Thought so too. He is on sabbatical lately, I guess.

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NickPerry's picture

July 11, 2016 at 05:32 am

Maybe they banned him?

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DrealynWilliams's picture

July 11, 2016 at 09:38 am

Aw, that would suck. He's Lou from the Movie Hot Tub Time Machine.

"It's like that friend who's an a-hole. But he's our a-hole."

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dobber's picture

July 09, 2016 at 12:49 pm

OK...I've read the article and I disagree on whether the NFCN has been weak in recent years. By what measure? Over the Packers 7-year playoff streak, there was only one year where there weren't two NFCN teams in the playoffs (2013, I think). Division-winners are a guarantee, of course, but the WC means that a team beat out the rest of the NFC field to get in. By the numbers, at most, only 2 of the NFC divisions each year can claim at least two teams in the playoffs. If playoff teams are the ultimate measure of a quality division, I would argue that the NFCN has been at least average over that span.

As for this season, I would argue that there are three teams in the division with legitimate playoff aspirations (the Vikes and Packers, obviously, and the Bears are a fringe team). The Vikes are young with a very good defensive unit and an offensive group that will benefit somewhat from improvements to the OL. The Bears are being remade in the mold of John Fox's Broncos. The key question is whether or not Cutler takes a step back in the absence of Adam Gase. Living in a Lions market, I've seen enough to think that even the Lions have enough talent that, if they stay healthy and find a running game, they could hang around .500. Point to Calvin Johnson's departure, but he's been dinged up so much in recent years that they've had the chance to show that the offense can play without him.

I suspect that come January, this will be a better division than people are giving it credit for, but the Packers should still be the class of the NFCN. That's really all that matters.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

July 10, 2016 at 07:31 am

@Dobber, Has NFC North has been weak since Rodgers took over? How to measure it? You're right, only 1 team from the North went in 2013, otherwise 2 teams made the playoffs during the Division win streak. Only MN made the playoffs in 2008, Rodgers' first year starting. So, in 6 out of 8 years (since Rodgers), 2 teams from the NFC North made the playoffs. By comparison, in the AFC East, only twice did 2 teams made the playoffs in those same 8 years. [I'd note that an 11-5 and a 10-6 team did not make the playoffs in the AFC East, whereas 4 times the 2nd team to make the playoffs in the NFC North had a 10-6 record. That would make it 6 out of 8 times in the North, and 4 times out of 8 in the East that the division had 2 playoff caliber teams.] In the AFC North, 7 of the last 8 years two teams made the playoffs (and in 2014, 3 teams made it.) Only in 2013 did just one team from the AFC North make the playoffs. In the AFC West, only twice in the last 8 years did 2 teams make the playoffs. In the NFC West, 4 out of 8 years two teams made the playoffs (but 4 out of 4 years in the Russell Wilson years). By this measure, the ranking is:
Denver 2/8 (25% - easiest) but 2/4 (50%) in the peyton era
NE 4 out of 8 years (50%)
Seattle* 4/8 (50%) but 4/4 (100%) in the Wilson era
GB 6 of 8 (75%)
Balt 7/8 (87.5%) - hardest division other than Wilson era.

Or we could look at the winning % of the other teams in the division.

GB: 2015: 24-24; 2014: 23-25; 2013: 20-27-1; 2012: 24-24; 2011: 21-27; 2010: 23-25; 2009: 21-27 (M. Millen hangover); 2008 19-29 (Millen 0-16). Total is 175-208-1 or 45.69% winning percentage. By comparison, in the AFC East, teams not NE went 177-207, for a 46.09%. In the AFC North, teams not named Baltimore went 189-193-2, for a 49.48% winning percentage, despite the presence of perennial doormat, Cleveland, which mustered more than 5 wins just once since 2008, and even then they were 7-9. In the AFC West, teams not named Denver have a 167-217 record, or 43.49% (and just 41.67% in the Peyton era). In the NFC West, teams not named Seatlle went 180-202-2 (47.12%). [Wilson era: 102-88 or 53.68%.] The rankings:

Denver 43.49% easiest (just 41.67% during Peyton era)
GB 45.69%
NE 46.09%
Seattle 47.12% (but 53.91% just the Wilson era)
Balt 49.48%.

Is there a doormat factor? Baltimore got to play a doormat (5 or less wins) 20 times during those 8 seasons. Denver got to play a doormat 18 times (extrapolates out to 20 in the Peyton era). GB played a doormat 12 times (often, Detroit). NE played a doormat just 4 times in 8 seasons. The team with the worst record in NE's division had a 7-9 record, 5 years it was 6-10, and just twice it was 4-12. Seattle played a doormat 12 times over 8 season, but just 4 times over the last 4 season (extrapolates to 8). By the doormat metric, the ranking is:
Balt Played 20 doormats
Denver 18 doormats (20 doormats extrapolated just Peyton)
GB 12 doormats
Seattle 12 doormats (just 8 extrapolated during Wilson era)
NE 4 doormats (NE easily played the fewest doormats).

NE is 96-32 (75%) over the last 8 regular seasons. GB is 83-44-1 (65.35%). Denver is 78-50 (60.94% - but it is 50-14 - 78.12% over the Peyton era). Balt is 77-51 (60.16%). Seattle is 69-59 (53.91%) but in the Russell era, it is 46-18 (71.87%) Each of the 4 teams has one SB win, with Denver, NE, Seattle appearing twice in the SB over the last 8 seasons. Baltimore has a 10-5 (67%) playoff record; Seattle is 8-4 (67%); Denver 6-4 (60%); NE 8-6 (57.14%); and GB 7-6 (53.48%). However, while Balt. has been to the playoffs in 6 of the last 8 seasons, they went 5 times as a wild card (usually because Pitt or Cincy would have a 10 to 12 win season). Baltimore went 5-0 in those wild card games while averaging 10.4 wins during the regular season (MM is 3-2 in WC playoff games). I suspect Balt's playoff record was augmented by getting to play somewhat inferior teams in wild card games. Here are the playoff records in non-wild card games for the 5 teams: GB 4-2; NE 7-4; Denver and Seattle 5-4; and Balt 5-5.

Conclusion: tenuous verdict that there is no effect on playoff success and: 1) playing in a tough division by # of other playoff caliber teams in your division; 2) winning % of the other teams in the division; 3) number of doormat teams in your division.

[I felt the need to recalculate Seattle and Denver using just the Wilson and Peyton eras. Seattle was 23-41 between 2008 and 2012 when Wilson arrived, so these metrics had no effect on Seattle's playoff success when Seattle was 4-12, i.e., simply terrible anyway, and getting to 7-9 seasons just prior to Wilson's arrival. Same with Denver, although Denver was roughly a .500 team prior to the arrival of Peyton. GB, NE and Baltimore all had sustained success since 2008, roughly, so the metrics could be applied to all 8 seasons.]

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4thand1's picture

July 10, 2016 at 09:44 am

Holy crap TGR, thanks for the work. The bottom line is, it's not easy winning anywhere in the NFL. We older guys know this and welcome GB being on top for so long. Division games bring rivalries and those games add an extra dimension of importance each time they are played. The one thing I've noticed imo is, the rivalry is more intense between the fans than the players. The 60's are long gone and the days of Gregg and Ditka are too.

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Rossonero's picture

July 09, 2016 at 01:14 pm

Division games are tough old games. Throw records out the window -- these games are usually close. The Packers should destroy teams as they did in 2014, buts it's not realistic to expect them to blow everyone out.

While I hate the Vikings, aside from the Packers, they have done the best job drafting in the NFC North. While I have doubts about their passing game, they still have a top 5 rushing attack and a young, fast defense.

By his own admission, Rick Spielman said he's trying to do just what the Packers have done - draft and develop. The Vikings will also play the same weak opponents like the Jaguars, Titans, etc.

Lions are rebuilding, but are making smarter moves with their new GM. Bears could have a lethal passing attack with Kevin White and Alshon Jeffrey, but Cutler will find a way to screw it up.

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Tundraboy's picture

July 10, 2016 at 12:56 pm

Don't think the Jaguars will be a weak opponent.

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LeagueObsrvr's picture

July 09, 2016 at 01:29 pm

I don't think it's bothersome. What matters is that you take care of business, no matter the relative strengths/weaknesses of your opponents. The 49ers long reign of dominance in the 80's and early '90s was partly the result of playing in a weak NFC-West, plus the fact that some of those years, they were playing in a four team division, while the other divisions had 5.

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ricky's picture

July 09, 2016 at 04:09 pm

Because they're division games, there are no "gimmes" in the North. Every Bears games is a grudge match. The Lions recently broke that decades long Lambeau winning streak. And Minnesota has a very good coach, and up and coming defense, and a chip on its shoulder. All those teams love the thought of beating the Packers. Lovie Smith exemplified that when, on becoming the Bears head coach, stated "The first order of business for the Bears is beating the Green Bay Packers."

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John Galt III's picture

July 09, 2016 at 07:07 pm

NFC West:
Arizona
Seattle
San Francisco
St Louis now LA

How would you like being in that division the last (5) years?

We would not have 5 or 6 consecutive playoffs had we been there I am guessing.

So, all in all I'm glad we are where we are. In addition I have been watching the Packers since the late 1950's so to not be in with the Lions and the Bears is to me out of the question. The Vikings came in 1961, but that is now 55 years ago and for many of you - you were not even born then. That 55 years is more than 1/2 of the entire history of pro Football.

So maybe our division is weak but Atlanta (1965) , New Orleans (1967) , Jacksonville (1965) and Tampa Bay (1976) have two NFL titles, right? Not exactly setting the world on fire either. The NFC North in that time (since 1965) as presently constituted has 5 - we have 4 and the Bears One.

Me - I want Buffalo, Jacksonville, Cleveland and the Packers. That should guarantee playoffs for the next century.

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marpag1's picture

July 10, 2016 at 10:26 am

Hmm... Buffalo is an interesting choice.

Only Miami and Kansas City have a higher winning percentage against Green Bay than Buffalo.

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lucky953's picture

July 09, 2016 at 11:05 pm

Does it hurt the Packers? No. When you win Superbowl titles, no one gives a d*** what division you played in. Let's go get another one.

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marpag1's picture

July 10, 2016 at 10:24 am

Strength of the division means virtually nothing.

Since AFC teams play GB only once in four years, I'll keep them out of the discussion. And since postseason "head-to-heads" are practically coincidental, I'll limit the data to regular season. But here's the deal: In the 14 years since divisional realignment, the Packers have a winning record against every division in the NFC... every single one.

Here is GB's record against each of the NFC divisions since 2002.

NFCN - .696 (58.5-25.5)
NFCW - .690 (20-9)
NFCE - .577 (15-11)
NFCS - .552 (16-13)

Probably NOT what most people expected. The West (ARI, SEA, SF, STL) has been just about as much of a cakewalk as the Central, and the "lowly" South was the toughest.

As for individual teams, since realignment in 2002 GB has split with the Giants (3-3). Of the other 14 NFC teams, GB has a winning record against all but three: PHI (3-5), NO (3-4) and the mighty Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-4). Here is GB's winning percentage against all NFC teams since 2002... again, probably not what many people might have expected:

WAS / .800
DET / .786
SF / .750
STL / .750
ATL / .714
DAL / .714
MIN / .661
CHI / .643
CAR / .625
SEA / .625
ARI / .600
NYG / .500
NOR / .429
TAM / .429
PHI / .375

I'm not too worried - or excited - about our "weak" division. Just play football and win games.

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mrtundra's picture

July 10, 2016 at 12:50 pm

I'll bet the Packers aren't calling the NFC North a weak division. They lost three division games at Lambeau last year. On paper, The Pack looks solid, deep, etc., able to compete with any team in the League. We have to take care of business in our division, first. A win at the queens' new stadium will be a great start to the season. I want TB, Cutler and Stafford to feel the heat from our pass rush. Often.

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4thand1's picture

July 10, 2016 at 09:33 pm

Weird, they beat the barelys , queens and lolions on the road. Hail Mary!

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PaulRosik's picture

July 10, 2016 at 07:43 pm

There has been no such thing as a strong division over the time span you are speaking of. A different team seems to win the South and East every year and the rest were always garbage. The West was a total doormat with teams below .500 winning it until its recent rise the last few seasons. In fact the NFC West has the lowest win percentage over the past decade of any division. The NFC East ranks ahead of the NFC North in both wins (333 to 318) and playoff appearances (17 to 15) over the past decade.

Over the last 10 super bowls there have been 5 NFC winners and 5 AFC winners. By division the NFC North has won 1, NFC East 2, NFC South 1 and NFC West 1. The AFC South 1, AFC North 2, AFC East 1 and AFC West 1. So every division has won a Super Bowl in the past decade and the most for any division is 2.

There has been no such thing as a dominant division in the past decade.

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PETER MAIZ's picture

July 10, 2016 at 07:56 pm

The NFCN has changed and is changing because of the new coaches. The major difference, I think, is the quality in quarterbacks. Green Bay has such an advantage there.
The Vikes are up and coming but it's questionable how far they can get with Bridgewater. I think the Pack will win the division because Jordy is back and Cook is in. But there is no way the offensive game can implode like last year and be expected to go far. Actually, the offense IMHO will play much better. If Green Bay fails against the Vikes Christmas eve and the event ruins our collective Christmas dinners, I recommend plenty of Scotch or wine to alleviate the pain.

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DrealynWilliams's picture

July 10, 2016 at 08:29 pm

The Bears did reach the SB with Rex Grossman. I'm just sayin'...

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lucky953's picture

July 11, 2016 at 08:20 pm

I remember Rick Reilly's column in SI after that game: "Rex Grossman played like he was wearing oven mitts and ski boots"

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EddieLeeIvory's picture

July 12, 2016 at 04:30 pm

No.

Irrelevant, as history shows.

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