Just two weeks ago, I said about the Packers in this very column, "This ain't the year, folks."
I haven't officially entered that column into the pile of material for December's annual mea culpa column, but I'm certainly nervous.
It was one thing to hold an Eagles team that had clearly run out of gas at bay in the wild card round, but winning at the No. 1 seed on the road?
I was cautiously optimistic about Saturday's NFC Divisional Game, but had a game to cover, so I DVRed it. It is still on my DVR and will be for a long time. I'm not sure if I've ever seen the Packers so completely control a big game. The DVR remote has a 'skip 30 seconds' button that is perfect for football - imagine a world in which a football game skips from the whistle to the next play with no Joe Buck snarkiness or Troy Aikman idiocy - that only reinforced the appearance that they were marching down the field with minimal resistance.
That was the Falcons. They have a good record, but how many Atlanta players could you name (excluding your fantasy team) before Saturday night? They're rarely on TV here, they play in an antiseptic dome, they've never won a Super Bowl and Atlanta is well-known as one of the most lukewarm sports cities in the country.
The Chicago Bears are none of those things. History says they are the Packers' rivals. But rivalry is born of experiences. Even though the Colorado Avalanche are pretty tame these days, I pay a little more attention when the Detroit Red Wings play there, because when I was younger, the two played some fierce contests.
A couple factors conspired to make for a rough week last week, such as Alaska Anchorage's sweep of Colorado College, and three ties Friday that took halves of wins off me. Time is running out to turn things around.
Minnesota Duluth at Michigan Tech
No. 5 UMD is headed to town, which I know doesn't inspire a lot of hope among Tech fans. This part of the column is about entertainment and there's just nothing entertaining about picking the home team (any home team) to get swept. I don't know how it's gonna happen (UMD did lose last year at Winter Carnival), but somehow, Tech gets points.
The Verdict: Tech 3-2 Friday, UMD 5-2 Saturday
St. Cloud St. at Bemidji St.
It's about that time to start talking about home ice prospects, and whoever doesn't take a majority of points from this weekend's series at the Sanford Center won't have many. Bemidji, at 5-9-2 in league play, is solo in ninth, while St. Cloud is tied for 10th with one less point but two games in hand. The target is four points above BSU, where Colorado College, Minnesota and Wisconsin are tied for fifth. St. Cloud was off last week, while Bemidji took a very interesting three points at Nebraska Omaha. This week, the Beavers prove their success works against teams that have been in the WCHA before last summer.
The Verdict: BSU sweep, 4-3, 2-1
Nebraska Omaha at North Dakota
Are the wheels coming off for the Mavericks? Subtract their Tech series as an outlier, and the once-red hot Mavericks are now just red: 2-7-1 since mid-November. Playing at the No. 2 team in the country is no help, though UND did catch Minnesota on the wrong night and lost 3-2 on Friday. As interesting as the reunion of UNO coach Dean Blais with his former place of employment may be, I doubt there will be such slip-ups this weekend.
The Verdict: UND sweep 5-3, 4-1
Minnesota State at Wisconsin
Kind of a tough series to figure in Madison this weekend. Minnesota State got fewer points (one), but did take Denver to overtime twice. Wisconsin split a pair of games at Minnesota Duluth. Both teams are playing relatively well, with MSU at 8-3-1 in its last 12 and Wisconsin having won nine of its last 11. The tie goes to the home team, but this could be a close series.
The Verdict: UW sweep 4-3, 4-3
Alaska Anchorage at Denver
Fresh off surprising Colorado College, UAA faces the No. 4 Pioneers, who took three points in a December series in Alaska. The Seawolves, who play four of their last six league series on the road, aren't likely to surprise the Pioneers, nor do they seem to travel well. They've been shut out once in every league road series this year and haven't won in Denver since 2005. Not a recipe for success.
The Verdict: DU sweep 3-1, 4-1
What's a great tonic for scoring two goals in a series in Anchorage? Coming home to face college hockey orphans UAH. The Chargers did beat Bemidji State two weeks ago, but have just three wins on the season and have been held to one or no goals 11 times this season.
The Verdict: CC sweeps 4-1, 3-1
Last week: 4-5-3
For the season: 70-54-11 (55.9 percent)
Most of my childhood experiences with the Bears were point-and-laugh kind of affairs. Walter Payton, Mike Singletary and Dick Butkus were bits of a different era, as real to me as the "Superfans" that kept repeating "DAAAAAA BEARS!" on Saturday Night Live.
I was five during the infamous "Instant Replay" game with Don Majkowski. Might be the first conscious memory I have of watching the Packers.
When Mike Holmgren and Brett Favre arrived on the scene, the Bears descended into a laughing stock. Green Bay beat Chicago (several times badly) 10 consecutive times in the mid-1990s, once prompting Illinois native Don Beebe to claim that it wasn't much of a rivalry because of how often the Packers dominated.
The Bears had two winning records between 1996 and 2005 and lost their first playoff game both times.
In 2002, they didn't even have their own stadium, as they ended up hundreds of miles away at the University of Illinois while Soldier Field was renovated into the UFO spaceport that it appears to be today.
Even when they did get good and make it to the Super Bowl, Rex Grossman made sure that the Bears couldn't be taken completely seriously.
Before my time, the Bears were coached by a man named "Ditka."
Now, they're coached by a man named "Lovie," and his defensive coordinator is the infamous Rod Marinelli.
The whole history of the Packers-Bears rivalry in my youth can be summed up by one graphic: the annual list of Bears starting quarterbacks since Brett Favre's first start that aired every time the two teams played, including such great lights as Moses Moreno and Peter Tom Willis.
I grew up hating the Vikings, laughing at the Lions and pitying the Bears.
With a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, the pitying is over. Defensively, Chicago can match up with anyone, and when on, Jay Cutler, Devin Hester and Matt Forte are legitimate offensive weapons.
I'm not going to make any predictions on the game, but leave the last word to former coaching savant Dennis Green: "If you want to crown them, then crown their (butt)."
But if Marinelli and offensive coordinator/egomaniac Mike Martz start fighting on the sidelines or Cutler throws four picks to the same guy, don't say you weren't warned. Because in the end, as Green said, "The Bears are who we thought they were."
Brandon Veale can be reached at email@example.com.