The NFL has become a two-tier league. There’s the unbeaten Green Bay Packers playing at a level all their own, and everyone else eating their dust.
At least, that’s what national media outlets and pro football Internet sites are proclaiming these days.
The theme has been pounded into our consciousness repeatedly this season. There’s one great NFL team — the defending Super Bowl champion Packers — and a lot of wanna-be contenders.
The latest piece of evidence can be found this week on the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine, which features the Packers rather than the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals. That is the kind of respect the 7-0 Packers are commanding.
Every NFL team has had at least one off day, except the Packers.
Every team has tasted defeat, except the Packers.
Every team has struggled to find consistency each week, except the Packers.
If they aren’t careful, the Packers might get hurt from all those pats on the back.
The Packers can’t help but hear the compliments, but they’re trying very hard to ignore them.
“We’re not drinking the Kool-Aid,” said Packers safety Charlie Peprah on Monday.
In other words, no matter how crowded the Packers’ bandwagon becomes or how many superlatives get spit out by the propaganda machine, team members refuse to get mesmerized by the extensive publicity.
“Everybody’s on your team until you lose a game,” said receiver James Jones. “Then when you lose a game, you’re the worst team. So our mindset is taking it one game at a time. We don’t listen to all the hype.”
Jones pointed to the Philadelphia Eagles as the latest NFL team to ride the media roller coaster. They were the Dream Team this summer, then stumbled to a 1-4 start and became universally scorned. Now they’re back in the good graces of the pundits after their nationally televised 34-7 thrashing of the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.
And so it goes in the what-have-you-done-lately NFL. The Packers are all the rage, at least until they lose.
That’s why they don’t want to hear the experts babble about how great they are.
“All that stuff to us is a distraction from our goal,” said defensive lineman Ryan Pickett.
“We want their respect in February, that’s what we want. We want them to be saying that in February, and then we can feel good about ourselves. But right now, the season’s too young.”
The Packers aren’t oblivious to their reputation around the NFL as the team to beat.
“It’s nice when people say nice things about your football team,” said Packers coach Mike McCarthy. “It definitely beats the alternative.”
But following their coach’s polite words, the Packers will retreat behind closed doors and devise ways to get better. There is no rest for the team with the best record in the NFL. There will be no coasting, or players getting too full of themselves or their accomplishments.
“It starts with coach McCarthy but it’s down the line, too,” said Jones. “We understand.
“You’ve got to prepare every week. You can’t listen to the hype, read your press clippings and get locked into all that. You’ve got to go out there and play every game like it’s your last one.”
That attitude, which seems to have permeated the locker room, is one more reason why the Packers are in a class by themselves. But don’t tell them that. They don’t want to hear it.
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @MikeVandermause.