There's no way in Hades to explain what happens in the National Football League some seasons, which is the primary reason it remains so compelling. Consider the fate of the two teams that we follow most closely here, the locals and my beloved Packers.
First, we'll talk about the locals. If you were to tell me that the Vikings were going to play without Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart, but would still win the game, I could envision it. If you were to tell me they would hang 48 on the Eagles, I wouldn't have believed it. But that's precisely what happened. Matt Cassel may not be the most impressive looking quarterback around, but he's not afraid to make a throw and he seems to have developed a great rapport with Greg Jennings, who has been mostly invisible this season. Jennings was a holy terror, running wild and loose in the Eagles secondary all game long. Every time Jennings got open, Cassel found him. The sense you get is that had the Vikings been playing Cassel all along, the season might look a little different.
And yet, and yet. . . we don't know that. The Vikings have been creative and clever in finding ways to lose all season long; the larger issue has been a defense that has been unable to close the deal. One thing that was evident yesterday is that having safety Harrison Smith playing regularly makes a big difference. The Eagles run a lot of tricky routes and rely on misdirection to get their receivers open and, for the most part, they had trouble finding guys when they needed to. The Vikings have looked very disorganized at times this season and, at least from this perspective, it looked like Smith calmed things down in the secondary quite a lot.
Will the recent improvement be enough to save Leslie Frazier's job? It's hard to say. There are rumors out there that the Vikings would like to talk to Penn State coach Bill O'Brien after the season, but I wonder about that. It's been evident that the players are really fighting to save the current coaching staff and while O'Brien is impressive, I'm not convinced that the Vikings will get appreciably better by hiring a college coach.
Meanwhile, my beloved Packers accepted the kindness of Tony Romo and Jason Garrett in storming back from a 26-3 halftime deficit to win an improbable 37-36 victory over the Dallas Cowboys, smack in the middle of JerryWorld. It's been a very rough patch for the Packers with Aaron Rodgers on the sideline, but they've now managed to win two consecutive nailbiters, coming back in both games from big halftime deficits. While the Packers have been offensively challenged without Rodgers, the larger issue has been the defense, which played terribly in the first half against the Cowboys, giving up huge chunks of yardage, much as they had against all their opponents in recent weeks. Yet somehow they managed to right the ship in the second half and started playing much better. Sam Shields and Tramon Williams made huge interceptions of errant Romo passes and the Cowboys, inexplicably, went away from what had been an effective running attack.
Somehow, the Packers are still very much alive for the playoffs. The Lions will have a tough game tonight against the Baltimore Ravens, while the Bears get a date with a desperate Eagles team in Philly next week. A couple of well-placed losses and the Packers will be back in the lead for the division, with a chance to seal the deal against the Bears at Soldier Field in the final week. Aaron Rodgers might return next week, too. While I don't think the Packers would be able to run the table for the Super Bowl this year, stranger things have happened. Strange things happen every week in the National Football League.