Third and Short: Packers decision-makers in unenviable situation
Which team faces the biggest distraction heading into training camp? Our experts weigh in on Third and Short.
Several teams, including the Super Bowl champion Giants, will enter training camp with a lot of potential drama brewing in the backdrop. In other words, distractions are everywhere this summer.
Do distractions inevitably take a toll on a team, regardless of its caliber or personnel? Our experts examine in this installment of Third and Short.
James Walker: Which team faces the biggest potential distraction(s) when training camp begins?
This answer was debatable until this past weekend. But now it is crystal clear that the Green Bay Packers have the biggest distraction going into training camp. The Brett Favre saga is the ever-present elephant in the room that won't go away in Green Bay.
With Favre asking for his release last week, it puts the Packers in the type of quandary that can distract and divide a team before it ever takes the field for its first game. If Favre returns to the Green Bay, training camp will be a circus and players could be forced to choose allegiances. If Favre goes to another team, an extreme amount of scrutiny will follow the Packers for the remainder of the season.
Anything short of the NFC Championship Game -- and maybe even a Super Bowl -- would be unacceptable because Favre got them there last year and general manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy passed on a chance to let No. 4 lead them again in 2008. It's a no-win situation with thorns and pitfalls at every corner.
Kevin Seifert: Players always talk about how they can block out distractions and focus on the task at hand. Is that really the case, or do distractions almost always affect on-field performance?
Usually, a player's focus during off-field dramas comes down to two factors: (A) how serious is it? and (B) does it involve me? In the end, there are some cases in which no player can avoid distraction.
Players play through some issues relatively routinely. At least a few players on each team have newborn babies in their homes every season, and most find a way to get enough rest and maintain their level of play. (Mothers, grandmothers, adrenaline and caffeine have a lot to do with it, of course.) In other cases, investments go bad or marriages go south. NFL players deal with these issues regularly.
On the other hand, it's usually difficult to ignore legal entanglements that draw public attention. Even the best players can be affected. For example, the week after he was arrested for bumping a Minneapolis traffic cop, former Minnesota Vikings receiver Randy Moss dropped a half-dozen passes -- including two touchdowns -- in a blowout loss at Seattle.
No matter how serious the issue, however, many players can ignore an off-field drama if they have no stake in it. Consider the Cincinnati Bengals, for instance. There are plenty of players in the Bengals' locker room who haven't spent an extra second thinking about receiver Chad Johnson's recent antics. They might prefer he tone it down, but it doesn't affect whether they make the right block or cover the correct receiver. As long as they are left out of it, they can function normally.
Bill Williamson: Which contending team seems to have the least to worry about on the surface?
You might not be expecting this answer, but it is the New England Patriots. Think about it. The Patriots' issues are all behind them.
They have a clean slate. Spygate is over. The winning streak is over.
All the Patriots have is their hunger to win the Super Bowl. They will definitely have a chip on their collective shoulder in 2008 after a rocky 2007 that ended in disappointment and controversy. Indeed, last year there were plenty of distractions in New England that eventually wore down the team. However, the distractions are in the past and the team will relish a new, distraction-free season that is about to commence.
The Patriots are essentially returning the same team, with a few exceptions, and will be primed for a Super Bowl run -- without any distractions. And they can't wait.
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