The Green Bay Packers head to Minnesota this Sunday to try and secure the NFC’s second seed in the playoffs, which would give them a first round bye. After a slow start the Packers have quietly put together a very solid season, looking to finish 12-4 with a victory this week.
It feels a little silly saying that a 12-4 team is “quietly” having a good year but the Packers face higher expectations than most. Those expectations come from last year’s 15-1 season, where Aaron Rodgers’ MVP campaign had the Pack practically unbeatable from September through December. Green Bay wasn’t hot when it counted, though, as they cooled off at the end of the season and were then beat soundly by the New York Giants in the playoffs.
This season Green Bay hasn’t demonstrated anywhere close to the level of dominance they exerted over the NFL last year. The Packers were the cream of the crop with 35 points per game as Aaron Rodgers led the league’s most efficient offense, which makes this year’s 26.6 PPG look meager in comparison.
So why do I believe the Packers are leading contender to emerge from the NFC? It all comes down to the bullseye.
After the New York Giants effectively came from nowhere to win the Super Bowl for the second time in five years, much is being made about the importance of being hot at the end of the season. Teams that catch fire near the end of the year tend to carry that into the playoffs, and the brilliance of the NFL is that nothing matters except the next game. It doesn’t matter how good of a season any team has had; it all comes down to winning one game, and teams that play well at season’s end have shown a tendency to do just that.
The Seattle Seahawks have become a recent playoff pick because of this phenomenon. Seattle has been making headlines by outscoring opponents by an Ohio State against Division III schools-like 150-30 margin over their past three games, which is undoubtedly attracting plenty of attention from the rest of the playoff crop. As impressive as it is, I would not call the Seahawks’ recent stretch just simply “getting hot.” Seattle is eviscerating, dismembering, and burying its opponents at a record-breaking pace, which differs greatly from the 2011 Giants because it puts a gigantic target on their back. Because of their amazingly strong play of late, it isn’t unreasonable to assume that the Seahawks are turning more heads than any other team in the NFL.
And this is why I believe the Packers are poised to do what they have been doing all but one time since Week 5: winning football games. Green Bay has received criticism for the downgrade in their performance this season, but not wiping the floor with every opponent doesn’t mean they can’t get it done. While teams like Seattle, San Francisco, and Atlanta continue to grab the majority of the headlines, Green Bay still has All-Universe quarterback Aaron Rodgers and a receiving corps that is slowly returning to full strength.
The scores haven’t been as lopsided, but Green Bay has all the pieces from last year. The only difference I see is the lack of a big red bullseye that they readily accepted last year with blowout after blowout. With a victory over Minnesota, the Packers will end the year on a 10-1 stretch. They have actually done their part to earn their share of praise and attention, but an experienced team like Green Bay knows that they are only lucky to be flying under the radar with such a superb finish.