I will be making my second pilgrimage to Lambeau Field this weekend. The last (and first) time I was there was in Week 2 of the 2014 season. The Green Bay Packers came back from an 18-point deficit to beat Geno Smith and the New York Jets. Jordy Nelson had over 200 receiving yards, Eddie Lacy was still considered a good player, and they even sacked Michael Vick in his lone snap for New York. The comeback win brought Green Bay to 1-1, as the team had dropped the season opener to Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks the week before, 36-16.
Seven years later, the Seahawks will be in Lambeau this time around. Incidentally, Geno Smith will also be in the frozen tundra. In the weeks leading up to this clash between NFC rivals, I had been lamenting the possibility that the opposing quarterback would be Geno Smith in my two trips to Lambeau. Given how Smith’s career has gone, the likelihood of that happening is pretty low. As a Minnesota resident who has a long commute to Green Bay, it would be nice to see some star power in person in this Week 10 clash.
Fortunately, there is some good news on the horizon to satisfy my selfish desires. Doctors have cleared Wilson to play, and there is a legitimate chance that the franchise QB suits up for the Seahawks on Sunday. If I were not heavily invested in creating the best possible opportunity for the Packers to win on Sunday, this would be great news. I will get to see one of the NFL’s best QBs play. But it also means the game will be that much tougher.
However, the notion that this is going to be a tough home game should be a welcome revelation for a team still trying to suss out its legitimacy as Super Bowl contenders. Every game this year has been one long experiment to see if this version of the Green Bay Packers has what it takes to get over the NFC Championship game hump. Going up against playoff-caliber teams is the only way to assess their Super Bowl prospects.
Many of Green Bay’s performances this year indicate a team able to make a deep run in the playoffs. The wins over the Detroit Lions, San Francisco 49ers, Cincinnati Bengals, and Arizona Cardinals were closely fought contests requiring comebacks or strong mental fortitude to hold on to single-possession leads. Teams that find playoff success are able to execute in moments of high intensity, and the Packers have been able to exhibit this trait more often than not this season.
In contrast, last week’s game against the floundering Kansas City Chiefs offered little in terms of deep evaluation. Patrick Mahomes is currently mired in the worst season of his career. Aaron Rodgers outed himself as a QAnon Libertarian vaccine conspiracist last week and subsequently missed the game after testing positive for COVID-19. The offense stumbled in his absence, and Jordan Love’s first regular-season NFL start was a 13-7 slog.
The same could arguably be expected if Green Bay were to play a Geno Smith-led Seahawks team this weekend. Smith has played well in Wilson’s absence, but it is still unrealistic to compare quality backup play to a Super Bowl-winning MVP. Wilson’s presence under center for Seattle will allow pundits to have another game against a quality contender with which they can measure the team’s progress. Joe Barry’s defense has been surprisingly good this season, and the argument for his long-term viability as defensive coordinator gains more traction with a quality performance against Wilson and Co.
Even though the game will be more challenging, Packer fans should welcome the opportunity to play against quality opposition. As Green Bay looks to run away with the NFC North once again, they should be focused on how best to position themselves for the playoffs. Ultimately, the regular-season wins and losses don’t matter. What matters is what happens in January and February, and this weekend’s game against Seattle should prepare the team for exactly that.