What are the two things you hear about Super Bowl-contending teams every year? They got healthy at the right time, and they started playing their best football late in the season. For the Green Bay Packers, both are true. Honestly, is anyone in the NFC hotter than Green Bay right now?
Last year, the Kansas City Chiefs won 10 consecutive games before resting their starters in the regular-season finale. They ended up winning the conference. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers joined them in the Super Bowl after ripping off four-straight wins to end the regular season. The Buccaneers got healthier down the stretch, and the offense came alive, posting 31, 47, and 44 points in their last three games.
This year, it appears the Packers are that team in the NFC. Yes, they lost to the Detroit Lions in the Week 18 finale, but let’s put that game into proper context. Green Bay played their starters for the first half on offense before bringing in reserves. Like the Chiefs last year, who lost to the Los Angeles Chargers in the finale, it didn’t matter because they had already clinched the No. 1 seed.
Green Bay’s offense was able to find a rhythm with Aaron Rodgers and the starters in the first half. They finished on a high note, scoring a touchdown going into halftime. The offense is red-hot, scoring at least 30 points in six of their last seven games. Before the meaningless loss to Detroit, Green Bay had not lost since Nov. 21 in Minnesota, when Paul Allen wished the Packers would lose every game the rest of the season. It was a wish that did not come true. Looking around the NFC, it’s hard to make a case that anyone is playing better than the Packers.
Tampa Bay clinched the No. 2 seed and won their final three games. They also got some help along the way via the San Francisco 49ers’ win over the Los Angeles Rams. However, the final weeks of the regular season haven’t come without hardships.
Star wide receiver Chris Godwin tore his ACL in a 9-0 loss to the New Orleans Saints four weeks ago, ending his season. Two weeks later, the Antonio Brown meltdown occurred for all to see at MetLife Stadium and left Tom Brady without another top weapon. Mike Evans is still present despite dealing with a hamstring injury, but the Bucs will be without two of their top options on offense.
The Dallas Cowboys clinched the No. 3 seed amid the chaos of some of the Week 18 results and will host the 49ers on Wild Card Weekend.
The Cowboys hung 51 on the Philadelphia Eagles in their regular-season finale. But they lost to the Arizona Cardinals at home the week before, which raised eyebrows. Dallas looked lethargic, and the offense couldn’t find any consistency. Along with that, vertical threat Michael Gallup tore his ACL in that game, ending his season.
Dak Prescott started the year on a tear but came down to earth — and then some — in the weeks that followed the bye. They regained some of their momentum against the Eagles, but exactly which Cowboys team will show up in the playoffs is unknown.
Stafford turned into an interception machine in the second half of the season. Stafford threw a mind-boggling eight picks in the last four games, and several of those went the other way for six. He finished the year tied for the league lead in interceptions with 17. The results for the team were better overall despite the mercurial nature of their season so far.
The Rams lost all three of their games in November before rolling off five-straight wins. Even though four came against teams that didn’t make the playoffs, LA needed the momentum. Entering Week 18, all they had to do was beat the 49ers at home to secure the No. 2 seed and guarantee two home games. They blew a 17-0 lead and lost in overtime, leaving many to wonder if the Rams will be one-and-done in the postseason or if they’ll be able to right the wrongs.
The Rams will face Arizona in the first round, and it was another epic collapse for Kliff Kingsbury down the stretch. Once thought of as the team to beat early in the year, the Cardinals have lost four of their last five games.
The offense has struggled mightily without DeAndre Hopkins. The defense wasn’t much better, giving up 30 or more points in three of the last five games. The Cardinals are as unpredictable as it gets as they enter the playoffs without much momentum. A win over the lifeless Seahawks in Week 18 would’ve clinched the NFC West and at least one home game. Instead, they lost 38-30 and will now hit the road.
The last two teams to clinch spots in the NFC were the Eagles and the 49ers. Nobody is giving Philly a shot against the Buccaneers. They won four of their last five, but those four wins came against the New York Jets, New York Giants, and the Washington Football Team (twice). Their lone competent opponent was the Cowboys in Week 18, and they were shelled at home, giving up 50 points.
San Francisco backed their way into the playoffs and needed overtime to salvage their season. Jimmy Garoppolo is still dealing with an injured finger, and the defense hasn’t been quite as dominant as expected. Circling back, it’s hard to make a case that anyone is playing better than the Packers.
I’m not saying that Green Bay is a lock to win the conference. In recent years, they’ve had their fair share of issues getting over the hump. The combination of playing some of their best ball while getting key pieces back like David Bakhtiari, Josh Myers, Za’Darius Smith, and others, though, makes it even more realistic to expect this to be the year for the Packers.