Following a ho-hum 37-10 win over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday night at Lambeau Field, the Green Bay Packers clinched the No. 1-overall seed in the NFC, meaning that the road to the Super Bowl will once again go through the Frozen Tundra. The Packers have now won five straight, are getting healthy at the right time. Conversely, their competitors in the NFC are falling apart, meaning that Green Bay is officially out of excuses. They need to get back to the Super Bowl after an 11-year absence.
The Packers reached the 13-3 mark for the third consecutive season, albeit with one more game to play this year. It’s been an incredible run under Matt LaFleur, who has set the record for most wins by an NFL head coach in his first three seasons. The three-year run is almost unparalleled in NFL history. The biggest difference between what Green Bay has done and what those other teams were able to accomplish is that the Packers are the only ones that have been on the outside of the Super Bowl looking in.
Things were set up perfectly last season, with Green Bay securing the No. 1 seed and getting a mortal game from Tom Brady in the NFC Championship. Still, the Packers found a way to come up short. This season, the Packers have continually found ways to win. There was the miraculous final drive from Aaron Rodgers against the San Francisco 49ers on the road and the crazy missed field goals against the Cincinnati Bengals. Even the nail biters against the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns. They’ve all added up to get Green Bay in a spot where they won’t be traveling throughout the NFC playoffs.
Things could still go awry in Week 18 (that’s still strange to write) against the Detroit Lions. But the Packers are finally getting good news on the injury front. They’re still going to be without the services of guys like Elgton Jenkins and Robert Tonyan, as they’re gone until next season. However, critical contributors like Jaire Alexander, David Bakhtiari, Za’Darius Smith, and Josh Myers could soon be back into the fold. Even if they’re not immediately back at Pro Bowl-caliber levels, there’s something to be said about competent depth at critical positions. With an anything-can-happen-because-of-COVID scenario still out there, certain facets of the postseason might just come down to a numbers game for some teams.
As Green Bay continues to trend healthier, the top teams in the NFC continue to have issues that pile up. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have lost Chris Godwin and (probably) Leonard Fournette to injury. Antonio Brown is no longer on the team because of whatever that was on Sunday. The Arizona Cardinals have lingering injuries to James Conner and Chase Edmonds. Reports indicate that they might rest the duo in Week 18, even with a chance to win the NFC West. The Dallas Cowboys lost Michael Gallup to an ACL tear, and the 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles have also dealt with plenty of injury issues.
And the Packers have one ace up their sleeve when it comes to health, thanks to Mr. Immunized himself. One of the benefits of going through that whole debacle earlier in the season — unlike Kirk Cousins, who waited until a must-win rivalry game to bow out with COVID — is that Rodgers is in the clear until after the NFC playoffs. Staying in the clear between the NFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl? We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.
Things could not be shaping up any better for Green Bay right now. Wrapping up the top seed with a week to spare gives LaFleur plenty of options going into this weekend’s game against Detroit. He gets to decide how much he wants to see of Rodgers, Davante Adams, and Co. Should they play one series and get out like a preseason game? Play the first quarter? Give ‘er a full send for all 60 minutes? All options are on the table. However, I hope we’re not seeing anyone of crucial importance in the fourth quarter, no matter the score.
The NFC playoffs run through Lambeau, just like last year. One kicker this season? Fans in the stands. Add that to a team that’s continually winning, getting healthier, and facing teams that can’t say the same, and it’s Super Bowl or bust for Green Bay. There are no more excuses for the Packers.