If you watched any football on Sunday, you might have come across a seemingly uninteresting matchup between the Green Bay Packers and the Buffalo Bills. This one came off as uninteresting for the simple reason that everyone assumed Aaron Rodgers and the vaunted Packers offense would carve up the Bills defense, despite the Bills ability to generally contain Peyton Manning the week before.
As it were, the Bills defense stood tall and withstood the Packers attack – not to mention Rodgers having and uncharacteristically off day.
Fear not, Packers fans – the immediate future of this team still remains bright. The Packers are not only on their way to another NFC North division title, they're also set up nicely to have a legitimate shot at winning the Super Bowl - and there are several reasons why.
5 Making the Postseason & Home-Field Advantage
Now, let’s get one thing straight: the Packers will make the playoffs.
If you had to bet the house on anything in Week 16, it should be that the Packers will steamroll the hapless Tampa Bay Buccaneers. A loss here would be absolutely shocking, and perhaps missing the postseason would be an appropriate punishment for Green Bay – but again, it’s Tampa, and it shouldn't be a problem. A win next week would move the Packers to 11-4. The Lions, meanwhile, are at Soldier Field next week in a game that, in theory, should be a cakewalk for them – but this is the same team that barely escaped the wrath of the Minnesota Vikings this weekend.
But suppose the Lions do win, it will setup a showdown for the division on the final Sunday of the year…and guess where that game will be played? Lambeau Field. Here are some Packers stats at Lambeau this season:
Points per game: 41.1
Points Allowed per game: 20.4
The Packers are a completely different monster to deal with when they are in the confines of their home stadium, and there’s no reason to expect anything different once Week 17 rolls around.
With two wins to close out the year, the Packers would finish 12-4, which could be enough to lock them into the 2nd seed in the NFC. That would give them a week to rest up and prepare for whoever comes out of the Wild Card round, who would then have to face them at Lambeau.
We just went over what happens to teams when they go to Lambeau. Even if the Packers win the division but don't get the bye, they'll get a home game to get the engine going - and ride it all the way to the franchise's fifth championship.
4 Defense Wins Championships…By Turning Over the Football
It’s already been pointed out that at home, the Packers only allow 20 points per game – and with as potent as the offense has been at home, defensive coordinator Dom Capers will be just fine with that number. On the road, though, that number balloons to 26 points a game, which is concerning.
What the Packers can rely on, though, is the fact that they aren't privy to game-costing errors: specifically turnovers. The Packers have the best takeaway/giveaway ratio in the league – if the Packers can hold onto the ball and consistently take it away in the postseason, it won't matter who they are up against, because if Aaron Rodgers gets extra shots at a defense (even the best ones in the league), he’s going to find a way to put the ball in the end-zone.
While the defense may not rank amongst the best in the league statistically, it’s clear this is not a unit that needs to pitch a perfect game to get the team a victory. The Packers have allowed over 20 points in nine of their games thus far this season, and have won six of those contests. If the defense can continue to take the ball away (which they’ve done at least once in every game this year except in the win against New England), it won't matter if they give up two or three touchdowns. Barring another bad game from a usually potent offense, the Packers defense will get a passing grade by bending but not breaking and taking the ball away. They've averaged nearly two turnovers a game this season and at that clip, combined with the offense protecting the ball, will lead to an even better kind of defense: keeping the football away from the opposing offense.
3 Will the Real Eddie Lacy Please Stand Up?
When the Packers drafted Eddie Lacy last year, they simply thought they were getting a bulldozing back who could truck for yards the way no Packers back had been able to do before his arrival since Ahman Green.
Early in the year, Lacy struggled, unable to pick up yards the way he had done so easily last season. There were even murmurs of him splitting time with James Starks (which ended up happening, briefly) or even sitting the former Alabama star completely.
Instead, Lacy broke out by morphing into an all-purpose back before our eyes. Gone is the image of Lacy plodding forward for yardage; that memory is now replaced with Lacy catching a pass from Rodgers and scampering 50 yards for a huge play. He’s picked it up on the ground too, and is now gaining big yards and scoring points in both facets of the offense.
Lacy is a key cog for any success the Packers plan to have in the postseason. Defenses will game-plan to take away Rodgers' arm, but if Lacy can dominate early and often in games like he’s been able to do of late, defenses will have to respect the rushing attack, thus leaving holes in the secondary for Rodgers to shred.
Lacy has been remarkable since he broke out of his stupor in the Packers Week 8 loss to New Orleans. Lacy has averaged 82 yards a game on the ground and 44 yards receiving, for a total of around 126 yards of all-purpose yards per game (big numbers considering he's been forced to give up some touches to Starks). More importantly is that he’s consistently finding the end-zone, as he’s scored eight times since that game, compared to only four total scores during the first seven games of the year.
If Lacy can continue to be a productive piece of this vaunted aerial attack, the Packers will be just fine come playoff time.
2 Aaron Rodgers
There’s no need to write a long-winded explanation for this one. You know Rodgers is good. You know he shows up in the big games. That’s all that needs to be said here.
1 The Myth of the Seattle Seahawks
Don’t get it twisted – the Seahawks have been fantastic this season, especially over the last couple of months. Seattle is perhaps the one team that might scare Green Bay in a playoff matchup, especially after the Seahawks big win in the 2014 season’s opening game, which saw Seattle beat up Green Bay in a 36-16 win.
The Seahawks stumbled after that win, but have seemed to regain their stride, and the swagger we saw all last year.
However, a quick look at the last few months shows the Seahawks have beaten the following: a brutal Redskins team, a Panthers team that has clearly taken a step back from last season, two bottom-feeders in Oakland and the New York Giants, an Arizona squad without a legitimate quarterback, a reeling Eagles team with Mark Sanchez playing quarterback on the road and a hopelessly lost 49ers team twice. None of those with the exception of Arizona is a playoff team right now, and Arizona is only in thanks to their remarkable start to the year (and incredible defense).
The Seahawks are good – that much is clear – but are they still the best? The competition has been less than stellar (there were also losses to St. Louis, Kansas City, and Dallas), and should these two teams meet again, it’d be quite surprising if the outcome was anywhere close to what it was the first time around.
If the road to the Super Bowl goes through Seattle again, the Packers have a legitimate shot of dethroning the champs and representing the NFC – and it’s become apparent yet again this year that the smart money in the big game is on the team that comes out of the National Football Conference.
Here’s thinking that team will come from small town Green Bay, Wisconsin.