Do not count out Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers as serious contenders for the Lombardi trophy this year.
While fans and pundits alike have been focusing on the dominant season of the San Francisco 49ers or the injury woes of the Seattle Seahawks, the Green Bay Packers have silently marched to a number two seed spot in the NFC and a first round bye.
So why is the popular opinion that Matt LaFleur’s pack will be one and done this post season?
Is it because many of the team’s 13 victories this year have been ugly, slug-fests where they have won by a slim margin? Or because they are under the guidance of a first-year head coach who has little in the way of star power past future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers?
This is why nobody should be sleeping on the Green Bay Packers this year because that’s exactly what they want you to do.
They dominated their division
The Packers went 6-0 in the notoriously tough NFC North and won the division with a three-game lead over second-placed Minnesota and closed out the regular season with a five-game winning streak.
And while the games against the struggling Detroit Lions were incredibly close victories (23-22 and 23-20), their victories over the Vikings, who scrimped a wild card, were far more convincing.
What’s more, the Packers proved their mettle with a win at Minnesota which ended a four-year losing streak at US Bank Stadium.
This game clinched the NFC North title for the Packers with a divisional game to spare, proving they can win when it matters.
The Green Bay Packers are winning close games
A lot of pundits seem to characterise Green Bay’s season as winning close and winning ugly but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Of their 13 victories, six were by one score or less.
Two of those wins came over their divisional rivals, the Detroit Lions, which always prove to be competitive and the fact their inconsistent offence managed to come through against defensive mastermind Matt Patricia not once but twice is a sign of commitment and a strong work ethic.
After all, winning a blow out is fun for the fans but does not always best prepare a team for the playoffs. The Packers have proved that, with the game on the line, they can hold steadfast under the pressure and close a game out – this will prove vital in the playoffs.
Aaron Jones is having an incredible season
For some strange reason, no one is talking about Aaron Jones who is arguably the biggest snub for this year’s Pro Bowl.
Jones’s 19 touchdowns put him at the top of the NFL with the Panthers’ Christian McCaffrey – who did make the Pro Bowl.
The fifth-round draft pick who is in his third year also tied the league in rushing touchdowns at 16 and led the league with 42 broken tackles.
So while he doesn’t match the yardage of rushing leader Derrick Henry, his speed, lateral agility and balance through tackles is proving immensely productive for the Packers where it counts – on the scoreboard.
And, as everyone knows, if you have a solid running game, this makes your play-action options that much easier.
The defense makes game-changing plays
The Green Bay Packers ended the regular season with a turnover differential of 12 and had an impressive 17 interceptions.
Few things are more important in the post-season than looking after the ball and if the Packers’ defense can force turnovers, they can turn the tide of a close game very quickly.
What’s even more promising is that multiple players are making those plays.
Kevin King leads the way with five interceptions, while Adrian Amos, Jaire Alexander, Darnell Savage and Tramon Williams, who also has two fumble recoveries, all have two each.
Meanwhile, Linebackers Za’Darius and Preston Smith delivered a combined 111 tackles and 60 quarterback hits while Blake Martinez ranks second in the league with 97 tackles.
If this defense can apply pressure and force a turnover at the right time, it could prove decisive in a play-off match up.
They can hear the doubters and it’s fuelling their fire
The Green Bay Packers have been quizzed a lot this week about their critics and whether they will be one and done this play-off season.
In response, phrases that have been thrown around include bulletin board material and chip on the shoulder.
The result? The Packers are chomping at the bit to prove their doubters wrong.
Speaking to the Athletic’s Matt Schneider , Rodgers said: “You guys like telling us how we’re just kind of an average team that knows how to win.
“But the key point is the ‘win’ part because right now we’re two wins from the Super Bowl and we know for sure the first one’s gonna be here.”
Aaron Jones, Kyler Fackrell and Kenny Clark among others have all been quoted as having heard the noise and either finding it baffling or disrespectful.
The Green Bay Packers have floated under the radar all season which is the best place to be with minimal pressure.
But heading to their divisional-round match up, pundits have been vocal in their lack of expectation for the Packers to go any further.
And if last season’s New England Patriots proved anything, it’s that you don’t give a top team bulletin board material.
Look for Matt LaFleur and the Packers to go into the game with something to prove.
The Packers will host the Seattle Seahawks next Sunday for a chance to advance to the NFC championship.