For the Green Bay Packers, it’s coming down to the last game of the regular season. While the team has already punched their ticket to the playoffs, a win means a second seed in the post-season, a first round bye, and at least one game on the home turf. But a loss on Sunday means no week off to heal and a trip likely to Dallas to take on the surprisingly formidable Cowboys where they won it all in 2011.
Come to think of it, that was the last time the final game of the season meant so much. Back in 2010 it was win and you’re in, lose and you’re watching XLV from the comfort of your own home.
If you forget about the flaming dumpster fire that is the NFC South (we’ll give them a pass because that roll was played by the NFC North last season), an 11-5 team will be sixth seed this year. It points what’s so painfully overlooked at times. Really good teams sometimes don’t even make the playoffs.
Last year a happily mediocre 8-7-1 Packers fell backwards into playoffs. That type of record is usually reserved for teams with the 16th pick in spring draft. It’s a far cry from the 12-4 the Packers will have if they defeat the Lions this weekend.
As quarterback Aaron Rodgers told Jason Wilde yesterday on his Tuesdays with Aaron on ESPN Milwaukee, if a team takes all eight home games, and splits the road schedule (which the Packers have. Contrary to popular belief, that really haven’t done all that poorly on the road), then that team will typically be good enough for a first round bye.
And it appears that will hold true.
But good teams sometimes miss the playoffs all together. The 1989 Green Bay Packers were the first team in years to garner national attention for something other than being happily mediocre. They were once again relevant. They eked out a heart-stopping victory 25 years ago today down in Dallas. After all, they were the Cardiac Pack that specialized in last second victories.
The Packers finished 10-6 that year. In most years that means a Wild Card berth at the very least. And for the 89 Minnesota Vikings, that 10-6 record was more than enough. Winning with the tie-break with a better divisional record, the Vikings took the NFC Central and went on to the playoffs while the Packers finished second in the division and headed home.
It came down to the last game of the season. The Packers had to win and Vikings had to lose to the Cincinnati Bengals. That year, the planets simply did not align despite the first truly strong season in what felt like forever.
This year the Packers, for the most part, control their own destiny. Sure, they may have lost all chances of home field advantage throughout the playoffs when they fell to the Bills in week 15. Now they are scrapping to be number two. Sure the Packers could still squeak out a number 1 that would be on par with the planets aligning in 1989. Not only would the Packers have to win Sunday, but Seattle would have to lose to (or tie) the Rams. In Seattle. In December. It could happen. Maybe.
Like I said, Jupiter would need to be in line with Pluto. And a meteor may need to strike the Pacific Northwest.
So back to the Packers control their own destiny. Yes, they still do. It may mean a possible trip to CenturyLink Field.
For now that means the Green Bay Packers need to think and play more like the 2010 version and not the 1989 Cardiac Pack.
They can’t control other team’s victories. They can only focus on the task at hand–winning their own games one week at at time.
One mind, one heart, one purpose, one goal.
It was the mantra said over and over again four years ago. Don’t worry about how other teams are performing, only focus on the present. Don’t worry about which stadium is the loudest and could be loud as hell in January, only focus on the next game at Lambeau.
Don’t rely on history where the last time the Detroit Lions won in Green Bay, George H.W. Bush was president, only focus on winning the next 60 minutes of football.
Don’t worry about the boogeyman they may meet at CenturyLink Field. They aren’t the goal this week, or next. And they may not even still be there if the Packers make it that far.
The past factors into absolutely nothing at this point. Only the present matters.
The Packers face the Detroit Lions this week at Lambeau Field. That is the sole priority the team has right now. They’ve already staked a claim to a piece of the playoffs. But the rest of the season (and post-season) isn’t gauged by who they may face later down the line, but rather who they are facing in the present.
Win and move on. That’s the only goal.