There is a long, long way to go for the Green Bay Packers – probably longer than they even realize. That’s a lesson that was learned the hard way by so many previously unbeaten teams. Even the teams that look unbeatable, the way the Packers do right now, can be beaten when they least expect it.
Just ask the 2007 New England Patriots, who were once 2 ½ minutes away from finishing 19-0.
So it remains to be seen if the Packers, now 11-0 and counting, can even get close to making a real run at perfection, and if they can even threaten the 1972 Miami Dolphins, who remain the NFL’s only unbeaten team. But it’s hard to ignore that the rest of their schedule does set up rather nicely – three of five games at home, with two road games against struggling teams.
It’s entirely possible that their run at regular-season perfection will rest on a decision: With the possibility that they can clinch the NFC North on Sunday and possibly wrap up the No. 1 overall seed in a few weeks, will trying to be perfect mean anything to the Packers? Or will they pull a page from the once-undefeated Indianapolis Colts’ playbook and rest their undefeated starters down the stretch?
“To me, those are really questions for three weeks or so down the line,” said Packers coach Mike McCarthy. “There are so many factors that go into making those types of decisions. We’re really focused on getting to win No. 12.”
“We’re not really thinking about that right now, we’re thinking about the Giants,” said Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. “But I think there are no games that are not meaningful in a 16-game season.”
If that sounds like Rodgers wants to play them all so he can win them all … well, read into that whatever you want. If he plays them all, though, along with the rest of his first-team teammates, it’s hard to find a game on the schedule that the Packers might lose:
Dec. 4 at New York Giants
A few weeks ago, this might have a game that could trip up the Packers, but that was when the Giants were 6-2 and looked like a threat in the NFC. Now they’re 6-5, losers of three straight, and have a defense that ranks 28th in the NFL and just gave up 49 points and 577 yards to the New Orleans Saints. They don’t have the personnel in the secondary or at linebacker to match up with the Packers’ receivers, and with defensive end Osi Umenyiora (ankle) out and Justin Tuck (ankle) ailing, they don’t have the pass rush either. Maybe the Giants can keep it relatively close. Maybe. But Rodgers should little trouble piling up the points.
Dec. 11 vs. Oakland Raiders
Right above the Giants in the defensive rankings are the 27th-ranked Raiders, another defensively challenged team that has little chance of slowing down the Packers – especially in Green Bay. If it wasn’t for their defense, they might have a chance. Carson Palmer, their new quarterback, is settling down. They can run the ball with the best teams in the NFL, whether it’s Michael Bush or Darren McFadden getting the carries. They’re also 4-1 on the road. But the defense just isn’t a match for what the Packers’ offense has to offer.
Dec. 18 at Kansas City Chiefs
Have you seen Tyler Palko play? OK, maybe it’ll be Kyle Orton at quarterback by this game, but the Chiefs would need a shocking effort to have a chance. Very little has been going right for this team this season, and they’ll be in full death-march mode in the final three games. The good news for them is that the game is at home. Then again, they’ve lost three straight at home. So really, there’s no good news here for the Chiefs.
Dec. 25 vs. Chicago Bears
Don’t discount a Christmas night surprise here, especially if Jay Cutler makes an early return from a broken thumb. Even if he doesn’t, Caleb Hanie could benefit from the Bears’ strong rushing attack which could help at least slow the Packers down. Add in the fact that at this stage in the season, even if the Packers are playing their starters, they’re likely to be overcautious in resting anyone that even has a minor injury. And then there’s the weather – Christmas night in Green Bay shouldn’t be too cold, windy or snowy, right? And since the Bears will very likely need to win this game to keep an edge in the wild-card chase, the ingredients could all be here to make this the Packers’ most dangerous game.
Jan. 1 vs. Detroit Lions
On Thanksgving afternoon in Detroit, the Packers beat the Lions soundly, 27-15, which certainly takes some of the steam out of this rematch. The Lions once looked like the Packers’ greatest challenge, but in many ways they barely put up a fight. The Lions are good and will get better. Same for QB Matt Stafford. But they are not yet in the Packers’ class. So if the Packers want this game and want the undefeated regular-season record, they will be able to take it. These aren’t the same Lions. They haven’t looked as dangerous recently as they were before their bye week. They may need this game too, and lots of things can change, but if the Packers are 15-0 coming into this game, they won’t have trouble getting Win No. 16.
By RALPH VACCHIANO