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By CHRIS HAVEL
Green Bay could capture division crown with New Year’s Day win at Detroit
The Packers have the NFC’s full attention at the most important time of the season.
No one is taking Green Bay for granted. Not now.
Not after seeing what Packers’ head coach Mike McCarthy’s reshaped offense is capable of, which is merely being among the NFL’s most dangerous.
That is especially true of the Detroit Lions (9-5) who are at Dallas (12-2) in tonight’s Monday Night Football matchup. The Lions could be forgiven if they overlook the Cowboys, because the Packers-Lions New Year’s Day game, which has been flexed from noon to 7 p.m., will decide the division champion.
It’s winner-take-all duel of battling storylines.
The Packers and red-hot rifleman Aaron Rodgers are trying to rekindle memories of another unlikely run in 2010. That ended well with the Packers capturing Super Bowl XLV with a victory over Pittsburgh at Dallas (aka North Texas).
The Lions and triggerman Matthew Stafford are hoping the quarterback’s injured right middle finger won’t derail the team. With a healthy Stafford the Lions’ offense is capable of giving Green Bay’s defense fits. With a less-than-able Stafford – which often equates to erratic throws – the Packers’ DB’s may pounce.
The Packers’ most recent victory – a tidy 38-25 win over former NFC North champ Minnesota – showcased Green Bay’s incredibly potent offensive attack. The Packers’ offense is better-equipped to lead a Super Bowl charge than its counterpart which opened the season.
Ty Montgomery and Christian Michael are more explosive and versatile than Eddie Lacy and James Starks. Montgomery is well-versed in receiver play, while Michael is a straight-line, not-much-dancing type whose speed is legit.
The offensive line is healthier than I can remember in several season’s worth of Decembers. David Bakhtiari, Lane Taylor, Corey Linsley, T.J. Lang and Bryan Bulaga have been strong.
They are proof that no one player, in this case Josh Sitton, can be allowed to negatively influence an entire position group. Sitton deserved to be paid, and the Packers accommodated by cutting him and moving on. It worked out mostly because Taylor stepped in and played well enough at left guard.
Jordy Nelson is back to his old tricks. He dominated the Vikings’ defensive backs in every way, including prying his way inside their helmets before kickoff. The Vikings’ DB’s apparently went rogue and deviated from head coach Mike Zimmer’s game plan regarding Nelson.
It was insubordination at its worst and Nelson profited from it.
The Packers also are clicking with Jared Cook working his way into the offense, Richard Rodgers continuing to be his reliable if not spectacular self, and Davante Adams pushing through.
At times throughout the Packers’ current five-game winning streak I have felt like the offense has opposing defenses genuinely back on its cleats. The last time that happened was 2011 when the Packers went 15-1 only to lose in the playoffs.
This team and this moment have a different feel to them. Unlike last year, the Packers are reasonably healthy. Rodgers has more weapons at his behest than in recent memory. Montgomery is a godsend, Michael is promising and Cook still hasn’t realized his potential impact on the attack.
Defensively, the Packers are shaping into playoff form.
Nick Perry’s return – club or no club – is much-welcomed. It makes Clay Matthews that much more dangerous, and it also looks like the Packers’ all-pro edge rusher is healthy, too.
Jake Ryan is a veteran compared with a year ago, and Blake Martinez continues to show for a rookie.
Up front, Kenny Clark made a big play against the Vikings, and has increased his workload over the past four weeks. Letroy Guion and Mike Daniels are the leaders, and in a very real way the Packers’ postseason success hinges on their level of play.
Julius Peppers remains ageless, while Dean Lowry and Datone Jones manage to show up just when you forgot about them.
The secondary also is healthier and happier than it has been all season. Damarious Randall’s fourth-quarter benching at Chicago seems to have extracted the desired effect, while Quentin Rollins and Ladarius Gunter make plays.
Micah Hyde, Morgan Burnett and Pro Bowler Ha Ha Clinton-Dix comprise one of the league’s deepest, most talented safety units. Their big-play ability will undoubtedly be a factor in the Packers’ postseason success.
Tonight, kick back and enjoy the Lions and Cowboys.
The outcome is irrelevant, but it’s a great opportunity to scout the Packers’ upcoming opponent – the Lions – while keeping an eye on a likely rematch with Dallas.
Chris Havel is a national best-selling author and his latest book is Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. CDT on WDUZ FM 107.5 The Fan, or on AM-1400, as well as Fan Internet Radio (www.thefan1075.com). Havel also hosts Event USA’s MVP Parties the evening before home games. Also check out our new Podcast: Between the Lines for more Packers insights. New episodes every Wednesday.