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By CHRIS HAVEL
Green Bay braces for Giants at Lambeau Field in Sunday’s NFC wild-card showdown
Jordy Nelson said it best.
“We’ve reached our first goal, which is to win the NFC North, and now it’s on to our second goal – the Super Bowl,” the Packers’ receiver told reporters Sunday night.
The path to Houston is set following the Packers’ 31-24 victory over the Lions at Ford Field. The victory secured the NFC North Division title and the No. 4 seed in the playoffs. The Lions (9-7) are the No. 6 seed and are at No. 3 seed Seattle on Saturday.
The Packers (10-6) host the Giants (9-6-1) Sunday at 3:40 p.m. at Lambeau Field. The win completes the first leg of Aaron Rodgers’ “we can run the table” statement way back when.
It seems Packers’ fans aren’t the only ones that believe. The Las Vegas betting public believes in the slogan, “All the way with Green Bay!” More money has been wagered on the Packers to win Super Bowl 51 at Houston than any other team
The New England Patriots are listed at 7-5 to win the Super Bowl at the Westgate SuperBook, followed by the Dallas Cowboys at 7-2. The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Packers are each posted at 8-1.
The Packers’ odds opened at 10-1 to begin the season, but a wretched four-game losing streak saw that balloon to 80-1. The team’s current six-game winning streak has changed all that.
After a slow first quarter, the Packers rolled the Lions in the Motor City in fairly handy fashion.
“We dug ourselves a hole at 4-6 and we’re out of it now,” Packers head coach Mike McCarthy told reporters. “The real challenge starts now … this is the way you want to come in. We’ve limped in before and rested players. There’s no doubt with this team.”
With all due respect, there may be some doubt thanks to a ridiculous rash of injuries in a vastly depleted defensive secondary. Quinten Rollins left Sunday night’s game on a stretcher with a neck injury. He was taken to a local hospital but since released. He was in the locker room Monday.
“Everything’s progressing in a positive manner,” McCarthy said. “We still have some things we have to test, but everything so far is going very well. He just walked through the locker room a little bit ago.”
The Packers would need a 10-game winning streak to capture the Super Bowl, so it’s six down and four to go. What once seemed an almost insurmountable task now is quite doable.
Rodgers referred to the team’s momentum as “contagious.”
“You have that feeling now when you enter a game that you don’t have during a losing streak, where you expect to win,” he said. “You expect to win when you take the field, and that’s an exciting energy that you can feel in the locker room and on the field pregame, and guys are sticking together.”
That has served this team well. McCarthy made a point to note that the Packers feel like they are far from finished with their goal.
“It wasn’t the best (post-game) celebration we’ve ever had,” McCarthy said, “but this team has an energy, an edge. It has a confidence that was evident very early in our preseason. And I’ve always in that and they believe in that. So maybe that’s why we’re not doing cartwheels right now because we have, like I said, our plan’s to try to win it all. We’re one of six that gets to battle it out in the NFC and we’ll tighten our focus to the Giants. But we never lost sight of where we wanted to go.”
If there is a major concern, it’s the Green Bay defense’s ability to generate an impactful pass rush and to defend against the pass. The former is a matter of players such as Clay Matthews, Nick Perry and Julius Peppers bringing their “A” game. The latter is all about the devastating hits to the secondary.
Ladarius Gunter and Damarious Randall both sustained injuries at Detroit. Their status is unknown.
It likely means that Micah Hyde must step up and play cornerback in a starter’s role. Matthews told reporters the important thing is playing well to close out the season.
“I don’t know if in 2010 we had all the pieces,” Matthews said. “I just think we got hot and no one wanted to play us then. Hopefully that’s the case this year. You need to be playing well toward the latter part of the season, and that’s exactly what we’re doing. I feel like we’re capable of getting back to where we want to go, and that’s the Super Bowl.
“So hopefully that’s the case.”
McCarthy echoed Nelson’s earlier statement.
“We have bigger aspirations (than the NFC North title,” he said. “So this is the first step.”
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.