Nate: Aaron Rodgers hasn't been anything other than spectacular this season and was considered a shoe-in for the league's MVP award. However, there's some minor rumblings that Drew Brees, after snapping Dan Marino's mark, might be a worthy contender. What has Rodgers done this year, other than the obvious, that sets him apart from Brees' own historic season?
Bill: I destroyed the Brees-for-MVP notion in a statistics-driven column the other day. Two stats just jump off the page, showing how Rodgers is making plays down the field to win games but avoiding the killer turnovers that lose games.
The first is touchdown-to-interception ratio. Rodgers leads the NFL with 45 touchdowns, and with just six interceptions, he's got a league-leading interception of 1.20. His touchdown-to-interception ratio of 7.6-to-1 is more than double Tom Brady's second-ranked 3.27. This is off-the-charts stuff.
The second is Rodgers' yards-per-attempt of 9.25, crushing Brady's second-ranked 8.50. To put that into context, only one quarterback in the last 10 years has been better (Kurt Warner's 9.9 in 2000).
Put it together, and Rodgers is about to set the NFL's single-season record for passer rating. Not bad for a guy with no running game who has been victimized by more dropped passes than any quarterback in the league.
Nate: The Packers seem to have injuries just about everywhere, including across the offensive line. Although the reserves seem to have been playing admirably, is that sustainable in the postseason? Are there injuries that could linger and affect the team's performance?
Bill: That's why the bye week has been the goal all season. The Packers haven't had their starting five on the field since Week 3. That group might get some action together on Sunday; if not, they'll certainly be ready to roll in the playoffs. That they've gone 14-1 with left tackle Chad Clifton out since Week 5 and right tackle Bryan Bulaga out for the second time with a knee sprain is remarkable.
They'll be fine on defense, though they dearly miss Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins, who sustained a career-threatening neck injury in Week 2. He's one of those rare guys with elite athletic ability and high football IQ.
Nate: In the last few weeks, Green Bay has finally looked ... beatable. Even Chicago made it interesting in the first half, and gouged the Packers in the run department. Do you attribute the slight drop in performance to the injuries or are opposing teams finally figuring out how to attack the Pack?
Bill: The defense is going to be what prevents this team from winning back-to-back Super Bowls. It's fine if you can't defend the run or you can't defend the pass, but it's a big-time problem if you can't defend either. Really, the run defense is the big problem with 4.7 yards allowed per rush. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers loves to blitz — and has to blitz because he has no pass rusher opposite Clay Matthews — but you obviously can't blitz when it's second-and-5 or third-and-1.
Getting Ryan Pickett back from a concussion will help. If the run defense can recover from a late-season swoon, then Capers can blitz and a ballhawking secondary will make just enough plays to win games. If the run defense doesn't recover, the Packers will have a hard time getting out of the divisional round.
Nate: The Packers seem to be facing the same dilemma as Detroit: Can you succeed in the postseason without a productive running game? With more viable running teams like New Orleans and San Francisco in the mix, isn't that a legitimate concern? I think your answer will probably also satisfy Lions fans, who wonder the same.
Bill: Tell me this: Does the play-action game work? The Packers' play-action game has been money all season, including last week against Chicago, when Rodgers faked the handoff to Ryan Grant and threw a 55-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Jordy Nelson. That shows you that the run game is just good enough to keep defenses honest.
Nate: Mike McCarthy's positive words in the offseason about Detroit, calling them "a football team the rest of the NFL has to be aware of," proved to be prophetic. What do you think McCarthy saw in the Lions that many others did not?
Bill: He saw it first-hand in that game at Ford Field last December, when the Lions' defensive line ran roughshod over the Packers' front wall. To win in the NFL, you have to be dominant at something and you need difference-making players.
The Packers have a dominant passing game and they have difference-makers really at every level of the team other than running back. The Lions have a dominant defensive line and difference-makers at quarterback, tight end and wide receiver, and that defensive line makes for some easy pickings for the secondary. That's winning football.