The Green Bay Packers have an opportunity for the ages within their grasp.
Only eight teams have won back-to-back Super Bowls. Only one team, the 1972 Dolphins, has gone undefeated in the regular season and went on to win the Super Bowl.
No team has done what the Packers are trying to do: win back-to-back Super Bowls by running the table.
This chance to do something historic isn't a challenge they're ducking from. Rather, it's something they're embracing.
"Yeah, we know it can be something great," defensive end Ryan Pickett said in the narrow Ford Field locker room after Thursday's 27-15 victory over the Lions. "That's why we go to work so hard every day at practice. We put the work in so it's not like we're just going out and hoping this result happens. We practice hard, we study film hard and we expect great things to happen."
To be sure, the Packers won't have it easy, though they cleared a major hurdle on Thanksgiving. Detroit, which outplayed Green Bay in both games last season and earned a split, was playing its biggest game since its last playoff contest in 1999. The Lions certainly wouldn't be playing scared against the defending champions. With game-changing weapons on both sides of the ball and a deafening crowd in their favor, this was the Lions' chance to make a statement on a national stage.
Instead, it was the Packers who made the statement, and it was loud and clear. They're the best team in the NFL and they've positioned themselves to be a team written and talked about generations from now.
Significant hurdles await, and that's just in the regular season. Their final five opponents have a combined 30-21 record. Four of the five have winning records, with the exception being the slumping Chiefs, who have lost three in a row as well as their starting quarterback for the season. Their next two opponents, the Giants and Raiders, are fighting for division titles. Their last two opponents, the Bears and Lions, are division rivals who will be fighting for playoff berths.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers wanted nothing to do with talk of finishing 16-0, wisely realizing little good could come out of bold talk so far from the finish line. But when we asked him after the game whether he and his teammates knew they had a chance to accomplish something "special" this season, Rodgers flashed a smile that spoke volumes, though he uttered just one word:
With San Francisco's loss to Baltimore, the Packers are two games ahead in the chase for homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. But McCarthy's "hands on the wheel, foot on the gas" coaching style suggests he'd play for 16-0 rather than rest key players if his team is 14-0 and 15-0. That he'd have a chance to knock the Lions and/or Bears out of the playoffs in those final games probably would add to the appeal of playing to win the Week 16 game against Detroit and the Week 17 game against Chicago.
"Talking with the football team, we're at 11. We're 11-0," McCarthy said after the game. "Once you get to 11 wins, 12 wins, you can see that division championship is in sight and that's our focus. Then once we get that, the next focus will be homefield advantage and the focus after that is winning the Super Bowl. Those were the goals we laid out Day 1. That has always been the goal in Green Bay in my time there and that will continue to be the goal. If we get into the situation where we can address the bonus goal, we'll definitely talk about it. But we're here to win the division. Once we win the division, then we'll concentrate on goal No. 2."
Working in the Packers' favor is this is a battle-hardened group. Last year, they captured six consecutive must-win games to win the Super Bowl. With a champions bull's-eye on their back this year, they've kept on winning. If this team loses, it won't be because the pressure became too intense.
"Obviously, going 16-0 would be great," linebacker A.J. Hawk said. "But this team is not sitting here holding on, hoping we don't mess this up. We're not scared of going undefeated or to talk about it. We're trying to enjoy the ride."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.