Think about it. The Packers have an MVP quarterback, a running game for all seasons, a free agent pickup creating a buzz on defense, and one of the league’s top coaches. The ingredients are all there. On paper, it reads a little like the Packers of the mid-1990s.
Win or lose Thursday night in the NFL regular-season opener, the Packers will most certainly elicit some sort of overreaction from the masses by Friday morning. But as important as every game is to the outcome of a season, what the Packers do against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field will not necessarily define 2014. It goes much deeper than that.
The Packers’ power structure – most notably head coach Mike McCarthy (ninth season) and quarterback Aaron Rodgers (10th season, seventh as a starter) – are in the primes of their careers. When both are fully functioning, a playoff berth is a given.
Therefore, these Packers, despite their game-by-game mentality, are more about the big-picture view.
In Titletown, it’s all about winning championships.
This is not to suggest that the Packers are looking ahead. Not a chance. Rather, the regular season seems so much less important when expectations are so high. The Packers are proof of that the past four seasons.
Last season, the Packers got Rodgers back from injury in the nick of time to slide into the NFC playoffs. Even after an 8-7-1 regular season, hope was riding high after a dramatic NFC North-clinching victory at Chicago until the San Francisco 49ers squashed the Packers’ dreams at Lambeau Field in the wild-card round.
Fans have probably forgotten that in 2012 the Packers rebounded from a 2-3 start to finish 11-5 because the 49ers, this time in San Francisco, ran them over in the divisional round, setting off a firestorm of offseason issues to address.
The biggest shocker, though, came in 2011. Arguably the best regular season in franchise history (15-1) was marred by a stunning blowout at home to the New York Giants. Hopes of a Super Bowl repeat were crushed and all the effort to earn homefield advantage throughout the playoffs was washed away on one dreary evening.
And who could forget the 2010 postseason? The Packers’ unprecedented road playoff run produced an unexpected Super Bowl championship only after qualifying for the playoffs as the No. 6 seed by winning the last two regular-season games.
Since that glorious triumph in Dallas, the Packers are just 1-3 in the playoffs, with their lone win coming against the Minnesota Vikings with Joe Webb at quarterback. The head-scratching playoff stretch is one Packers fans have experienced before.
From 2001 through 2004, with Brett Favre in his prime much like Rodgers now, the Packers went just 2-4 in the playoffs. Fair or not, that record is the reason Mike Sherman will never be regarded as one of the all-time great coaches in Green Bay or have a street named after him. Yet the Packers were 44-20 in the regular season over that stretch, which is comparable to McCarthy’s best four-year window (47-17) and Mike Holmgren’s (48-16).
So, back to the present. Back to Seattle and one of the toughest and most anticipated regular-season openers for the Packers ever. Does this team have what it takes to knock off the defending Super Bowl champions in one of the loudest stadiums in the league?
A win will no doubt be a great start, a confidence boost, and maybe an important tiebreaker in the long run (because no one wants to go to Seattle in the playoffs!).
A loss will make fans question whether the Packers are any more of a contender than they have been the past couple of years. San Francisco has had their number; will Seattle, too?
Either way, take caution. Thursday is just the start of the season. And as important as the game may be, for these Packers, it should be more about the finish.
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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org