Can you believe it?

The Packers are home for the NFC championship and facing a team they pasted in September. That was a long time ago,'s Steve Lawrence says, and both teams are vastly improved over the last four months.

For the record, Part 1: The last time Green Bay hosted the NFC championship game — Jan. 12, 1997 — it was 3 degrees and the Packers spanked the Carolina Panthers 30-13.

For the record, Part 2: The New York Giants upset the Dallas Cowboys 21-17 in Sunday's NFC divisional playoff game. That's the same score the Packers used to beat the Cowboys in the Ice Bowl.

For the record, Part 3: The Weather Channel's forecast for Sunday's NFC championship game against the Giants calls for a high of 10. Considering the kickoff is set for 5:30 p.m., who knows how cold it will be.

As interesting as those facts are, it pales in comparison to this doozy: The Green Bay Packers — you know, that team with the old quarterback, an untested coach, no running back, no weapons other than Donald Driver and a miserly general manager who was roundly booed during Fan Fest — are hosting the NFC championship game on Sunday.  

Let that sink in for a minute or three.

Imagine, Brett Favre has a chance to get to a third Super Bowl. Imagine, Favre possibly retiring as a Super Bowl champion. Who would have thought that was possible entering this season, even considering the Packers won four straight to close the 2006 campaign?

With the Packers spared a return trip to Dallas — and the fans spared talk of Favre's winless streak at Dallas and more stories about Tony Romo's love life — one would think destiny is on the side of Favre and the Packers. Perhaps, but destiny seemed to be on the Packers' sides after the 2003 regular season, too.

Recall Favre's inspired play in the wake of the death of his father, Irv. Recall the Packers winning their final four regular-season games to get back into the playoff hunt. Recall the Minnesota Vikings choking away the NFC's final playoff berth by losing to woeful Arizona. Recall Al Harris picking off Matt Hasselbeck and returning it for an overtime touchdown to shock the Seattle Seahawks in a wild-card game. Recall the Packers jumping on the Philadelphia Eagles in a divisional game.

Then, recall destiny slapping the Packers in the face on fourth-and-26.

Nonetheless, the Packers can see a green-and-gold carpet leading from Green Bay to Glendale, Ariz., the site of Super Bowl XLII. The only thing standing between that carpet and the Super Bowl is a team they throttled 35-13 on the road back in September.

We have all week for X's and O's, but that Week 2 matchup is so distant that it has practically no bearing on what's going to transpire on Sunday.

"A lot has happened since Week 2. We're a different football team than we were in Week 2, and they're definitely a different football team," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.

Start with the Packers, who rushed 29 times for 83 yards in that game — or 28 times for 45 yards if you toss out DeShawn Wynn's 38-yard touchdown scamper after the Giants had basically quit in the final minutes. The Packers went from having no running game to an electric attack powered by Ryan Grant. In his 11 games as the featured ball-carrier, he has rushed for 1,130 yards and scored 11 touchdowns.

In Week 2, there was no Greg Jennings. He returned the following week, and has scored 14 touchdowns in 13 games since. That's made Favre an elite quarterback again.

The Giants are better, too.

In the Week 2 matchup, Eli Manning had a bum throwing shoulder, barely practiced that week and was a game-time decision. Michael Strahan skipped training camp before deciding not to retire, so his body was in preseason mode. Since then, the Giants' defense has evolved into a sack-happy unit, and Manning — especially in the last few weeks — has started to live up to the huge expectations that come with being a No. 1 overall draft pick.

"When we played the Giants, Eli had hurt his shoulder the week before and their defense was in the second game of a new defensive system," McCarthy said. "There were a number of factors, just watching the game (Sunday), I thought studying them to this point, you could see they're playing very well in all three areas."

So are the Packers, which is why they are on the verge of the most improbable of runs to the Super Bowl.

Steve Lawrence is a regular contributor to E-mail him at

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