The 2009 Green Bay Packers?
Yes, but also the 2007 New York Giants.
It's not a perfect comparison, but there are plenty of parallels between this year's Packers and those Giants, who shocked the world by winning three road playoff games before stunning New England in the Super Bowl.
The year before
Like the Packers, who plunged from 13-3 in 2007 to 6-10 in 2008, the Giants fell from 11-5 in 2005 to 8-8 in 2006.
Behind first-year starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the 2008 Packers lost seven games by four points or less. The 2006 Giants weren't quite so inept in close games under quarterback Eli Manning, who was in his first season as the full-time starter. But three losses by five points or less, including back-to-back three-point losses, doomed the Giants.
The Packers fell apart down the stretch in 2008, losing five straight before winning the meaningless finale. The Giants did the same, losing six of their final seven before salvaging the finale.
So, not surprisingly, both teams entered training camp the following summer with muted expectations.
All of which put the head coaches on notice.
For the Giants' Tom Coughlin, he was given one year to try a kinder-and-gentler approach with his players. While the Packers' Mike McCarthy wasn't under any such win-or-else demands from the franchise, there was increasing pressure from the fans — many of whom remain upset at McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson for how the messy situation with Brett Favre was handled.
In New York, Coughlin hired Steve Spagnuolo to run an aggressive defense. In Green Bay, McCarthy hired Dom Capers to run an aggressive defense. In both cases, these were make-or-break hires. Had those changes backfired, the head coaches would have been the next ones with their head on the chopping block. Neither got an ounce of help in free agency, though both reaped the rewards of superb draft classes.
The Packers are seeking their first Super Bowl win since the 1996 season.
The heat only mounted on Coughlin and McCarthy after early-season disappointments.
The Giants started 0-2, with Spagnuolo's defense giving up 45 points to NFC East rival Dallas in Week 1 and 35 points to Green Bay in Week 2. That loss to the Packers was seen as particularly troubling in New York, given Green Bay's collective 12-20 record over the previous two seasons, when Favre had thrown 38 touchdowns and 47 interceptions. The Giants recovered to win six straight games but lost to the Cowboys again, 31-20.
While New York was very much in the playoff hunt at 6-3, its NFC East hopes were practically over with Dallas at 8-1 and holding a season sweep. Getting crushed at the Meadowlands by Tarvaris Jackson and the struggling Vikings a couple weeks later didn't help matters.
The Packers started 2-2, but a Week 2 loss to the Bengals was seen as particularly troubling, given Cincinnati's collective 11-20-1 record over the previous two seasons. Then there was the Week 4 debacle at Minnesota, when prominent players such as Charles Woodson questioned Capers' plan in the wake of a 30-23 loss to the Vikings. Then, the Packers gave up a combined 76 points in back-to-back losses to Minnesota and previously winless Tampa Bay.
That left the Packers' season on life support at 4-4. And forget about the NFC North race, with the Vikings at 7-1 and holding a season sweep.
The Giants were staring 0-3 in the face. They trailed at Washington 17-3 at halftime but rallied to win 24-17. The game ended with the Giants stopping the Redskins on four consecutive plays from the 1-yard line.
The turning point of Green Bay's season came courtesy of the defense, as well. The Packers beat Dallas 17-7, with the defense holding the third-ranked Cowboys offense to 111 yards through three quarters. That was the springboard to the four-game winning streak the Packers are carrying to Chicago on Sunday. They've allowed 57 points in those games and boast the league's top-ranked defense.
A daunting challenge
What the Giants accomplished in the playoffs to win the Super Bowl is one of the most impressive feats in NFL history.
They had to win three road games in the NFC playoffs. They had to avenge the regular-season sweep to Dallas. They had to win at Green Bay and at Dallas, which posted 13-3 records and had been the class of the NFC all season. The victory at Green Bay in the NFC championship game came in brutal conditions.
For the Packers to follow this comparison to the ultimate destination, they'll have to pull off a similar playoff hat trick. They'd have to win three games on the road. They'd probably have to avenge the regular-season sweep to Minnesota. They'd probably have to beat both Minnesota and New Orleans. The Vikings are 10-2 and the Saints are 12-0, and both have been seen as the class of the NFC all season. Instead of brutal weather, it would be brutal crowd noise with two dome games.
And the Super Bowl? The Giants shocked the undefeated Patriots. The Packers? Well, the Colts are 12-0 entering this weekend.
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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 email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.