Not many gave those three Super Bowl championship teams a chance, each hitting the road as wild-card playoff team, and not many will give the Packers a chance when they do the same in two weeks.
That might just be what this Packers team needs and wants.
While Sunday's events around the NFL played out perfectly for the Packers – they clinched a playoff berth with a 48-10 throttling of the Seahawks at Lambeau Field, coupled with a 41-9 Giants' loss at Carolina in New York – this season has been anything but a stroll in the park.
Less than two months ago, the Packers (10-5) were mired at 4-4 after a 38-28 loss to the 0-7 Buccaneers. The playoffs seemed like a pipe dream. But instead of that loss destroying the Packers, it galvanized them.
"That's when we got right," Packers wide receiver Donald Driver said.
Since then, the Packers have won six of seven games. Though they have one relatively meaningless regular-season game remaining in Arizona on Jan. 3, they are poised for the playoffs as the NFC's second-hottest team. (The Eagles have won six straight.)
"We're excited about where we're at," guard Daryn Colledge said. "We're excited about our momentum and we'd like to continue that through Arizona."
So just what has carried this Packers team to a remarkable turnaround and a playoff spot? What could lead it on a run in the playoffs?
Try character. Or integrity. Or a certain edge of toughness not before seen from a Mike McCarthy-led team.
"We've had our ups and downs," cornerback Charles Woodson said. "There have been a lot of things said, a lot of things not said, but everybody realized our ultimate goal. As long as you keep your eyes on the prize and playing good, hard football, you'll get through those tough times. We've been able to do that.
"You've got to keep your vision. I think most of the guys on this team have done that."
This squad might not be McCarthy's best in Green Bay — the 13-3 team in 2007 takes that honor — but it has to rate as the toughest after what it has been through this season. Even as some of the same old on-the-field problems popped up on Sunday — such as five more penalties and four dropped passes — the Packers found a way to overcome their mistakes. What seems to drive this team, more than anything, is its perseverance.
"I would say it's one of the toughest (teams I've played on). I've been on a lot of great teams and this is one of them," said Driver, an 11-year veteran who has been on eight Packers teams at .500 or better. "I think these guys know exactly, all the adversity we've gone through, these guys have stepped to the challenge. When you've got guys like that, it shows their integrity."
Nothing has come easy for the Packers. The losses have stung more than the blowout victories have been celebrated. There have been two downers to the Brett Favre-led Vikings and another downer last week at Pittsburgh, yet the Packers have put together a season worthy of praise.
Perhaps it was that 37-36 loss to the Steelers on the last play of the game that provided a bigger sign. The Packers hung toe-to-toe at Heinz Field with the defending Super Bowl champions, and even in a loss, gained something. It starts with quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who is a symbol for what this team is all about as a player that has been knocked down plenty (sacked 50 times), yet has repeatedly gotten up. In the process, he, like the team, has risen to among the top performers in the league.
"I had a sense really going to the flight back (after the Steelers game)," Rodgers said. "A tough loss, devastating to lose on the last play, but it was a different feel from maybe a Tampa loss or a Minnesota loss at home, which were our two previous losses. There was an air of confidence about the guys on the way back that as difficult as it was that we were still going in the right direction and going to get this thing to the playoffs."
Despite all its criticisms, this team appears playoff-ready. Sunday's regular-season home finale vs. the Seahawks was a strong sign. But to get to the Super Bowl, the Packers likely will be on the road for each step of the way as the No. 5 or 6 seed in the NFC. That might not be a bad thing.
"The knock around here for a long time has been this is a young team and maybe it's not mentally ready for success and for us to overcome that is huge," Colledge said. "I think it shows that this team is mentally strong and knows what it's like to come from behind, and knows what it's like to lose, and have to fight back and win. We're on a good roll. We've had a great second half of the season and we'd like to continue that into the playoffs. I think this team knows what it takes to win."
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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at email@example.com