Led by Rodgers, Packers have come a long way since November slump

First Published      Last Updated Apr 24 2017 09:41 pm

Tribune columnist Kurt Kragthorpe introduces the NFL’s finalists. Today: Green Bay Packers.

The NFC's hottest team will try to complete an unlikely march to the Super Bowl, requiring another upset of a top-two playoff seed on the road Sunday. The Green Bay Packers have won eight games in a row, including a wild victory over Dallas last weekend, and one more win will send them back to Texas for the Super Bowl.

In advance of Sunday's NFC championship game at Atlanta, a closer look at the Packers:

Team's theme

The Packers pretty much were disregarded after losing four straight games, falling to 4-6 after a 42-24 loss to Washington in November. They've recovered nicely.

How they got here

Green Bay beat Detroit in the final regular-season game to win the NFC North title with a 10-6 record. The Packers crushed the New York Giants 38-13 at home in a wild-card game and edged Dallas 34-31 with a field goal on the game's final play in the divisional round.

Super Bowl-bound if

They can outscore the Falcons. Green Bay's offense has scored in the 30s for six straight games and that kind of production will be required in Atlanta. The Falcons topped Green Bay 33-32 with a last-minute touchdown in late October. The Packers keep delivering big numbers with creative solutions, including the use of former Stanford receiver Ty Montgomery as a running back.

Homeward-bound if

The NFL's No. 22-ranked defense performs worse than Atlanta's No. 25-ranked unit. The Cowboys allowed Dallas to come back from a 21-3 deficit, tying the game twice in the last five minutes. The defense's lapses forced quarterback Aaron Rodgers and kicker Mason Crosby to come through in the end.

Biggest variable

Protecting Rodgers from an Atlanta pass rush led by All-Pro selection Victor Beasley. The return of receiver Jordy Nelson from a rib injury would a bonus for Green Bay's offense.

Best player

Rodgers. He's as good as ever in his 12th season, and he's the No. 1 reason the Packers have a chance to go all the way. The 36-yard pass he completed against Dallas, rolling to his left and hitting Jared Cook on the sideline to set up the winning field goal, was epic stuff.

Best player you've never heard of

T.J. Lang, offensive guard. Green Bay has better-known players on the offensive line, notably tackles Bryan Bulaga and David Bakhtiari, but Lang is a Pro Bowl selection.

Local connections

The Packers' special teams include two rookies from Utah State, third-round draft choice Kyler Fackrell and undrafted free agent Marwin Evans. Fackrell (No. 51) got some playing time at outside linebacker earlier in the season and recorded two sacks. Evans (No. 25) is the No. 3 strong safety. The last time the Packers played in the Super Bowl, USU product Jarrett Bush was a key special-teams contributor and made an interception.

Reasons to cheer for them

Rodgers has remained likable, while appearing in a long-running series of State Farm commercials. The Packers have small-market appeal and they're a good story, having been written off as a playoff team in November.

Reasons to cheer against them

Variety would have to be the primary pro-Falcons sentiment, because Atlanta never has won a Super Bowl. Green Bay's most recent title came six years ago.


Twitter: @tribkurt



Sunday’s games

NFC » Green Bay at Atlanta, 1:05 p.m., Ch. 13

AFC » Pittsburgh at New England, 4:40 p.m., Ch. 2