GREEN BAY – The Colts are an unfamiliar foe invading an unfamiliar venue in Lambeau Field.
The circumstance has spelled a strong run of success for Green Bay and Aaron Rodgers.
The Packers play each AFC team only once every four years, and they play just two AFC teams at home each season. Sunday’s Packers-Colts showdown is the first one of 2016, with Houston coming to visit next month.
These are games the Packers must win, and lately they have.
Rodgers has won nine straight games against AFC foes at Lambeau Field. The last time he lost to an AFC team at home was back in 2010, when Miami knocked off Green Bay in overtime.
The Packers lost to Pittsburgh at Lambeau Field in 2013, but that was with backup Matt Flynn at quarterback. Rodgers lost to one AFC team at home in each of his first three seasons as a starter – Houston in 2008, Cincinnati in 2009, and Miami in 2010 – but he’s been undefeated since.
That guarantees nothing of course, especially against a team like the Colts, who are at a crossroads in their season.
At 3-5, they could fall three games back in the AFC South if they lose this week and if Houston (5-3), the division leader on a bye, beats Jacksonville next week while Indianapolis has its bye.
The Colts are as close to desperate as anyone can be in Week 9, and for a team that has alternated wins and losses for the past six weeks, the one consistent trend in their games has been action-packed fourth quarters.
Indianapolis has scored 85 points while allowing 82 in the fourth quarter through eight games. That’s 10-plus points for each side per game over the final 15 minutes.
“It’s important to start with that, but then you dig into it and you find out the why,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. “That’s what game-planning is for.”
When the Packers look at the Colts, they see a team that offensively relies on the big play to receiver T.Y. Hilton but yields far too many sacks of QB Andrew Luck.
Defensively, they have surrendered a ton of passing yards without generating a lot of turnovers, a bad combination that puts even more pressure on Luck and the offense to crank things up.
Green Bay’s veterans know all about Luck, who as a rookie brought the Colts back from a 21-3 halftime deficit against the Packers four years ago, the last time these teams met. Clay Matthews even remembered Luck shaking him off on a potential third-down sack that was a key play in Indy’s rally.
“He doesn’t want to go down,” Matthews said.
The Colts don’t want to see their season go down, either, while the Packers are at a potentially pivotal point as well. The value of this game at home is all the greater with a three-game road swing coming up.
Green Bay won’t be back at Lambeau until Dec. 4, and the Packers can set themselves up to return in good shape if they hit the road 5-3 instead of 4-4.
Add to that NFC North leader Minnesota’s two-game losing streak, which division foe Detroit will try to extend to three, and now is not the time for the Packers to take any pressure off the Vikings.
If the Lions can extend Minnesota’s slide early Sunday, the Packers could be taking the field in the late afternoon with a chance to pull back into a tie with the Vikings atop the division.
In retrospect, that opportunity was squandered with 31 seconds left last week in Atlanta, about 24 hours before the Vikings kicked off what became a surprising loss in Chicago. If it presents itself again, don’t let the chance slip away before the barrage of road games.
“We knew right after the mini-bye that we had after the Thursday night game, this is going to be a long stretch,” defensive back Micah Hyde said. “Coach said we’re going to take this week by week, and that’s exactly what we’re trying to do. Yeah, we’re coming off a loss, so we know the importance of winning at home is even more.”