A win over the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday would give the Packers two rather historic accomplishments.
First, it would wrap up the NFC’s No. 1 seed for the playoffs. Since the NFL went to the current playoff format in 1990, the Packers have secured a No. 1 seed just once, in 1996, when the team went on to win its first Super Bowl in 29 years.
Second, a victory would complete a perfect 8-0 road record in 2011, a franchise first. It’s been 70 years since the Packers went unbeaten on the road through an entire regular season, when the 1941 team went 5-0.
Should the Packers win, they’d become just the sixth team in NFL history to go 8-0 on the road through a regular season. The others are the 2007 Patriots, the ’01 Rams and the 1990, ’89 and ’84 49ers. With the No. 1 seed in hand, the Packers also would assure themselves of no more road trips until the Super Bowl, should they return.
“It seems like we haven’t played enough at home this year,” linebacker Clay Matthews said. “It will be nice to be home, especially with the response and reaction we get from our crowd, week in and week out.”
The Packers’ current road winning streak stands at 10 games, a franchise record that includes the three-game postseason run a year ago. The streak has boosted Mike McCarthy’s road record as head coach to 31-20, including the postseason, a .608 winning percentage that any coach away from his own stadium would take in a heartbeat.
“Mike has a track record of doing well on the road, but you don’t expect to go 8-0, or (even) 7-1,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “When you’re looking at the schedule, you’d like to win all your home games and split on the road, knowing how difficult it is in this league to win on the road.”
McCarthy this week described winning on the road as “very gratifying,” and for him the challenge begins as the bus pulls into the stadium, usually to rather rude greetings from the home fans.
The Packers frequently get a boost on the road that not many NFL teams do, from the number of Green Bay fans who populate other stadiums. There were so many Packers fans in San Diego last month, for instance, that the home Chargers had to employ a silent count on offense while trying to put together a last-minute drive.
Sometimes, the presence of visiting fans can backfire on the road team, because it fires up the home fans even more and they become determined to drown the enemy out. That hasn’t happened this season, though, as the Packers have run the table thus far and averaged 32.1 points per game on the road, just a touchdown (and two-point conversion) less than their 40.1 points per game at home.
“It says a lot about the character of this team when we can go on the road … and still come away with solid performances in tough environments,” Rodgers said. “This would be no different.”
Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium is known as one of the louder outdoor stadiums in the league, and how the Chiefs fans respond during their team’s first game under interim head coach Romeo Crennel could go a long way toward making things difficult for the Packers.
Of greater import is how the Chiefs players will respond, having seen a once-promising season that started 4-3 spiral downhill. Kansas City has lost five of its last six games, three of them by 27 points or more, leading to the firing of Todd Haley and the elevation of Crennel this past week.
“I think anytime you have a new voice, a new individual at the front of the room, there’s new energy, there’s new optimism,” McCarthy said. “I think that’s natural.”
It’s also natural for a team transitioning to a new coach and playing for the future to pull out all the stops in search of a “signature” win, and an upset of the unbeaten Packers would more than qualify.
“I think you have to coach for no surprises,” McCarthy said. “We’re preparing for everything.”
All indications are Crennel is being given an opportunity to earn the full-time job over these last three games, and he’ll begin that quest with a new quarterback. Crennel announced on Friday that recently acquired Kyle Orton, who is recovering from a finger injury on his throwing hand and is probable on the injury report, will be the Chiefs’ new signal-caller, replacing Tyler Palko.
The Packers faced Orton once this season already, when he quarterbacked Denver at Lambeau Field in Week 4. Orton would become the first NFL quarterback to face the same opponent for different teams in the same season since Kerry Collins (Panthers, Saints vs. Falcons) in 1998, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. No player has ever done so against the Packers twice in the same season at least since the 1970 league merger, according to Elias.
Orton threw for 273 yards and three touchdowns against Green Bay earlier this year. On Sunday, it would be seemingly impossible for the Chiefs to start any worse than they did last week, when Palko led Kansas City to just one first down and four net yards in the first half against the Jets. The Chiefs trailed, 28-3, at intermission and eventually lost, 37-10.
The Packers are expecting a much more determined effort following the changes at the top and under center.
“We’re assuming they’re going to play hard for Romeo Crennel,” Rodgers said. “Also, knowing those guys will be playing for their own jobs and coaching for their own jobs, the urgency level will go up.”
For more Packers-Chiefs stories from the past week, click here.