It’s hard to ignore a trend like this, so the Packers presumably won’t.
Over the past month and a half, three Packers’ opponents have entered their matchups with Green Bay following a humiliating defeat. Those teams have then rebounded to give the unbeaten Packers all they could handle.
Right before the Packers played the Vikings the first time back in Week 7, Minnesota had been pummeled by Chicago, 39-10. A few weeks later, Tampa Bay had been trounced by Houston, 37-9. Before last week, the Giants had been thumped by New Orleans, 49-24.
Green Bay’s ensuing margins of victory against those teams in bounce-back mode were six, nine and three points, respectively. All three games came down to the final moments. The Packers got each foe’s proverbial best shot.
So, naturally, Oakland comes into Lambeau Field having absorbed a 34-14 beating by Miami last week, an embarrassing loss that stood 34-0 in the fourth quarter before the Raiders scored two garbage-time touchdowns.
The Packers know precisely what to expect come Sunday at 3:15 p.m.
“If anything, you’re worried about a team like that who’s coming off a tough loss, because you know this could be a statement game for them, and you don’t want them to be able to make that statement on your team,” receiver Greg Jennings said. “There’s a level of focus we’ll have to have again, and I think we’ll be prepared.”
For the history buffs, Sunday’s game is a bit of a rarity. The last time the Packers were in first place in their division and hosting another first-place team in December was in 1996, when the Denver Broncos came to Lambeau.
Back then, however, the Broncos had already wrapped up the AFC’s No. 1 seed and had nothing to play for. The Packers, still fighting for playoff positioning, rolled to a 41-6 triumph.
This time, the Raiders are in a dogfight for the AFC West crown, currently tied for first with the hard-charging Broncos at 7-5, while the 5-7 Chargers and Chiefs are still not out of it in a wide-open race.
“You have to factor that into their mindset and preparation, knowing the urgency attached to that,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said.
In the same breath, Rodgers pointed out what’s at stake for Green Bay. With one more win, the Packers will wrap up a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs and put themselves one step closer to securing the No. 1 seed and homefield advantage throughout.
At 12-0, the Packers hold a two-game lead on the 10-2 San Francisco 49ers and a three-game lead on the 9-3 New Orleans Saints in the battle for the NFC’s top seed.
“This game is important to us, too,” Rodgers said.
Head Coach Mike McCarthy’s approach has been to concentrate on one goal at a time before entering into any discussions of an undefeated season.
Last week, with the win over the Giants followed by the Lions’ prime-time loss to the Saints, the Packers clinched their first NFC North title since 2007. But with a bye and homefield yet to be secured, there was hardly a ripple of excitement on the flight back from New York when it was announced to the team that Detroit had lost and the Packers were division champs.
“That’s the kind of focus guys have,” Jennings said. “It’s like, ‘OK, so what? It means nothing.’ After having the success that we had last year, guys get it. It’s not about clinching the division, it’s not about getting in the playoffs, it’s about what you do when you are in those positions.
“The journey is not yet over.”
For more Packers-Raiders stories from the past week, click here.