As the questions about a possible 16-0 season have inevitably crept into the Packers’ locker room this week, the team has devised a rather constructive – without being dismissive – way of answering them.
It’s not the goal, at least not yet.
Other more immediate accomplishments are on the horizon, namely winning the NFC North title for the first time in four years and then securing the conference’s No. 1 seed, with the first-round bye and home-field advantage that go with it.
Those are the targets the Packers are focused on right now because, as unavoidable as the 16-0 topic is, it’s impossible to reach 16-0 this week or next week or the week after. The approach is another spin on the “one game at a time” mantra within which “one game” can mean more than just one win at this stage of the season.
“I’ve laid out the goals time and time again from the first day we came together in training camp,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said, “and it hasn’t changed.”
As usual, quarterback Aaron Rodgers is on the same page.
“It’s not about not talking about it,” Rodgers said of going undefeated. “Right now we have other goals. We’re trying to wrap up the division, get a home playoff game secured, and if we’re fortunate enough to be sitting at 14 or 15-0, then we’ll talk about it a little bit.”
They could be talking about it sooner than they think.
Even though five regular-season games remain, it’s possible the Packers could be NFC North champs by the time their charter plane returns to Green Bay on Sunday night.
If the Packers beat the Giants and the Lions lose to the Saints in Sunday’s prime-time game, the division is clinched. The Packers can even clinch the division with a loss to the Giants, provided both the Lions and the Bears lose on Sunday. Chicago hosts Kansas City in an early game.
As for the NFC’s No. 1 seed and homefield advantage, several teams mathematically still have a shot at it, but the closest pursuers are the 49ers, who are 9-2, and the Saints at 8-3.
Heading into this week’s games, any combination of Green Bay wins and San Francisco losses totaling four will assure the Packers a higher playoff seed than the 49ers. Regarding the Saints, the total of Green Bay wins and New Orleans losses need be just two, because the Packers own the head-to-head tiebreaker from the season-opener.
That’s really all there is to the playoff scenarios for the 11-0 Packers at the moment, but it’s enough to keep everyone’s attention where it should be.
“Talking about 16 is very immature and premature,” receiver Greg Jennings said. “We’re not going to overlook one team thinking about going 16-0.”
The Packers haven’t even given much thought to the fact that they’ve won 17 games in a row now, a streak that’s longer than a full regular season. It began with the Week 16 matchup against the Giants last year.
Center Scott Wells said he “honestly” doesn’t think about it. Rodgers recalled that his junior varsity high school team went 10-0 and he was on a seventh-grade basketball team that won somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 straight, but his recollections were off the cuff.
This week, the Packers have been more interested in rejuvenation than reflection after receiving four days off following the Thanksgiving win. Getting that kind of break nearly three-fourths of the way through the regular-season grind is rare but beneficial.
“I’d like to think our football team has fresh legs,” said McCarthy, who also switched the team this week to its winter schedule, with practice and meetings shortened a bit. “Anytime you give your team three or four days off, that’s a huge bonus, especially in December.”
With only five players on the injury report, McCarthy likes the overall health of his team heading into the stretch run.
He must also like its mentality, no matter the amount of curiosity surrounding how long the current “run” will continue.
“I think we’re embracing it and we’re not shying away from it,” linebacker Clay Matthews said. “We’ve been able to stay undefeated for a while now, but we have to get to 12-0 to get to …
“We understand the big picture here.” Additional coverage - Dec. 1