(WLAX/WEUX) – It’s the Green Bay Packers to win. . . or lose.
At stake is the No. 1 seed, a first-round bye in the playoffs, and the road to the Super Bowl in Tampa going through Lambeau Field.
And the first challenge comes with the 4-9 Carolina Panthers on Saturday night in Green Bay.
“I don’t care what they’re record is,” head coach Matt LaFleur said. “. . .we just want to go 1-0 each week.”
On the other hand, Carolina has nothing to play for. Except pride.
The Panthers have missed star running back Christian McCaffrey for 11 games and have lost seven of their last eight games.
Three of their past four losses have been decided by total of eight points—and they fell to Minnesota after blowing a double-digit lead with horrendous clock management in the final two minutes.
The Packers have won their last three games and are on a roll when it counts most: December.
Aaron Rodgers is fashioning another MVP-caliber season, as Green Bay leads the NFL in points per game (31.5) and total touchdowns (52). Rodgers’ numbers are impressive: 3,685 passing yards, 69.6 completion percentage, 39 passing touchdowns, with just four interceptions for a league best 119.7 passer rating. In 12 contests, Rodgers has displayed his consistency by tossing multiple touchdown passes and recording a passer rating of 100.0 or above.
Head coach Matt LaFleur did not shy from endorsing Rodgers as league MVP over Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes after Green Bay clinched the NFC North Division crown with a 31-24 victory.
“A guy of his caliber, who, without a doubt in my mind, should be the front runner for the MVP,” LaFleur said. “I mean, he does it consistently every time we go out on that field. It gives you a lot of confidence that you’re going to come out with a victory.”
Ditka watched the Packers-Lions game Sunday on television from his Florida home. He’s a believer too.
“His production, his consistency, his intelligence, his leadership,” Ditka said. “He can make all the throws, and he raises the level of his teammates. He is a leader who has their respect. He’s more comfortable with the offense and on the same page with his head coach. The Packers and Aaron Rodgers make it look easy sometimes, and it ain’t. He’s the heart and soul of that team.
“Rodgers is focused on the Super Bowl. I guarantee you he doesn’t care about stats now. The great ones don’t.”
Rodgers credited the team chemistry as a major reason for Green Bay’s 10-3 record.
“I really like the vibe of this team, the energy of the guys and the way the guys enjoy each other and kind of fight through adversity,” Rodgers said in his post-game interview in Detroit. “This offense is different than we’ve had in a few years, for sure. We have a dynamic playmaker and we have a lot of great dudes who understand their roles and play them really, really well.”
Rodgers is supremely comfortable in LaFleur’s offense in their second season, spreading the ball to multiple different receivers each game. “I just feel like he settled into his role as head coach,” Rodgers said. “Him and I have really been on the same page all season. There’s just a beautiful trust that I think has blossomed even more this year between him and I. I think that’s an important part of us being successful is the QB and the coach calling and being on the same page.”
Davante Adams is having a stellar year with 91 receptions and a league-high 14 touchdowns, and is complemented with Allen Lazard (24 catches, 364 yards, 3 TDs), deep-threat Marquez Valdes-Scantling (31 receptions, 603 yards, 5 TDs) and tight end Robert Tonyan (46 catches, 533 yards, 9 TDs). Running back Aaron Jones is an elite runner (823 yards, 7 TDs) and pass catcher (38 catches, 285, 2 TDs) and complemented with versatile Jamaal Williams (473, 2TDs rushing; 29 catches, 222 yards, 1 TD).
The 2020 Packers have racked up 410 points, 5,169 yards, 39 passing touchdowns, and 11 on the ground. These totals will grow as Green Bay vies for home-field advantage and retain the NFC’s No. 1 seed with games against Carolina, Tennessee, and Chicago remaining.
“This team is definitely resilient and I like where we’re headed, I like the mindset of everybody,” Adams said. “Really good juju, really good energy in the locker room. We just got to keep using that as fuel to keep us going.”
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