The Green Bay Packers have established themselves as the clear favorite in the NFL through the first eight weeks. Remaining the league's only unbeaten, the Packers cruised into their bye week with a perfect 7-0 record. The question now becomes whether there are any teams that stand in the way of the Packers as a decent threat.
Through Week 8, the Packers have a one-game lead on the 6-1 San Francisco 49ers in the race for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and a 1.5-game lead on 6-2 Detroit Lions in the NFC North title race.
With their hot start, the Packers hold the inside track for both the No. 1 seed in the NFC and the NFC North Division title. If they are able to maintain their strong play, there should be little reason to doubt they stumble in either of these races.
Let's take a look at the games that present the biggest potential roadblocks for the rolling Packers.
In the last couple of weeks, the Week 9 matchup in San Diego against the Chargers looked to be a significant challenge for the Packers. After an awful, turnover-filled showing on Monday Night Football against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 8, the Chargers suddenly look extremely pedestrian. Coming off their bye, this game looks highly favorable for the Packers.
The biggest game left on the Packers schedule is the much anticipated Thanksgiving Day matchup against the Detroit Lions. With a chance to establish themselves as legitimate Super Bowl contenders, the Lions should come out ready to roll in their annual holiday game. In the regular season, the Lions are the most likely opponent to knock the Packers from perfection.
Following their big division meeting, the Packers remain on the road as they take on the NFC East-leading New York Giants. While the Giants have played well to the tune of a 5-2 record behind the elite play of Eli Manning, they have shown they are extremely beatable in losing disappointing games to the Washington Redskins and the Seattle Seahawks.
As we all know, any team in the NFL can beat any other team in the league on any day. Even if this were to happen to the Packers, they are realistically losing one or teams to finish out the year. Any more than that would be consider a huge disappointment in Titletown.
A 15-1 or 14-2 record should be good enough for the Packers to finish the regular season with the best record in the NFC and their first NFC North championship since 2007, a year before Aaron Rodgers became the starter.
With the remainder of the regular season leading the Packers into the playoffs, attention turns to which teams the Packers could face and the potential threats to the defending Super Bowl champs.
Likely having a first-round bye, the Packers will get lowest remaining seed following the wild-card weekend. Teams that may fit this billing would be the New York Giants, Detroit Lions, New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons and the Philadelphia Eagles. With a far from difficult remaining schedule, it would take a mighty decline from the 49ers to surrender the second seed.
Many of these potential matchups would be rematches of previous games in the season as the Packers will have already played the Giants, Lions, Saints, and Falcons. If they are matched up against one of these teams, they will know exactly what to expect as potential threats.
As of right now, the Philadelphia Eagles are flirting with becoming the NFC's hot team to beat after a couple solid wins. According to former coach-turned-analyst Tony Dungy, the Philadelphia Eagles have what it takes to knock off the Packers. While this may be the case, and surely the Eagles would love nothing more than to exact revenge following last year's home playoff to Green Bay, the Eagles have their work cut out for them to even make the playoffs after their slow start.
If the Packers were to advance to the NFC Championship and things shook out how they were supposed to in the playoffs, a potential 49ers-Packers matchup at Lambeau Field would await. The 49ers have improved greatly, but it would be hard to argue they are ready to compete with the Packers.
While the path to a second straight Super Bowl is laid out nicely for the Packers, they must make adjustments and maintain their level of play from the first half of the season.
Rodgers has been a beautiful monster decimating defenses left and right with the help of the league's top receiving corps when including the talented tight end Jermichael Finley. Offensively, it looks as if nothing will slow down Mr. Rodgers and Co. as they look to compete for another Lombardi Trophy.
The biggest weakness of the Packers this season has been on the defensive side of the ball. Yes, injuries have affected the continuity and the effectiveness of the unit, but they have underachieved. Tackling has been poor and the defense has fallen victim to a large number of big plays. Things have come around lately on the defensive side of the ball and the bye week should help with the overall health of the players.
With how well Rodgers and the offense have played, the fate of the Packers' 2011 season falls at the hands of the defense. Like it has done so many times this year after giving up plays, it will need to come up with that big turnover in the second half of the season to propel the Packers into a second straight Super Bowl and into dynasty talk.