I attended the Packers/Lions game back on October 18 at Lambeau Field, and was treated to a relatively dominating performance by Mike McCarthy's Packers. Oh, no doubt, there were a few concerns in the game, but it is really hard to get upset over a 26-0 win. The win elevated the Packers to 3-2 and snuggled right behind the Vikings in the NFC North.
Now, had you asked me that day what I would have expected from the Thanksgiving Day rematch between the Pack and Lions only six games later, I would have told you the results would have been much the same as a first: a dominating performance.
In the end, my prediction came true, but what a journey the Packers have taken between the two games. If you just watched the two Lions games, you'd be convinced this was a dominant, play making team. And maybe it is. We certainly thought that after the Packer defeated the Lions the first time.
But, in between the two games, the Packers lost, then found themselves.
* Another dominating performance against a dreg of the league (Browns)
* A humbling loss to Brett Favre and the Vikings at home.
* A humiliating loss to one of the worst teams in the league (Bucs)
* A redeeming victory against one of the better teams in the conference (Cowboys).
* An inconsistent but solid victory against a wild-card contender (49ers)
The two Lions games have bookended a strange and wild story this season, as the Packers seemingly had to hit rock bottom before being able to pull themselves out of the funk they found themselves in.
But, Detroit has a way of making you feel better. Forget all you heard about this being a trap game. The Packers went out and, apart from some red-zone offensive struggles, dominated the Lions in nearly every phase of the game, just as they did in October. The Packers climbed to 7-4 and have all but sealed themselves a second-place finish in the division. And, of course, if the season ended today, they would be in the playoffs, a wild-card team travelling to Dallas or Arizona in the first round.
The Packers have done something rather critical in the past week: with two wins, they have separated themselves from the pack of .500 teams wallowing in mediocrity. They have guaranteed themselves a better record than last year's disappointment, and look to have a very solid chance to finish with a winning record and snag that playoff spot.
But the Packers achieved this standing based on two non-quality wins. The 49ers are fading fast, and the Lions are simply another easy win (just don't tell that to Tampa Bay). Yes, each win counts the same, but the Packers followed up two easy wins in October (Detroit, Cleveland) with two miserable performances against beatable teams (Minnesota, Tampa Bay).
The Vikings are beatable? Sure, they are. The Packers stand at 1-3 in quality wins this year, but the Vikings only sit at 2-1. Who are the Vikings' two quality wins against? You guessed it...us.
The Vikings will finish with 3 quality games out of five: Arizona, the Giants, and Cincinnati. The Packers face only the Steelers and Cardinals (though the Ravens will become a quality game if the Packers lose and the Ravens climb to 6-5). In other words, the Packers have a decent path to finish strongly. The Vikings have more of a challenge, given that without the Packers victories, they would stand at only 0-1 in quality wins.
This is not to suggest that I think the Packers are going to overtake the Vikings and win the North, though nothing would make me happier. But, I digress...
My point is that the Packers now find themselves in the position of not being mediocre, but not quite a dominant team, either. They are "tweeners", with the rest of the nation looking to see what they are going to do over the next couple of games. To show exactly what they are made of.
I have a lot of faith that the Packers have a very good shot to make the playoffs. What happens from that point on, though, still has yet to be proven. The Packers are 1-3 in quality wins, which means they are 6-1 in non-quality wins. But every playoff game is a quality game. There's not going to be any games you can let up in. The Packers can't play two solid quarters, and then sit on it and hope the lead holds out.
The first, best test of this is going to be a Ravens teams that will be facing its eighth quality matchup of the season against the Packers. The Ravens are only 2-5 in those quality games, but will bring a team that is better statistically than the 49ers, whom the Packers narrowly escaped.
After that, the Packers will play two tough games on the road: the Bears, who have had the Packers' number regardless of their record in recent history, and the Steelers--the Vikings only quality loss.
The Packers have placed themselves in position for postseason opportunities, despite the ups and downs of the season. The next three games will be the test of character they need to find if they will garner the respect that goes along with it.