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Packers Could Be Dangerous


Heading into the 2009 postseason, there are many good teams in the NFC race. From the 13-3 New Orleans Saints with their potent offense and MVP-candidate quarterback to the Minnesota Vikings with their All-Pro running back and future Hall-of-Fame quarterback.

But no team has been hotter than the Green Bay Packers in the second half of the season. After losing to the previously winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers in week nine and falling to 4-4, many were quick to dismiss the season as another disappointment.

Starting the following week when Green Bay returned home and soundly beat the Dallas Cowboys, the Packers have won seven of their last eight games. The only loss coming on a last second, miracle touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers.

The Packers have quickly risen from their dreadful start and cleaned up many of their problem areas. In the first nine games the Packers offensive line gave up an abysmal 41 sacks. But over the last seven weeks they have allowed just 10.

The special teams unit, which allowed big return after big return has gained some consistency, though kicker Mason Crosby's recent struggles are still a concern going into the postseason where games are often decided by field goals.

The defense, which looked discombobulated and was criticized by several key players, including Probowl cornerback Charles Woodson, early in the season has done a complete 180. The Packers now boast the league's second-ranked defense and are first against the run. They have become a turnover machine, posting a team record plus-24 in turnover margin.

Green Bay is led by Probowl quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who threw for more than 4,000 yards this season, falling just 25 short of the team record held by Lynn Dickey. He has shown ability to make plays with his feet, leading the league in rushing yards for a quarterback, and finally got the monkey off his back with a come-from-behind victory against the Bears in week one.

On defense, they have one of the best players in the NFL and an almost dead lock for defensive player of the year in Woodson. Woodson has ignited the defense, making plays from several different positions. He has intercepted nine passes as cornerback and safety, bringing three back to the house. He has sacked the quarterback and caused fumbles as a linebacker.

The Packers also feature a dynamic rookie in linebacker Clay Matthews, who finished third in defensive rookie of the year voting this week. Matthews has been a sack machine, getting to the quarterback 10 times this season and drawing holding penalties by the dozen.

The Green Bay running game has also come around in recent weeks. In week 16 against the Seattle Seahawks, the Packers rushed for five touchdowns. Mid-season acquisition Ahman Green has bolstered the Packer attack into a three-headed monster with Ryan Grant and Brandon Jackson. Green has shown the ability to get the tough yards on third or fourth and short situations, and spelling relief for starter Grant.

While the Saints and Vikings dazzled audiences and captured the league's attention for the first half of the season, the Packers have more than proven they belong in the same conversation. Through the last eight weeks, they have been more consistent and impressive than both teams. The Saints finished the season on a three-game losing streak, while Minnesota lost three of its last five.

There's no telling what will happen, and the Packers will have to do it the hard way, most likely playing all of their games on the road, but you have to like their chances.


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