Welcome to the NFC North Division Tournament Semifinals!
That's how Mike McCarthy described Sunday's game with the Pittsburgh Steelers earlier this week. Considering all that's happened to the Packers this season, it's almost absurd to think the playoffs are this close. Win Sunday in the home finale at Lambeau Field, something that's happened every season of McCarthy's tenure, and the Pack will advance to what in essence will be the division championship game next week in Chicago.
First things first, however. The Steelers come to the tundra with a 6-8 record, never recovering from an 0-4 start. It would take an epic amount of dominoes to fall right for them to stay alive for a wild card spot this weekend but Mike Tomlin is an old school, hard nosed, play for pride guy and the Steelers will not be an easy out.
Assuming Matt Flynn gets the nod at quarterback for the 4th straight week, he'll go against the grand-daddy of NFL defensive coordinators in 75 year old Dick LeBeau. This guy was on Bart Starr's coaching staff for heaven's sake. He's a wonderful coach and terrific guy, a mastermind of the 3-4 scheme, fire zone blitz and labyrinth secondary coverage. Statistically speaking, this will be the best defense Flynn and the Packers have had to go up against. Still, they're only in the middle of the team rankings league-wide. They're also getting old. Major contributors include Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu, in their 11th season, Ryan Clark and Brett Kiesel, the bearded one, are 12 year veterans. It's incumbent upon the Packers to run the ball well to give play action and straight passing plays a chance.
On offense, the Steelers lost two key lineman in center Markice Pouncey and Levi Brown. It proved costly early when Ben Roethlisberger, now in his 10th season, was getting pounded. Taking some of the pressure off the pass rush has been the play of their rookie running back, LaVeon Bell of Michigan State, taken ahead of Eddie Lacy in the second round of last year's draft. Roethlisberger is having a solid year throwing the ball with Antonio Brown blossoming into an elite receiver. His 95 catches and 1300 yards are third best in the league. Heath Miller is a dependable tight end. It's a unit that won't overwhelm, but can hurt you.
What are the boys thinking about with this matchup? Let's head inside the locker room:
The weather could turn this game into another Snow Bowl. Did you make it to Lambeau in December of of 1985? 19,856 did, including myself, after getting stuck in my apartment parking lot, I traversed the 10 mile trip in 14 inches of snow in my wife's Chevy Monza just in time to see Green Bay pile up 500 yards in shutting out the Steve Young led Tampa Bay Buccaneers 21-0. It was an unforgettable day, complete with Paul Coffman doing snow angels on the way off the field. It would be fun to have another one like that.
The Packers lead the all-time series with the Steelers 19-14, including the Super Bowl XLV victory, but Pittsburgh has won seven of the past 10 meetings. The December drive has already included two comeback victories, they're halfway home, the divisional semifinal is next against a proud, six time Super Bowl winning franchise.