A Green Bay Packers fan holds a sign in support of his team during Sunday's game against the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field. “We have a great a home-field advantage here. There’s nothing like our fans," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said after the game. Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette
The road to the Super Bowl will go through Lambeau Field, and that’s good news for the Green Bay Packers.
In a game that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated, the Packers on Sunday delivered a Christmas night thrashing of the Chicago Bears, 35-21, and locked up the NFC’s No. 1 seed for the first time in 15 years.
The Packers (14-1) set a team record for regular-season victories and rebounded nicely from their only loss of the season last week in Kansas City, which appears to have been a minor blip on the radar screen.
They also sent a message around the NFL that they will be a difficult team to beat in the playoffs.
The Packers’ finely tuned offensive machine, behind a flawless performance from quarterback Aaron Rodgers, carved up a solid Bears defense despite a makeshift offensive line and the absence of injured No. 1 receiver Greg Jennings.
Rodgers wasn’t sacked and admitted he was barely touched, which contributed to his MVP-clinching performance that included a career high five touchdown passes and a 142.7 passer rating.
If anything, the Packers offense will be even more dangerous in the playoffs when Jennings and starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga are expected to return.
But there are other reasons to fear the Packers if you’re an NFC postseason qualifier.
They simply don’t beat themselves and turned in a remarkably clean performance with no turnovers and no penalties against the Bears.
They also don’t lose at home. The Packers own the longest home winning streak in the NFL at 12 straight victories. Their last loss was early in the 2010 season, and they are 17-1 at Lambeau since the middle of the 2009 season.
“I think it’s the most important,” coach Mike McCarthy said of earning the home-field advantage.
“We wanted the path to go through Lambeau. We have a great a home-field advantage here. There’s nothing like our fans. Our surface is in great shape and we play well at home.”
That’s not to say the Packers don’t have things to work on before their playoff journey begins on the weekend of Jan. 14-15.
Their defense, as it has done all season, showed signs of vulnerability. The Bears rushed 42 times for an alarming 199 yards, and the Packers failed to record a sack.
If journeyman quarterback Josh McCown can look respectable in completing 19 of 28 passes for 242 yards, how much damage will some of the better quarterbacks in the league do against the Packers defense in the playoffs?
But for all its flaws, the Packers defense made key stops and forced turnovers against the Bears, a formula it has followed all season with significant success.
There are no guarantees, but by now we should know the Packers are capable of winning with their defense. The expected return of defensive lineman Ryan Pickett, who has missed two-plus games with a concussion, should provide a welcome boost heading into the post-season.
It’s not the Packers who should be worrying about their defense so much as it’s their playoff opponents who will lose sleep figuring out how to slow Rodgers and a highly potent, nearly unstoppable offense.
Other than posting a perfect record, the Packers have achieved all their goals in the quest to go back to the Super Bowl.
Now they can complete that return trip from the comfort of their own home.
“It was good to bounce back this week and play better and know that the Super Bowl run has to go through Green Bay,” Rodgers said.
Opponents should shudder at that daunting prospect.
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