GREEN BAY - It’s the first goal Mike McCarthy writes on the chalkboard every year. The Green Bay Packers want to win the NFC North, even if they don’t need to.
For four straight years — a remarkable stretch defying the NFL’s parity — the Packers won a division title. Their streak ended last year when the Minnesota Vikings walked out of Lambeau Field with a 20-13 victory. For the first time in 1,491 days, the NFC North crown resided outside Green Bay.
McCarthy said it’s important to regain the NFC North title this season. It’s the doorway to bigger goals, such as the NFC’s top overall playoff seed and home-field advantage through the postseason. He also keeps the NFC North title in perspective.
“Division titles are important,” McCarthy said, “but I don’t lose any sleep over it. Because we have a bigger goal. We don’t hang divisional title banners around here. So, frankly, once you cross the threshold into the playoffs, it’s about getting to the final game and winning. I want everybody to think that way, and I want everybody to behave that way, and I want everybody to train that way and aspire for that to be.
“It would’ve been nice to say five in a row, but we’ll just have to start another run, I guess.”
The Packers will get an early opportunity to avenge their lost title this season. They travel to Minnesota in Week 2. It will be the first regular-season game played inside U.S. Bank Stadium.
The Packers will host the Vikings for a noon kickoff Dec. 24 in the season’s penultimate game.
The Vikings were expected to be the Packers’ stiffest divisional competition this season. Their season hit a glacier-sized speed bump when quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was lost for this season with a dislocated left knee and torn anterior cruciate ligament. Attempting to stay competitive in the North, they traded a first-round pick to the Philadelphia Eagles last weekend to acquire quarterback Sam Bradford.
The Packers have the pieces to compete for something much more than the division championship this season. They’ve also punched seven straight tickets to the playoffs – the NFC’s longest-active streak – with one Super Bowl title.
“We have a successful program,” McCarthy said, “and it’s two steps. You’ve gotta be in the playoffs to compete for one, and then ultimately go win one. So we’re starting another season where we want to be in that playoff picture, but we also have full understanding of how hard it is, too.
“I think we’ve been a program that’s not only been successful, but we’ve been able to adapt and adjust and change when we needed to. Hopefully the changes and adjustments we’ve made this year will pay off.”