GREEN BAY – In one week, the Green Bay Packers could be sitting atop the NFC as the No. 1 seed with a bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs totally within their control.
In one week, the Packers could be the No. 3 seed and in the middle of a dogfight for the North Division crown with the Minnesota Vikings, who would have the same overall record.
The NFC is a deep and competitive conference, with San Francisco (9-1), Green Bay (8-2), New Orleans (8-2), Seattle (8-2), Minnesota (8-3) and Dallas (6-4) squarely in the playoff picture. Lurking on the edges are the defending conference champion Los Angeles Rams (6-4), Philadelphia (5-5) and Carolina (5-5).
This weekend will clear those waters a bit, as New Orleans hosts Carolina and Philadelphia hosts Seattle. And of course, the Packers head west to take on San Francisco with the winner taking the baton as the NFC front-runner.
“Every game you understand the (larger) component of it,” Packers linebacker Blake Martinez acknowledged. “But I think the best thing we do is once we get closer to the game we’re more in the professional mindset of hey, this is the one we have to focus on, the ‘1-0’ mentality kind of sets in. After that you try to see where the dominoes fall across the board.”
This week could provide a greater challenge to that mindset, however.
The Packers face the task of trying to stay focused on one of the most well-rounded teams in the league in the 49ers while being aware of the larger implications a victory would mean. It’s a balance the team hasn’t had to strike at this point in the season since being 7-3 and in contention for a first-round bye in the 2014 season.
“The proper balance is just keeping the main thing kind of the main thing, that one week at a time,” Packers receiver Geronimo Allison said. “There’s so much positivity in front of us, but if you don’t take care of that one week at a time, that positivity could totally flip around.
“That’s the thing we preach about each other — and the coaches, too — this league can humble you quick. And you don’t want to be on the end of that humbling side. You want to be on the end of the victorious side.”
To help do that, first-year Packers head coach Matt LaFleur elected to change up his team’s travel schedule this week. After departing for Los Angeles the Friday before taking on the Chargers – and then watching his team lose 26-11 in a lackluster performance Nov. 3 – the Packers will head to the Bay Area on Saturday.
“I talked to all our medical people and (Chris) Gizzi, our strength coach, Flea (head athletic trainer Bryan Engel), Adam Korzun our nutritionist, and they just said – I consulted some other people as well – just what I came to find out was just that the two-hour time difference really doesn’t affect our guys a whole bunch,” LaFleur said. “It’s harder on teams going from West Coast to East Coast, so coupled with the fact that how I felt the Chargers trip went, I just thought this was the best route to go for our football team.”
And as far as LaFleur is concerned, facing a 9-1 49ers team on the road is all the impetus his team needs for dialing in and maintaining the “one week at a time” mindset.
“We gotta be realistic about things,” Packers corner Kevin King said. “We know what type of team that we’re playing. Regardless if we already were in the driver’s seat or not, we’re going (there) to win because we’re competitors and we’re playing a team with a similar record to us. And a prime-time game; we gotta get it.”
No matter how the early games play out around the NFC before the Packers and 49ers take the field Sunday night at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California on Sunday night, the Packers feel the best way to complete the big picture is to dial in and complete the individual elements of it one at a time. Which means they can’t focus on what a win could mean in San Francisco, but only at executing well enough to win.
“You see the accolades and everything that’s in front of you and what we can go achieve, but the important thing about it is seizing it and going to go achieve and not just visualizing it and gloating at it,” Allison said. “You gotta go get it. The action. You gotta go get it. So that’s kind of the main thing, taking it one week at a time, capitalizing on that week and then move forward as they come.”