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Packers celebrate earning No. 1 seed in playoffs, but they know more challenges await

Olivia Reiner
Packers News

CHICAGO – In the aftermath of the 2019 NFC Championship Game loss to the San Francisco 49ers, a sullen Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers took the podium in balmy Santa Clara at Levi’s Stadium. 

Another dry, temperate loss in an NFC Championship Game. Rodgers knew that sensation well, having lost to the Atlanta Falcons in the Georgia Dome three years earlier. 

“I’ve said this before: We’ve got to get one of these at home,” Rodgers said. “It’s a different ballgame. It’s different playing in 20-degree weather and snow. Cold and wind is a different type of game than playing here.” 

Less than a year after their loss to the 49ers, the Packers ensured that the road to the Super Bowl will come through wintry Green Bay after they secured the No. 1 seed in their 35-16 win over the Chicago Bears. For the first time since 2011, the Packers have the opportunity to play in the snow globe of Lambeau Field in January for the playoffs. 

“It's a world of a difference,” Packers wide receiver Davante Adams said. “People play different. People act different. They talk different, everything coming through Lambeau. It is what it is. You can come in and try to bark and will be barefoot pregame, shirt off and do whatever you want to do. But at the end of the day, it's a beast playing in that snow. It's a beast playing in that weather and just being in that environment, it takes people's confidence away. 

“So I love to see a challenge, obviously, but it's just knowing that it's gonna make it that much easier for us and we've got to make sure we lock in and do everything we've got to do, taking care of the ball and scoring points and do all of that. It's not gonna be easy, but it gives us a tremendous amount of confidence knowing we're at home.” 

Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams (17) and quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) celebrate a fourth quarter touchdown score against the Chicago Bears during their football game Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021, at Soldier Field in Chicago, Ill. 
Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

While the No. 1 seed may make life easier for the Packers through the playoffs, nothing is guaranteed. Rodgers understands that better than any other player on the team. In 2011, the Packers squandered their No. 1 seed with a loss to the New York Giants in the divisional game. Conversely, the Packers won Super Bowl XLV the year before as the No. 6 seed and played every game on the road to make it to Dallas. 

Every season, every team is different, and Rodgers will take any boost he can get in 2021. 

“It gives us an opportunity,” Rodgers said. “It's a different year, so the home field advantage might not mean the exact same as in year's past, obviously, with the home field crowd. That can make a difference at certain times in the game. But it's important. We know the weather is an issue always in these months, so we'll definitely be hoping for some cold, frigid temperatures in a couple weeks.” 

The Packers finished the regular season 13-3 for a second straight year. Last season, it bought the Packers a No. 2 seed. This time, they’ve locked down the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye, the only one in the NFC due to the reconfigured playoff format. 

Same record, entirely different year. Entirely different circumstances.

The Packers currently have eleven players on injured reserve, including starting left tackle David Bakhtiari. They lost starters like wide receiver Davante Adams, running back Aaron Jones, defensive lineman Kenny Clark, center Corey Linsley and cornerback Kevin King for multiple-game stretches throughout the season. 

Players, coaches, and other members of the organization have risked their health to participate in the NFL season during the COVID-19 pandemic. Running back AJ Dillon missed five games after initially testing positive and inside linebacker Krys Barnes missed three. 

“Just to navigate through the season has definitely been a challenge,” Packers head coach Matt LaFleur said. “But everybody's done their part and people have gone above and beyond probably their normal job responsibilities to get us to this point. 

“We will celebrate this and we're happy that the road to Tampa goes through Lambeau, but we also understand that there's a lot in front of us and we're gonna have to continue to be disciplined in our approach and take it day by day. Not only from the football component, but just being responsible off the field as well. Just everything that's going on in the world.

"What we told our guys is we need everybody in that locker room to be at their very best and the only way that can happen is if everybody's available.” 

The Packers will take the bye week to recharge before they rejoin the pack of eight teams on the quest to hoist the Lombardi Trophy. The prospect of the No. 1 seed may lose its luster without packed stands singing to "Roll Out the Barrel" at Lambeau Field and the power of the Packers’ silent count. Regardless, Rodgers and the rest of the team are celebrating the achievement and narrowing in their focus on Super Bowl LV.  

“I saw a lot of dancing in there,” Rodgers said. “A lot of hugging. Didn't see any tears. I'd probably be the one crying. Usually the older you get, I think anybody over 30 can appreciate, especially the dads in the room. And the moms. But the emotions, the perspective changes a little bit. I think you get a little ... each moment is a little more special.  

“But a lot of hugs and couple dance moves from LaFleur.”