After beating one of the teams with the NFL's best record Sunday, expectations couldn't be higher for the Green Bay Packers as they prepare to host the Atlanta Falcons on Monday night.
Super Bowl contender? The folks in Las Vegas handed Green Bay the best odds of winning a championship. Following a 26-21 win over the New England Patriots, the Packers are the toast of the league.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers pumped the brakes Tuesday, ever so slightly.
Asked on his weekly ESPN Milwaukee radio show if this is the best Packers team he's played on since becoming a starter in 2008, Rodgers paused. He wasn't ready to go that far. Not yet.
"I think it's too early to talk about that," he said. "It's too early to say that. We've said it — myself and (coach Mike McCarthy) — multiple years, 'This is the most talented team we've had.' We said that probably at the beginning of a number of years. I felt, talent-wise, it was going to be a very talented team.
"The best teams are talented teams that are very tightly knit. They have great chemistry and play well together, and have a combination of solid, veteran players and young guys who have a hunger that kind of inspires the rest of the team."
That description appears to fit the Packers.
Green Bay has gotten solid contributions from rookies throughout the season. In recent weeks, their production has only increased.
In Sunday's win against the Patriots, first-round safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix broke up a would-be go-ahead touchdown catch by tight end Rob Gronkowski in the fourth quarter; second-round receiver Davante Adams had his first 100-yard game with six grabs for 121 yards; third-round tight end Richard Rodgers caught a touchdown pass for the second straight week; and fifth-round center Corey Linsley started his 12th game of the season.
The youngsters blend with Green Bay's veteran leadership. Players like Rodgers, receiver Jordy Nelson, and outside linebackers Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers pave the way.
"Every year, you get to a point where you feel like you have an understanding of the type of team that you have, and there's always one characteristic that jumps out more than the others," McCarthy said Monday. "I think this is clearly our most consistent football team in my nine years here. Just from the fact that the way they prepare, you don't have a bunch of personalities that go up and down. It's a very focused, disciplined group."
McCarthy use the word "consistent," a favorite among coaches. On Tuesday, Rodgers credited his team's maturity.
The Packers haven't played like a young team, even with rookies making key contributions. They've limited mistakes, leading the league with a plus-15 turnover margin. Their eight giveaways are fewest in the NFL.
Green Bay also ranks seventh in the league with 5.7 penalties per game, and ninth with 48.8 penalty yards per game.
These are the marks of a championship team. Still, there's a lot of season left. Rodgers is pleased with what he's seen from the team, but he's not looking too far ahead.
"I think it's our most mature team," Rodgers said. "We're not having a lot of fines and stuff, and guys being late or just not being where they're supposed to be. It's a very focused team. So I think it's a combination of the young guys we brought in, but also the veteran guys and the urgency that we're kind of trying to portray. How important this opportunity is, and how they don't come along like this all the time.
"We've won eight out of nine, we've got a good thing going. We've got to keep it rolling."
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