The Lions and Giants started 2-3. The Dolphins were 1-4. Pittsburgh was 4-5. And, of course, Green Bay was 4-6 and fighting a four-game losing streak when quarterback/spooky fortuneteller Aaron Rodgers famously said the Packers could “run the table.”
Yes sir, the 12-team NFL playoff field, which begins postseason play with four wild-card games Saturday and Sunday, is littered with finishers sporting the kinds of brains Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said he wants to pick as he tries to figure out how the Vikings turned the league’s best start (5-0) into the NFC’s ninth-best finish (8-8).
“I’ve got some people in mind that I’m going to talk to,” Zimmer said Tuesday. “Hopefully, they’ll talk to me about it. Some may not. I’m not afraid to ask what other people do better than I’m doing now and how I can do it better.”
Zimmer lamented not being able to get his team “over the hump” once adversity struck after the bye. Chances are pretty good the Packers won’t be among the more resilient teams sharing any secrets on running tables. Too bad, because No. 4 seed Green Bay (10-6) is riding an NFC-best six-game win streak heading into Sunday’s game against the fifth-seeded Giants (11-5) at Lambeau Field.
“We’ve been a part of some pretty special playoff games over the years,” Rodgers said this week. “Some pretty high highs and some disappointing lows. It’s fun to be a part of.
“Being a four seed, anybody can win it. We were a six seed [in 2010] and won [the Super Bowl]. The Giants were a [five] seed [in 2007] and won it. So we’re pretty hot right now.”
So are the Giants receivers. Led by Odell Beckham Jr., New York’s wideouts filled 24-hour sports network blathering with the audacity of spending a couple off days in South Beach.
When asked if the players would be fined, Giants coach Ben McAdoo reminded reporters that it’s a free country where people are allowed to go to the beach on days off. But the best sign that this is a non-story that won’t impact Sunday’s outcome came when Eli Manning shrugged and joked about it when bullrushed for his reaction.
“They didn’t pack accordingly,” Manning said. “They didn’t have any shirts. … I was telling people I’m the one who took the picture. They just wouldn’t let me in with my shirt off.”
Eli has to be shaking his head at the notion his team won’t be ready for a playoff game at Lambeau. After all, this scenario is setting up a lot like 2007 and 2011.
During the 2007 and 2011 seasons, the Giants and Eli were average, the Packers and Brett Favre (2007)/Rodgers (2011) were red hot and the Patriots and Tom Brady were, well, the Patriots and Tom Brady.
Yet both years, Eli’s Giants upset the Packers at Lambeau en route to beating Brady in the Super Bowl. In 2007, the Patriots were 18-0 when they lost to the Giants. In 2011, the Packers were 15-1 when they lost to the Giants in the divisional round.
The biggest difference between this year and 2011 is the Giants have a much better defense this year. In 2011, they ranked 25th in points allowed (25.0). This year, they ranked second in points allowed (17.8) and defensive passer rating (75.8), which is helpful considering the Giants only score 19.4 points per game. To put that in perspective, the Vikings scored 20.4 per game.
The Packers appear to be the so-called “team no one wants to face in the playoffs.” But they will be on high alert when they spot those Giants uniforms through the mist of frozen breath. Otherwise, history could clobber the Packers with an embarrassing three-peat.
When the Vikings were 5-0, they had three wins vs. playoff-bound teams. They had beaten the Packers by a field goal and then the Texans and Giants handily.
Of course, nine years ago, when the Vikings were clearing out their lockers after missing the playoffs, safety Darren Sharper was asked if he thought the Giants had a chance to win the Super Bowl after giving the undefeated Patriots a scare in the season finale.
Sharper laughed. After all, the Vikings beat the Giants 41-17 that season.
“I wish we played those guys every week,” Sharper said.
A month later, “those guys” — the same ones who started 0-2 and 6-6 — finished with a Super Bowl victory.