16-0. It could happen.
Having won their first 13 games, and with three mediocre opponents left on the schedule, the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers will try to do something no other National Football League team has done since the 1972 Miami Dolphins. And that’s going undefeated, start to finish.
The Dolphins won every game and added the NFL championship, going 17-0 overall. It took another 35 years before there was a true challenger, the 2007 New England Patriots, followed by the 2009 Indianapolis Colts.
The pursuit of perfection, however, poses a dilemma _ figuring out if it’s worth the chase.
The Packers will need to decide whether to stick with their stars and other regulars or rest them to prepare for the playoffs and, hopefully, another Super Bowl title.
Even within their own ranks, there is uncertainty.
“There’s risk every time you take the field,” says quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the favorite to win the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award. “We’re going to keep playing the way we’re playing.”
Yet linebacker Clay Matthews sees the value of playing it safe.
“We’re here to win ballgames, but at the same time you don’t want to compromise people’s health when it comes down to trying to remain undefeated when you have your goals locked up,” he said during a recent interview.
Already, there’s a whiff of trouble ahead.
Top receiver Greg Jennings will miss two to three weeks with a left knee sprain, but is expected back for the playoffs, and two players sustained concussions in last Sunday’s rout of Oakland.
A win Sunday against 5-8 Kansas City, which just fired coach Todd Haley, will give the Packers home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. Although they lost their most recent postseason game at Lambeau Field for the 2007 NFC title against the Giants, generally the venerable stadium is a den of horrors for visitors. Not having to visit New Orleans or San Francisco in January is highly desirable for the Pack.
Once they’ve guaranteed that scenario, the Packers‘ challenge becomes how to approach the postseason. Their last two opponents, both at Lambeau, are division rivals Chicago and Detroit.
Not only are both desperate to grab a wild-card playoff spot, there’s likely to be a little more incentive against the Packers.
Bears-Packers is the oldest rivalry in football, and the teams will meet on Christmas night on national TV.