The Packers' locker room is an oval. All players are easily visible, and their accountability to one another is a given.
Following the team's 13th win of the regular season, a 46--16 dismantling of the Raiders, safety Charlie Peprah stood in front of his locker and took stock of the teammates who have given the city of Green Bay another memorable season.
"This is the best 53-man roster in all of football," Peprah said. "It showed itself last year and this year. It's the coaching. The scheme is player-friendly. They draft and develop. That's why you see dynasties. You have to have continuity to breed winning."
One year after defeating the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV, the Packers are in a position to win back-to-back titles with a largely unchanged team. And they can accomplish it without having to leave the comfort of the Midwest. Green Bay took the title last season by winning three road playoff games, barreling through the postseason as a No. 6 seed. This postseason, as a No. 1 seed with home field advantage through the NFC Championship Game, the Packers' path should be easier. Green Bay hasn't lost a game at Lambeau Field since Oct. 17, 2010, against Miami.
January 9, 2012
Aaron Rodgers, left off the NFC Pro Bowl roster last season, has become the league's most efficient quarterback, moving defenses with his eyes, scrambling out of jams and firing deep, precise passes that challenge the best defensive backs. With wide receiver Greg Jennings (sprained knee) expected back for the playoffs, Rodgers should have his full complement of weapons, which also includes tight end Jermichael Finley, who missed last season's Super Bowl run.
Green Bay's biggest vulnerability on offense might be a line that gave up a combined eight sacks in the win over Oakland and a loss at Kansas City the following week. Defenses will test Green Bay with pressure—maybe the only way to break the Packers' rhythm.
Defensively, the Pack has sprung more leaks this season than it did in 2010. While the Packers remain opportunistic (they led the league with 31 interceptions), patient veteran passers such as Drew Brees and Tom Brady—not to mention bruising, mistake-free running teams such as the Niners—could exploit Green Bay's weaknesses. This Pack is a better group than last year's, but the road to another title is by no means assured.
Aaron Rodgers's rating on pass attempts of more than 20 yards. The Packers' quarterback, who had a record 122.5 rating overall, was 28 for 52 for 1,152 yards, 11 TDs and just one interception when throwing long.
Super Bowl appearances by the team with the worst defense in the regular season. The Packers were dead last in the league in 2011, allowing 411.6 yards per game—a half-yard more than the AFC top seed, New England.
ON THE SPOT
Defensive end Ryan Pickett, at 340 pounds, adds heft to the Packers' line, savvy to the locker room and smothering hits to Green Bay's run defense. His return to action in the season finale after sustaining a concussion on Dec. 11 (he took a knee to the head during the Packers' 46--16 win over Oakland) gives a lift to a defense that has struggled to bring down running backs. "When you give up a big play, somebody might [have missed] a tackle or [blown] a coverage," Pickett says. "We're normally a good tackling team. We know how to do it. And when we fix it, it's going to be great."