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Packers really could go all the way

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Dan Arkush
Executive editor

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Posted Dec. 05, 2011 @ 5:12 p.m. ET
By Dan Arkush

Paging Chris Berman!

After overcoming a Giants team widely considered the most capable of knocking them off their perfect pedestal, the Packers appear to be in prime shape to continue adding on to their current 18-game win streak and possibly becoming the first team in league history to go 19-0 in a season. Offering a high-octane challenge the Packers hadn't faced since their Week One matchup against Drew Brees and the Saints, Eli Manning and the Giants matched Green Bay bullet for bullet in a highly entertaining 38-35 shootout that boiled down to Packers PK Mason Crosby's 31-yard field goal with no time remaining.

The Packers showed what they were made of on their final two possessions, as virtual league MVP lock Aaron Rodgers directed a pair of scoring drives that produced 10 points in a seemingly effortless blur. Earlier in the game, Rodgers displayed the quality that has set him apart from his QB counterparts — his ability to escape pressure and move the chains with his legs as well as his razor-sharp arm. Rodgers led the Packers in rushing with 32 yards on four carries, three of which set up first downs. Even though one suspects head coach Mike McCarthy flirts with a heart attack every time his QB decides to scramble, Rogers' rushing skills offer a truly dynamic dimension.

The Packers did not escape the Meadowlands unscathed, however, as RB James Starks (ankle), CB Charles Woodson (concussion) and TE Andrew Quarless (knee strain) were forced to the sideline with injuries.

The PFW Spin

In a game that had an undeniable playoff atmosphere, one couldn't ignore the feeling that, when push came to shove, Rodgers and the Packers' offense would find a way to get the job done. Sure as shooting, with their backs against the wall for the first time this season since Week One, Rodgers was masterful in commanding Green Bay's game-winning drive, marching the Packers 68 yards in 58 seconds on four plays to four different receivers before Crosby made amends for his failed 43-yard FG attempt at the end of the first half.

But while the Packers' offense remains the biggest reason to believe a 16-0 run is more than a little realistic, the defense and special teams continue to make valuable contributions. True to form, the Packers' defense won the all-important turnover battle with the Giants, with LOLB Clay Matthews raising his game a notch when it counted most. As for the special teams, P Tim Masthay was exceptional at landing punts deep in enemy territory for the second consecutive game. And while Crosby was wide right on his 43-yard first-half FG attempt, his likely TD-saving tackle of ex-Packer Will Blackmon on a kickoff return late in the first half is very much worth noting.

With their first NFC North title since 2007 secured, the Packers should benefit greatly from a home-field advantage down the stretch, with three of their remaining four games at Lambeau Field, beginning Sunday against a Raiders team that looked clueless in an ugly loss at Miami last Sunday. Their remaining road game will be in Kansas City, where the prospect of getting ambushed by the likes of either Tyler Pako or Kyle Orton seems implausible at best. Closing divisional games against the Bears and Lions that previously figured to be the toughest of outs suddenly don't seem nearly as challenging, with Chicago now losing RB Matt Forté on top of Jay Cutler and the Lions spending most of their time lately shooting themselves in the foot.

Injuries could be a problem down the stretch, but even though the Packers clearly missed the presence of normal starting ILBs Desmond Bishop and A.J. Hawk (both out with calf injuries) against the Giants, and Woodson remains the defense's heart and soul along with Matthews, the Packers appear to have enough depth to weather any storm. If Woodson is temporarily thrown for a concussed loop, Sam Shields would appear to have what it takes to pick up the slack if necessary. Same goes for both Ryan Grant and promising rookie Brandon Saine in case Starks is out for a while.  

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