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Aaron Rodgers, Packers look to carry momentum into Miami 

Green Bay hopes to increase its playoff odds with a third straight win Sunday

QB Aaron Rodgers
QB Aaron Rodgers

GREEN BAY – Two down…but still plenty to go.

Coming off back-to-back wins over Chicago and the Los Angeles Rams, the Packers returned on Wednesday to begin preparation for Sunday's Christmas Day matchup with the Miami Dolphins, who are sitting at 8-6 under first-year head coach Mike McDaniel.

While the Dolphins have dropped three straight, they're returning to the friendly confines of Hard Rock Stadium, where blossoming quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has not lost this season. The 2020 first-round pick has led Miami to a 5-0 mark at home, while completing 104 of 154 passes (67.5%) for 1,301 yards, seven touchdowns and no interceptions (108.7 passer rating).

In his Wednesday media session, Tagovailoa was effusive in his praise of Packers' quarterback Aaron Rodgers, whom he's idolized "ever since I can remember watching football." While addressing reporters in Green Bay, the reigning NFL MVP was equally complimentary about the Dolphins' 24-year-old quarterback.

"I enjoy the way that he plays," Rodgers said. "He plays on time. He throws the ball accurately. He does a nice job with his eye control for a young player. He obviously has good pocket movement and can extend plays.

"I like the way he handles himself, too. I think he handles himself with a lot of respect and class. And I think there's a lot to be said for that for a young player."

Over the past two years, Miami has bolstered its offensive weaponry around Tagovailoa through a series of trades and draft picks. All-Pro Tyreek Hill (109 catches for 1,529 yards and seven TDs) and Jaylen Waddle (62 catches for 1,117 yards and seven TDs) are the only receiving combo with at least 1,000 receiving yards through 15 weeks.

On the ground, Raheem Mostert is coming off his best game of the season (17 carries for 136 yards) during Sunday's 32-29 loss to Buffalo. Mostert's former San Francisco running mate, Jeff Wilson, also could be back in the lineup after sitting out against the Bills with a hip injury.

Green Bay is fully aware of all the dangers present in the Dolphins' offense but is also feeling good about how its own unit has turned things around after working through some midseason doldrums. With their full arsenal of perimeter players available Monday night, the Packers doubled up the Rams in both total yards (345-156) and first downs (27-13), while dominating time of possession (37:19-22:41) in a 24-12 victory.

As good as it felt to build a winning streak for the first time since September, Rodgers acknowledged more will be needed to go into Miami and succeed where five other teams have failed against Tagovailoa & Co. Even if the Packers win, the Vikings (11-3) and Lions (7-7) still remain.

"I think there were opportunities for us in the humility of losing multiple games where we got to finally clean some things up that needed to be cleaned up," Rodgers said. "We've obviously played a little better the last two weeks against bad teams and now we've got to play good against three good teams."

The Packers have wind in their sails, though. Romeo Doubs caught five passes in his return from injury against the Rams. Christian Watson continues to make life difficult on opposing secondaries and AJ Dillon is expected to be back in the lineup. The third-year running back tallied 74 total yards and two TDs Monday before leaving to be evaluated for a concussion.

Rodgers is a believer in the power of momentum on the football field. It's even become a tongue-in-cheek joke with assistant quarterbacks coach Connor Lewis, who previously worked in the Packers' analytics department.

"He's one of my favorite guys in the organization and done a great job for us over the years," said Rodgers of Lewis. "Those analytics, computer guys, they believe in what they call scientific, concrete data but there's a feel out there. When the energy is moving, you can feel the momentum turn. I think he's come around a little bit because every time I say he doesn't believe in momentum, he tells me that's not what he actually said."

From a statistical perspective, Green Bay has a lot of work to do to make a fourth consecutive playoff appearance under Head Coach Matt LaFleur.

According to the New York Times model, the Packers currently have a 9% chance at making the playoffs. That percentage jumps to 21% with a win over Miami, 38% with a home victory over Minnesota on New Year's Day and 64% if Green Bay completes the trifecta and beats Detroit in the regular-season finale at Lambeau Field.

Of course, the Packers need help from either the New York Giants or Washington to make probabilities reality. The two NFC East rivals each control their own destiny if they win out. In fact, the Giants (8-5-1) could punch their postseason ticket as early as this weekend with a win over Minnesota coupled with either Detroit and Seattle losses, Detroit and Washington losses, or Seattle and Washington losses.

All the Packers can do is keep stacking victories and see where the next three weeks take them. But for a team that waited half a season for its fortunes to change, Green Bay is carrying plenty of momentum down to Florida this weekend.

"What is the most important thing is that we're still playing a meaningful football game on Christmas and got a chance to have a lot of things in front of us," Rodgers said. "We've got to go down and get a win, and I said a few weeks ago, we just get one, then we get another one, and things look a little bit different going into this game. And we get this one, things look a little bit different going into the next one."