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Another "playoff game" on New Year's Eve for Packers

Green Bay’s history has its share of win-or-else contests on Dec. 31

U.S. Bank Stadium
U.S. Bank Stadium

GREEN BAY – The math might allow for the loser of Sunday night's Packers-Vikings game to have some convoluted path to the playoffs akin to a six-leg parlay wager or lottery ticket.

But it's for all intents and purposes a postseason game in itself. Winner stays alive, loser is done. Avoiding elimination is the goal.

"This is pretty much a playoff game," linebacker Quay Walker said this week. "Not only that, this is a rival and both teams are trying to get in a position where we want to be at the end of the year. It'd be a big win."

It sure would be. In that vein, it's perhaps fitting that the bulk of Green Bay's history of playing on New Year's Eve – when regular seasons were shorter – is filled with postseason contests.

The first four times the Packers played on Dec. 31, the games were the do-or-die postseason types. And the fifth almost became that. The most recent was as forgettable as it was meaningless.

In all, Green Bay is 5-1 on Dec. 31 heading into U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday night. One week after using this space to recap the Packers’ history on Christmas Eve, it's only right to do the same for previous New Year's Eve games. So here goes.

1961: Packers 37, Giants 0 (NFL Championship)

At City Stadium (not yet named Lambeau Field), Paul Hornung scored 19 points with a touchdown, three field goals and four PATs, Bart Starr threw three TD passes (two to Ron Kramer) and Green Bay's defense generated five turnovers as the first of five titles in the Vince Lombardi era was secured in convincing fashion.

1967: Packers 21, Cowboys 17 (NFL Championship)

The Ice Bowl. You might've heard it was really cold and a QB sneak won the game. Two weeks later, the Packers won Super Bowl II, Lombardi's fifth title and last game as head coach.

1994: Packers 16, Lions 12 (NFC Wild Card)

Yet another famous one at Lambeau, as the Packers held Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders to minus-1 yard on 13 carries. Dorsey Levens ran for a TD and Chris Jacke hit three field goals, including a Packers postseason record (at the time) 51-yarder.

Still, with Detroit trailing 16-3 in the fourth quarter, Wisconsin native Dave Krieg drove the Lions for a touchdown and got them as far as the 11-yard line on their final possession before a turnover on downs and intentional safety closed out the game.

1995: Packers 37, Falcons 20 (NFC Wild Card)

On a foggy day in Green Bay, the Packers stormed back from Atlanta's early 65-yard TD pass from Jeff George to Eric Metcalf. Rookie Antonio Freeman's 76-yard punt return for a TD, Green Bay's first-ever return of a kick for a score in the postseason, highlighted the commanding 27-10 halftime lead.

Edgar Bennett rushed for a (then) Packers postseason record 108 yards and a TD and Brett Favre threw three TD passes as Green Bay earned a trip to San Francisco, where the Packers knocked off the defending Super Bowl champs a week later.

2006: Packers 26, Bears 7

In a primetime regular-season finale at Soldier Field, the Packers began the day with a slim chance at a playoff spot if a handful of games had fallen their way earlier in the day. That didn't work out.

The Bears had the NFC's No. 1 seed and home-field advantage clinched, but played their starters in the first half anyway and a surging Packers team dominated behind pick-sixes from Nick Collins and Patrick Dendy to take a 23-0 halftime lead.

The win allowed the Packers to end Mike McCarthy's first season as head coach on a four-game winning streak after a 4-8 start, momentum that propelled them to a big season in 2007. Chicago ultimately advanced to the franchise's second Super Bowl before losing to the Colts.

2017: Lions 35, Packers 11

With Green Bay out of the playoff race, QB Brett Hundley made his last start for an injured Aaron Rodgers (and his last appearance for the Packers, as it turned out) at Ford Field, while the Lions managed to finish the season with a winning record behind Matthew Stafford's long TD passes to Kenny Golladay (54 yards) and Golden Tate (71 yards).

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