GREEN BAY—Nothing is of greater importance for the Packers this weekend than beating the Cowboys.
What's also obvious are the scenarios for the NFC Championship should the Packers get there.
There are only two.
If the Packers advance to play the Seahawks, the game will be in Seattle, a rematch of the Week 1 Thursday night kickoff opener won by the Seahawks. When the regular season was all said and done, that Week 1 result gave Seattle the tiebreaker over Green Bay for the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs.
But, if the Packers advance to play the Panthers, the game will be at Lambeau Field and would be a rematch of the NFC title game from 18 years ago. It would also be the first NFC title game in Green Bay in seven years.
So – did I mention we're being masters of the obvious today? – if you want the Packers to have a chance to host the conference championship game, root for the Panthers to knock off the Seahawks on Saturday night. That game will end roughly 13 hours before the Packers and Cowboys kick off on Sunday afternoon.
How likely is Carolina to pull that upset? Not very.
Seattle was as dominant as any playoff team down the stretch in the regular season. Following a 24-20 loss to Kansas City in Week 11, the Seahawks won six straight, allowing more than seven points only once during that winning streak.
Seattle also hasn't lost a playoff game at home since Pete Carroll took over as head coach. The Seahawks even won a home playoff game when they were just 7-9 back in 2010. Over the last three seasons, Seattle has lost at CenturyLink Field just twice (not including the "Fail Mary" game, of course).
It's a tall, tall order for Carolina. But then there's this:
The Panthers have played the Seahawks each of the last three years, and they have played them tough every time. All three games were in Charlotte, but the Seahawks only won by scores of 16-12, 12-7 and 13-9 from 2012-14, respectively.
Carolina's defense appears to match up with Seattle's offense pretty well, and that defense is coming off of a smothering performance against an (admittedly undermanned) Arizona squad that managed an historically low 78 total yards in the wild-card game last Saturday.
The Panthers were left for dead at 3-8-1 a little more than a month ago. They won four straight to take the NFC South, including a win-to-get-in runaway on the road in Atlanta in Week 17. They've carried that momentum into the playoffs and might be as confident and care-free as any team traveling to Seattle at this time of year.
But don't get too hung up on that game. On the list of priorities, it is a colossally distant second to the one that begins just after high noon on Sunday.