Butler: A Season Ends And A New One Begins

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The Green Bay Packers did what they had to do in the regular season finale against the Chicago Bears Sunday. They went into an environment that can be tough and beat a team that they were supposed to beat. I really liked the way the Packers came out with a lot of fire, a lot of vigor, and a lot of confidence - even though the game didn't mean anything in the standings.

Other than Chicago's first drive, I thought the Green Bay defense played very well. I know they weren't playing an offense with much firepower, but that was a great way for the Packers' defense to go into the postseason riding high with confidence.

I think the defense really worked well together against the Bears and that's the kind of performance they will need to build off of to play well in the playoffs. It's going to take plays like Darren Sharper's interception that he turned into a touchdown if this team wants to make a run at the Super Bowl.

And is there any other quarterback in the world you would want to have on your team going into the playoffs beside Brett Favre? I'm not only saying that because he's my friend, but this guy is one of the most confident quarterbacks and his leadership - not to mention the rocket attached to his right shoulder - will lead the Packers on another trip through the playoffs.

For the last 10 weeks, Brett has been playing as well or better than any quarterback in the league, and it's all about peaking at playoff time in the NFL. I know he doesn't really care about the Pro Bowl or individual stuff like that, but to have Michael Vick ahead of Brett Favre in the Pro Bowl is a travesty.

He played great on Sunday for the short time he was in the game, but the offense continued to click even after Brett headed to the bench to rest up for the playoffs. I was a little scared when Javon Walker and Bubba Franks went down, but it looks like they're going to be fine and will be ready to play on Sunday when the Minnesota Vikings come to town again.

Speaking of the Vikings, this is going to be the third time the Packers have played them in less than two months. I've heard all of the concerns about how tough it is to beat a team three times in one season, but I was on two Packers teams that did it, so it's not as unheard of as you might think.

First off, we swept the Detroit Lions in 1993 and then went on to beat them again in the playoffs, and then we did the same thing to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1997. So don't worry about this being the third meeting - whichever team comes out and plays the best on Sunday is going to win.

It is difficult to beat a team three times in a row, but take a look at the Minnesota Vikings. They're going to be without some of their key players because of injury. They are also shaky in their confidence coming into the playoffs after losing their last two games.

It looks like it's going to be a high-scoring game just by looking at the first two times these teams got together this season with the Packers winning both games 34-31. I expect the Packers to win this week, and I'll get into more details about that later this week in my game breakdown.

For now, let's take a look at the NFC heading into the playoffs. With the state of the conference right now, I think the Packers have a very legitimate shot to get all the way to the Super Bowl. I'm not suggesting for a second that you look past Minnesota, but none of the other top teams in the NFC are really carrying a lot of momentum with them right now.

Atlanta and Philadelphia have lost their last two games and who knows how well they will play after taking about three or four weeks off by the time they get back on the field. I think this month should be full of exciting football for the Green Bay Packers, but it starts Sunday.

You've got to get past the Vikings and stay healthy, and then the road trip to Jacksonville can begin. I think the Packers have an excellent shot to make it there, but they must minimize their mistakes and create turnovers on the defensive side of the ball to get it done.

Since this will most likely be their last chance to show their home fans what they've got until next season, look for the Green Bay Packers to come out fast on Sunday against the Vikings and give the Lambeau Field fans lots to cheer for.

The playoffs begin Sunday, and I think the Packers' success lies in their own hands. I expect a lot out of them and they do too, so get ready for a strong postseason push.

*LeRoy Butler played 12 seasons for the Green Bay Packers, helping them to two Super Bowls and earning NFL All-Decade Honors for the 1990s, before retiring in July 2002. This season Butler is again providing exclusive analysis to Packers.com beginning with training camp and later with a breakdown of the upcoming game on Saturdays, followed by a column and Q&A session on Tuesdays during the preseason and regular season.

Butler's autobiography, 'The LeRoy Butler Story ... From Wheelchair to the Lambeau Leap,' is available on his website, leroybutler36.com.*

LeRoy serves as the host on the new DVD, 'Brett Favre - On and Off the Field'. Click here for more information on the DVD.

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