Butler: Packers Earned Division Crown

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Not long after the Green Bay Packers clinched their second straight NFC North Championship, I received an email from a fan wanting to know if Nate Poole would be invited to Sunday's playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks.

She felt like the Packers owed a thank you to the guy who made the game-winning catch in Arizona that knocked the Minnesota Vikings out of the playoffs.

But while there's no question that Poole made an amazing play and that without it the Vikings would have prevailed, lost in all of this is what the Packers did over the weekend, and the three weekends before it.

Because at the end of November the Packers were standing at the edge of a cliff, and one more mistake would have cost them their playoff dreams. But the Packers banded together, took control and won four straight games to finish out the regular season.

A few weeks ago, everyone else had written them off. But the Packers believed in themselves when no one else did. And they didn't just luck into the playoffs, they played their way into the postseason.

Don't get me wrong, Poole deserves a lot of credit for his outstanding catch. He makes for a great rags-to-riches story and I'm thankful for the impact his catch had on the Packers season. But the Packers are in the playoffs because of a number of plays they made over the course of the season, not because of one play that Poole made last weekend.

All season long I've been telling fans to look at the big picture and not give up on the Packers. And after an undefeated December I hope the Packers have silenced a lot of their critics and caught the attention of America.

Standing at 10-6 with a playoff game at Lambeau Field on the horizon, things don't look as bad as they did a few weeks ago.

And let me tell you that from here things look a heck of a lot better than they did last season heading into the playoffs.

I know that statement will surprise a lot of people because the 2002 team went 12-4 and clinched the division early in December. But this team has something that last year's didn't: momentum.

If you look back over the last few seasons, it hasn't been the NFL's best team that wins the Super Bowl. It's the teams with the two Hs. The team that's hot. The team that's healthy.

Riding a four-game winning streak, the Packers are definitely hot. And I know a lot of you will point out that the Packers thumped a Denver Broncos team that was missing several of its key players over the weekend, but at least the Packers took care of business.

In the NFL, that's about the best you can hope for.

The defense made a fantastic goal-line stand and nearly pitched a shutout. The offense had a great drive to start the game and then made some big plays later on, like Ahman Green's record run of 98 yards.

I'm not sure how many people paid attention, but did you see Green's face on that run? It was relaxed and confident, just like when Michael Johnson runs the 400.

Green finished the game with a record 218 yards rushing, and the offensive line should feel mighty proud of that.

In the passing game, Brett Favre got away with a poor decision on the first touchdown to Bubba Franks, but from that point on, things just rolled.

Javon Walker made a few big plays and continues to be a guy who can break a game open at any time.

Heading into the postseason, there's no reason the Packers can't continue to improve.

The O-line has been healthy enough to play shoulder-to-shoulder all season long. The D-line is still improving, but seems to be peaking at the right time.

Mike McKenzie should be able to return from turf toe this week, but Michael Hawthorne has proven that he can step up big if needed.

Compared to last season, Green is fresh and strong, and so are his backups, Najeh Davenport and Tony Fisher.

Even the Packers fans have more life than ever this season, especially after the magical turn of events late in last Sunday's win.

In fact, the fans should give themselves a pat on the back for being so into the game early on, when the Packers' playoff prospects were bleak.

You better believe that I'll be at Lambeau Field making noise this weekend, and I hope the rest of the Packers fans help to dial up an electric atmosphere to get the playoffs started off on a good note.

After the disappointing playoff performance against the Atlanta Falcons in 2002, there are a bunch of guys on this year's team who know how awful it feels to finish a season with a loss at Lambeau Field, so they'll do their best to see that history isn't repeated.

Until now, the Packers have pretty much flown under the radar. But this is a team ready to explode into the national spotlight.

This is a team with something to prove. Even though they've proven a lot already.

*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 providing exclusive analysis to Packers.com with a breakdown of the upcoming game on Saturdays and a column and Q&A session on Tuesdays.

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

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