GREEN BAY – There's a train of thought out there questioning how valuable home-field advantage will be for the Packers in the playoffs after they lost the NFC title game at Lambeau Field last January.
But last year's circumstances are not this year's. Full houses and, hopefully according to Aaron Rodgers, colder weather should work in Green Bay's favor much more than the pandemic-limited crowds of 8,000 and 30-ish temperatures that made the 2020 postseason greatly atypical for the Packers.
"Last year, we didn't get that good Green Bay weather," Rodgers said following the Packers' chilly 37-10 victory over the Vikings that locked up the No. 1 seed in the NFC. "Tonight was one of those nights. We haven't had a game like this in a while, temperature-wise. It's just different. The whole feel of it.
"It's a different ballgame when it's cold at home and we've handled the cold pretty well over the years. So that's what we're hoping for in the playoffs."
It's worth pointing out that Rodgers had won four straight home playoff games before last year's loss to Tampa Bay, and the previous home postseason loss (to San Francisco in the 2013 wild-card round, in the bitter cold) was just his second game back after a two-month injury absence.
Be that as it may, this season also has proven that every year is a new one in the NFL, as the 2021 Packers have dealt with more injuries and adversity than either of Head Coach Matt LaFleur's first two squads.
The offensive line has held up well despite regular lineup shuffling, and the defense has navigated through ups and downs without some of its key players.
While there remains hope that any one or more of the following standouts could return at some point – receiver Randall Cobb, cornerback Jaire Alexander, left tackle David Bakhtiari, center Josh Myers, right tackle Billy Turner and edge rusher Za'Darius Smith – there's something to be said for being the only 13-3 team in the league despite the absence of multiple stars.
"I like the vibe of this team," Rodgers said, and part of that vibe was echoed in LaFleur's comments that whatever obstacles are overcome, these Packers never act like they've got it all figured out.
"Our guys have rallied around one another and found a way to continue to stack wins," LaFleur said. "A lot of close wins in there, but it's important to find different ways to win games and I think our team has shown that. But again, I don't think anybody in that locker room is going to take a deep breathe like 'Hey, we've arrived.'"
They learned that lesson back in Week 1, coming off consecutive 13-win seasons and trips to the brink of the Super Bowl.
In less than four months, the Packers have gone from a 35-point blowout loss to securing the pole position for the playoffs with one game left to go, beating three teams along the way that are in the postseason field (Bengals, Cardinals, Rams) and another that's on the verge of getting in (49ers).
"The season and how everything plays out kind of shapes who you are going into the playoffs," receiver Davante Adams said. "We're battle-tested. We've kind of experienced everything that you can experience. We got blown out, literally to the point where we were one of the lowest on the power rankings after Week 1.
"This game can humble you really quick so maybe it was a good thing that it happened the way it did starting out the season."
Lambeau Field hosted a Week 17 matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, Jan. 2, 2022.
It's hard to argue that now, just as there's no denying that putting themselves in this position is the best thing for the Packers, no matter what happened last year.
It doesn't guarantee anything, of course, but Lambeau Field in January is the most favorable place for this team to take its postseason chances. They're the only team in the league to go undefeated at home this season, and they're 24-3 at home, including playoffs, since LaFleur took the reins.
They've also got an MVP quarterback, a star receiver on a Hall of Fame track, a dynamic 1-2 punch in the backfield, an opportunistic defense that has contributed to a plus-16 turnover margin, and a special-teams unit that seems to have settled down after a series of rough patches.
They have everything they need, with a possible personnel boost or two coming, and they know they'll have the crowd this time. Get Mother Nature to cooperate and the stage will be set.
"It's just one step at a time," running back AJ Dillon said. "We've been going week by week. Don't change up the formula now. Just stick to what we know, stick to what we've been doing, and I think we'll be successful."