On the first Saturday of every month, Mark will write about a topic of interest to Packers fans and the organization, and then answer five fan questions. Fans are encouraged to email Mark with their name and hometown at: *MurphyTakes5@packers.com.*
With our win over the Lions on Sunday night, we clinched the NFC North Division title and a spot in the NFL playoffs. By virtue of winning the division, we will host a home playoff game on Sunday afternoon against the New York Giants. It marked the fifth time in the last six years that we've won the division. Each season is different, and it is always great to win a division title, but I believe this title is the most gratifying. Given the way we were playing in the middle of the season (four consecutive losses), very few people outside of the organization gave us a chance to make the playoffs, let alone win the division. We are going into the playoffs playing our best football of the year, and will be a tough out.
We are very excited to be playing at home this weekend. First, a home playoff game is a huge economic boon to the local community. The estimated economic impact of an extra home game is between $14 and $16 million – not a big impact in New York City, but significant for Green Bay. As a community-owned team, a key priority for us is to give back to the community. One of the best ways we can help the local community is to host extra games. With the LSU-Wisconsin game in September and now the home playoff game, this has been a very good season for local businesses.
Second, we have a great home-field advantage at Lambeau Field. We have tremendous fan support, and our familiarity with the January weather and grass surface works to our advantage. We're 6-2 at home this year, and we've played our best in the last two home wins against Seattle and Minnesota.
It should be exciting at Lambeau Field on Sunday afternoon. We ended the season with six straight wins and look to continue this momentum as we head into the playoffs. Let's hope that January proves to be as exciting as December.
Now, on to your questions:
Tony from Chappaqua, NY
Do you think it is fair that the Giants have more wins than the Packers, but have to play on the road at Lambeau Field on Sunday?
Yes, I do think it is fair, Tony, although I admit that I am a little biased in this specific situation. While we do have fewer wins, we won our division, and I think it is important for the league to put a priority on winning the division and reward division winners with home playoff games. Actually, there was a proposal several years ago to seed all playoff teams based solely on wins. The proposal failed for the reasons stated above, as well as a sense that it is important for fans to know that if their team wins the division, they will have at least one home game. We are certainly glad this year that the proposal failed.
Eric from Cincinnati, OH
Any prospect for a conference and divisional realignment? Much as I respect the divisional rivals, I would be intrigued by maybe Denver, Kansas City, Minnesota, Green Bay or Chicago, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Green Bay. Maybe new divisions with two former NFC and two AFC where practical. Under the current 32-team structure you can see that a "grand cycle" of inter-conference and intra-conference opponents with equal home and road happens every 24 seasons. Tough to give up old rivalries, but new challenges are great also.
*Good question, Eric. I think it is highly unlikely that any realignment will take place in the near future, especially conference-related realignment. The NFL is very concerned with the history and tradition of the league, and so much of that is based on the great rivalries. It would be a shame, for instance, for the Bears and Packers not to play every year. The league also likes to have the teams in each division geographically close to each other to minimize travel time for division games. Most of the realignments that have taken place over the years have been related to either expansion or relocation. Seattle moved to the NFC when the league expanded in 2002, as part of the move to eight, four-team divisions, four in each conference. With the Rams' recent relocation from St. Louis to Los Angeles, it actually helped reduce the travel times for teams in the NFC West. Television can also play a factor in realignment. Last year, when there was a chance that both the Chargers and Raiders would move to Los Angeles, there was concern that it would not be good to have two AFC teams in the same city (and stadium). *
Matt from Mukwonago, WI
Mark, I'm so excited for the Titletown District. What are some of the important dates that I need to keep in mind as I plan my future trips and vacations there?
*We're excited as well, Matt. We've put so much time and effort into the planning of Titletown, it will be very gratifying to see our plans become reality. I'm also excited to see the impact that Titletown will have on the local community. Fortunately, the weather cooperated with us this fall, and all three of the initial tenants should be able to open on time. Hinterland is on schedule to open in April, while Lodge Kohler and the Bellin Health Sports Medicine Clinic will open in July. The first part of the public park should open before the start of training camp, and the sledding hill and skating rink and trail should open by mid-November. It is too early now to estimate when the second phase of Titletown (which will include offices, retail, restaurants and residential) will open. *
A question from Josh
Mark, do you think the Russians hacked the first half of your season?
Very interesting theory, Josh. I've heard a lot of explanations for our struggles earlier this year, but that's a first. I'm just glad we are playing better now, Comrade.
Katie from De Pere, WI
What's your favorite aspect of a home playoff game weekend?
I love the atmosphere at home playoff games, especially here at Lambeau Field. With so much at stake (win or go home, survive and advance), fans, players and coaches all approach these games with an extra sense of urgency. You can just feel the electricity in the stadium. My favorite memories from my playing days were home playoff games at RFK Stadium. In a divisional round playoff game one year, we beat the Vikings, and at the end of the game, the whole crowd started chanting "We want Dallas." Well, they got Dallas in the NFC Championship Game the next week and the crowd was so energized that the stadium literally started shaking (from fans jumping up and down on the temporary bleachers behind our bench) as we beat the Cowboys to advance to Super Bowl XVII. I'm confident that our crowd will be a huge factor in the game on Sunday.