GREEN BAY—The playoffs are upon us and the Packers are getting a barnburner right out of the gate.
The 49ers are the defending NFC champions and a team many believe is headed back to the Super Bowl for the second straight year. The Packers also faced the defending conference champs in the opening round in 2009 in Arizona. It was just a tad warmer for that game.
Packer Nation hopes this wild-card round is just the beginning, of course, and recent league history shows plenty of reason to believe it could be.
While the top two seeds in each conference – Seattle and Carolina in the NFC, Denver and New England in the AFC – are enjoying their byes this weekend, know this: In seven of the past eight years, a team playing on wild-card weekend has advanced to the Super Bowl, and six of those seven times that team has won it all.
That eight-year stretch began in 2005 with Pittsburgh, as the No. 6 seed in the AFC went on to win the Super Bowl, and the champions from that period include, of course, Green Bay three years ago.
It's all about getting hot in January, and should the Packers beat the 49ers, they'll likely be a trendy hot-team pick in this postseason.
Where the Packers would go for the divisional round, however, would depend on the other NFC wild-card game being played on Saturday night.
If Philadelphia defeats New Orleans, a Green Bay win would send the Packers west into the gray, damp and deafening din of Seattle's CenturyLink Field, where the top-seeded Seahawks have lost only one game in the last two seasons – if you don't count the "Fail Mary" game in Week 3 of 2012.
If the Saints beat the Eagles, however, a Packers win would send them east to the more friendly climes of Charlotte, but to a potentially raucous Bank of America Stadium that hasn't hosted a playoff game since 2008. Ask Tom Brady and the Patriots, who were Carolina's first Monday night visitor in quite some time earlier this season, how tough it is to play there with the crowd behind their team.
(Update: The Saints beat the Eagles, so the Packers-49ers winner will travel to Carolina next Sunday for the divisional round.)
What a choice. The Seahawks have been the NFC front-runners all season and are playoff tested from a year ago, while the Panthers are the up-and-comers with the latest new-era quarterback to come of age in Cam Newton.
Does Packer Nation have a preference?
Here's one way to look at it: If it's assumed the Packers will need to beat the Seahawks at some point to win the NFC title, recent history says the odds of knocking off the top dog are better in the divisional round than in the championship game.
Looking again at the eight-year stretch dating back to 2005, No. 1 seeds in both conferences are just 8-8 in the divisional round following their bye, but they're 6-2 in conference title games. That's a .500 winning percentage vs. .750. Considering the Saints got blown out earlier this season in Seattle, it might be best to catch the Seahawks right after the bye.
Then, again, there's no point in worrying about it. After the Saints-Eagles game on Saturday night, the Packers will know where they're headed should they win, but that knowledge won't help them win.
One step at a time.
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