'Three difficult games' await Packers in playoff quest

Trip to Miami on short week starts late-season gauntlet

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GREEN BAY – Sandwiched around their bye week, the Packers have beaten two teams, the Bears and Rams, whose seasons are going nowhere.

Now the real work begins.

If the Packers are going to win out to get to 9-8 and give themselves a shot at a playoff spot, they'll have to beat a Dolphins team in the thick of the AFC wild-card chase, a Vikings team that has clinched the NFC North and is hunting the conference's No. 2 seed, and a Lions team fighting for its first postseason berth in six years.

"They're all good football teams," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said following the 24-12 Monday night triumph over the Rams at Lambeau Field. "Miami's playing for the playoffs. Minnesota's obviously division winners and coming off a big win. Detroit's won, what, six out of seven, they're playing really well. So it's going to be three difficult games."

This Packers team believes it can win out, though, for a few different reasons.

First, other than All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari, they're the healthiest they've been all season.

Second, they've compiled a cumulative 20-minute time of possession advantage over their last two wins, a good formula for helping an up-and-down defense.

Third, a rookie draft class they've been counting on is going full speed ahead, as its fingerprints were all over this latest victory.

Receivers Romeo Doubs and Christian Watson combined for nine catches and 101 yards. Zach Tom filled in admirably again for Bakhtiari. Quay Walker had a sack, broke up two passes and forced a fumble. Kingsley Enagbare had a sack and deflected a pass as well. Devonte Wyatt chipped in with a half-sack and run stop.

That's a nice list of contributions from the 2022 draft class, and the Packers are going to need all of that and more to make the stretch run a memorable one.

"They've made some plays, for sure. Been a work in progress," Rodgers said of the rookie draft picks, before speaking more specifically about his receivers.

"Romes has always been a bit more polished as a route runner. Christian is just so explosive."

That's where the bulk of the excitement lies, on offense. Prior to Monday night, the Packers had scored 28 or more points in three of their previous four games, and they put up 24 against LA while kneeling on the 1-yard line to close the game out.

These last three games, the Packers will be facing offenses with a lot more punch and panache than the Bears and Rams, so they'll need Rodgers & Co. to really get rolling.

See scenes from the Monday night matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Los Angeles Rams at Lambeau Field on Dec. 19, 2022.

At 6-8, they'll still need help, too. The Seahawks got their seventh loss last Thursday and the Commanders took their sixth (with one tie) on Sunday night. The Lions have won to hold steady at seven losses, but the Packers can give them their eighth in Week 18.

"We've won two and just about everything we needed to happen has gone our way. Just about, right?" Rodgers said. "So, things are looking up."

Optimism abounds, and even with multiple teams to leap over to land a playoff spot, the Packers would grab a greater share of their competitors' attention by beating the Dolphins, who were 8-3 before a rough stretch of road games at the 49ers, Chargers and Bills produced a three-game losing streak.

Now Miami is coming back home for a Christmas day game in friendly confines and familiar weather, looking to get back on track.

"They've been a little up and down the last few weeks," Rodgers said. "Maybe we're catching them at a good time. We'll see."

Indeed we will. Two home games in the cold against division-rival dome teams would look awfully winnable if the Packers come back from Florida at 7-8.

"We know that we're in a one-game season from here on out, from here until the end of the year," LaFleur said. "So we've gotta take care of business."

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