Julio Cortez, Associated Press
The unbeaten Green Bay Packers have had some close calls this season, but I get the feeling that the rest of the league isn't the reigning world champions' real competition in the next couple of months.
Instead, it's history.
Green Bay can cement its legacy as one of the league's best teams of all-time in a couple of ways. Obviously, seven more victories and the Packers become the first team in league history to go 19-0. Another title for Titletown and the Pack become the eighth team in NFL history to repeat as Super Bowl champions.
If history is any indication — at least in my mind — getting to the Super Bowl and winning it are foregone conclusions.
Getting there follows a trend, as the Packers have played in back-to-back Super Bowls the other times they've made it there. They followed up a Super Bowl I win over the Kansas City Chiefs with a Super Bowl II victory over the Oakland Raiders. A mere 29 years later, they beat the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI before falling to John Elway and the Broncos in Super Bowl XXXII.
If the Packers follow this trend and reach the Super Bowl, history favors a win — again, at least in my mind. The reason for this is because of Green Bay's similarities to two other teams that repeated as Super Bowl champions — the 1989 San Francisco 49ers and 1998 Denver Broncos.
The 1988 49ers' playoff hopes were on life support late in the year, as they were 6-5 and in dire need of Joe Montana heating up just to reach the postseason. Montana and the Niners did just that, winning four straight to qualify for the playoffs before losing a meaningless game to the Rams in the final week of the regular season.
In the playoffs, the Niners gained revenge against the Vikings, a team that eliminated them from the postseason the previous season. They defeated the Bears in a frigid NFC title game before beating the Bengals in an all-time classic in Super Bowl XXIII.
San Francisco was almost unstoppable the following season, going 14-2 and outscoring three playoff opponents 126-26.
The '97 Broncos were never in danger of missing the playoffs, but they went cold late in the regular season, suffering tough losses to the Chiefs, 49ers and Steelers. But they refocused, naming their playoff push Revenge Tour '97 and beat the Jaguars (who eliminated them from the playoffs the previous season), Chiefs and Steelers before facing the Packers in the Super Bowl. I'll never forget the eerie feeling I had before Super Bowl XXXII that the Broncos were a team of destiny.
The next season, Denver won its first 13 games before losing to the Kent Graham-led (Kent Graham!) Giants. The Broncos lost again to the Dolphins the following week and suddenly seemed beatable. Again, they regrouped and captured a second straight world title.
The Packers went through a similar plight as the 49ers' and Broncos' first back-to-back Super Bowl winners. I thought their postseason chances were dead after Aaron Rodgers got hurt and they lost to the lowly Lions to drop to 8-5 last year. But after narrowly losing to the Patriots the following week, they started their current 18-game winning streak, capturing a fourth Lombardi Trophy along the way. They even gained some revenge against the Eagles (for the 4th-and-26 game), Falcons (for a loss in the regular season), Bears (just for being the Bears) and Steelers (for a regular season loss the previous year).
If the historical trends hold up, that would leave going undefeated as Green Bay's last major feat to accomplish this season. It's too early to tell if the Packers will go for it, as it could depend on injuries and how soon they clinch homefield advantage. And if Rodgers gets hurt, all bets are off.
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