When the Packers fell to 3-6 after a Week 9 loss in Detroit, Aaron Rodgers still liked their chances. He wasn't walking around saying it, but he believed that if they could just win one of their next three games against the Titans, Cowboys and Eagles, "We could win the last five and 9-8 was going to get in," Rodgers said Sunday after the Packers routed the Vikings to pull within a win of the playoffs.
Standing in the way of Rodgers' vision: the Lions at Lambeau in Week 18.
"In my head, that’s what I was thinking," Rodgers said. "Felt like we were going to beat the Bears, Rams at home was a good matchup for us, Miami was a wild card I thought, and then the last two at home I thought would be winnable even though Minnesota’s obviously had a really good season. Dome teams in the winter and just the way we’ve played over the years in December and January, our record’s pretty damn good with me starting."
The Lions could tell you that. They lost to Rodgers and the Packers with the division on the line in the season finale in 2014 and 2016, the latter a Sunday night game in Detroit. Their next showdown, which could also be flexed to Sunday night, will decide the final NFC wild card spot: the Packers are in with a win, the Lions are in with a win and a Seahawks' loss.
After his first clash with Detroit this season in which he was picked off three times, Rodgers walked away saying, "We can’t lose a game like that against that team." He was singing a different tune Sunday.
"We’ve played in a couple of those Sunday night games against the Lions over the years, but it’s not the Same Old Lions," Rodgers said. "They were 1-6 at one point and they’ve come all the way back to 8-8. There will be a lot on the line for both teams and it’ll be exciting to line up against them."
Rodgers has long tormented the Lions, often with a grin. Just two weeks ago, he was asked after a win on Monday Night Football what he thought of the Packers' playoff chances knowing they needed to win out with three games looming against over-.500 opponents. At the time, the Lions were 7-7.
"Well, one of them’s at .500 right now," Rodgers said with a smirk.
The Lions apparently heard him.
"Aaron Rodgers, he talked a little smack," linebacker and rookie sensation James Houston said after the Lions dispatched the Bears on Sunday.
Asked if he was referring to Rodgers' .500 comment, Houston said, "Yeah, yeah, a little smack, you know, but that’s football. But I don’t think he knows how close we’ve become as a team and how we’ve grown with each other these last few weeks, so it’s going to be a really good game."
Did fellow rookie Aidan Hutchinson hear the smack?
"Yeah, it’s Aaron Rodgers, he’ll throw in little jabs in his interviews. That’s Aaron, so it’s whatever," Hutchinson said. "We’re rolling and we’re playing our best ball, so we’re going to get after it."
(One Lions player who didn't hear the smack? Rodgers' former teammate Jamaal Williams, who said, "I don't watch TV, I don't care, I just want to play football and go home and play Pokemon." Never change, Jamaal.)
At any rate, the stage is set for another January showdown between the Packers and the Lions. Who could have seen it coming two months ago when the two teams were a combined 5-12? Who but Aaron Rodgers.
"We’re becoming a more dangerous team," he said. "We’ve all seen some of the commentary outside as we went from 4-8 to 5-8 and 6-8 and ‘Nobody’s worried about the Packers and blah blah blah blah blah.’ Now what are they going to say?"
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