Packers eager for fast start to season with divisional showdown at Minnesota

Aaron Rodgers has won the division only once without Green Bay going 5-1 or better in the NFC North
Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers smiles during NFL football training camp Saturday, Aug. 15,...
Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers smiles during NFL football training camp Saturday, Aug. 15, 2020, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)(Morry Gash | AP)
Published: Sep. 9, 2020 at 9:15 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - As the Green Bay Packers get set to start their 2020 regular season at the rival Minnesota Vikings, it’s worth taking stock of just how important divisional games are to achieving NFL goals.

The Packers path to the playoff certainly runs through the NFC North. You may think that is either obvious, or an over-simplification. But it’s really not.

In Aaron Rodgers' 12 years as a starter, the Packers have won 6 division crowns. But they’ve had to go 5-1 or better in the NFC North to win all but one of those titles. 2013 was the only outlier, when Green Bay went 3-2-1 in the division, and 8-7-1 overall to win the North.

Last year? The Packers were a perfect 6-0 within the NFC North. Strangely enough, their only division win by more than one score came at U.S. Bank Stadium, where Green Bay notched their first in in 4 tries in a victory.

Rodgers understands the reality of needing a fast start in the division with a win on Sunday.

“They have always been important,” Rodgers said of games within the division. “The best way to ensure a playoff spot is to dominate your division. We have made the playoffs without winning the division as well, but it is definitely the easiest way to secure a home playoff spot. It’s always been very important. I think the NFC North has always been characterized by a lot of really strong defenses and elite players, especially on that side of the ball.”

Coach Matt LaFleur was busy thinking small picture though on Wednesday.

“We’re not focused on anything other than what’s in front of us,” LaFleur said. “It’s going to be tough going into somebody else’s stadium whether there are fans or no fans. That’s a playoff football team that was right there with us at the end of the season. They went down to New Orleans and beat New Orleans and came up short against the Niners, which we did the same. So we have a heck of a task in front of us.”

The Packers prep for the season opener picked up Wednesday with the game plans being put in place on the practice field. But Green Bay no longer has to prepare for the Vikings' vaunted pass rusher Danielle Hunter, who was placed on I.R. late Wednesday afternoon.

But while the Packers won’t have to face Hunter, and the Vikings secondary won’t be the same without departed corners Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes, All-Pro safety Harrison Smith remains. And the 9-year vet has every ounce of Rodgers' respect.

“I was looking at it the other day and couldn’t believe this is his 9th season,” Rodgers said. "It feels like it has gone by kinda fast. I still remember the first time we went against him. I think somehow he is an underrated player in this league. He has been so consistent for them for so many years and does so many things that most safeties don’t do. I mean he can play in the box and tackle, he can blitz and be effective. He can obviously play the post and has great ball skills. He can force fumbles. He can tackle. He has done it all for a long time. I have a lot of respect for his game and I enjoy our battles.

On the injury front in Green Bay, there was pretty good news on Wednesday. Hybrid safety/linebacker Raven Greene was back at practice, as was defensive lineman Montravious Adams.

Offensive lineman Billy Turner and outside linebacker Randy Ramsey remained the only 2 players missing from the workouts.

Rodgers admits this season still feels unusual due to COVID-19, but Wednesday brought a little bit of a return to normalcy.

“I felt like I was in a rhythm from the moment I stepped on the field,” Rodgers said “And I wanted to kind of lead with some energy today to kind of set the tone that game weeks are different than training camp. It was definitely the first time, I think for me, that the realness of this kind of set in and the understanding that now it does matter. Hopefully, the rest of the guys don’t take until Sunday to have that same feeling because I know it’s been strange for all of us.”

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