Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 12/15/11
As the playoffs near, their potential participants become clearer, as four teams (Green Bay, San Francisco, New Orleans, Houston) have clinched playoff berths with three weeks left in the regular season. As the Packers approach perfection, Football Nation considers each team that would make the playoffs should they begin now, and if they have a chance to topple the Packers, whether in the NFC playoffs or in the Super Bowl.
 
NFC:

1) San Francisco 49ers: This would be an intriguing matchup, with the 49ers’ strengths being a strong running game and a stifling defense. But QB Alex Smith has not yet been challenged in a big game. Could the San Francisco offense keep pace with the Packers if the game got into a shootout?

2) New Orleans Saints: The Packers escaped Week One with a 42-34 win against the Saints at Lambeau, and nothing indicates that another game between the two would be any less of a nail-biter. The Packers have been challenged the most by veteran quarterbacks (the Saints’ Drew Brees, the Giants’ Eli Manning), which brings us to....

3) New York Giants: The Packers’ stiffest test thus far has arguably come against the Giants in Week 13. These two teams have developed a rivalry of late, after the Giants prevailed in the 2007 NFC Championship and the Packers beat New York last year, in a must-win game, to start their current winning streak. The difference has been the Packers defense. Can they stop Manning? Last year, yes. This year, no. The Packers still won both games.

4) Detroit Lions: The Lions proved that they were closer to pretenders than contenders with their Thanksgiving Day meltdown against the Packers, getting crushed 27-15 in a game that was not as close as the score indicates. Losers of five of their last eight – four of those to projected playoff teams – Detroit, once so promising at 5-0, look to be at least a year or two away from becoming serious contenders to the throne.

5) Atlanta Falcons: All offseason they stewed over their 48-21 playoff destruction at the hands of the Packers, yet it made no difference, as they were defeated again 25-14 by Green Bay – both games in Atlanta. Why should anyone think that the score would be closer in a game at Lambeau Field?
 
AFC:

1) Houston Texans: Yes, they would be the AFC’s #1 seed if the playoffs started today. But does anybody seriously think that they will make it to the Super Bowl on the arm of T.J. Yates?

2) Baltimore Ravens: They are a surprising 4-0 since LB Ray Lewis went out with a turf toe injury, but the Ravens are winning thanks to RB Ray Rice, the league’s fifth-leading rusher, and a defense allowing 278.1 yards per game, third-lowest in the league. For the Packers to beat Baltimore, they would need to neutralize Rice, who is also second in the league in receptions by a running back (after the Saints’ Darren Sproles).

3) New England Patriots: This is the matchup that most people probably want to see: the two best offenses against the two worst defenses, at least statistically. Would the final score be 55-49 in overtime? The defense that makes the most stops or forces the most turnovers would be the winner.

4) Denver Broncos: The key to Denver’s six-game winning streak has been their defense, keeping the game close enough for 55 minutes to allow for QB Tim Tebow’s heroics. Not enough about that defense has changed since the Packers’ 49-23 win on October 2nd. Broncos CB Champ Bailey was injured for that game, and Packers WR Greg Jennings wasn’t. Neither those differences nor Tebow’s presence in place of Kyle Orton can make up that 26-point difference.

5) Pittsburgh Steelers: 19thin points scored, 2ndin points allowed. This would have the potential of a low-scoring affair... were the Super Bowl not played on the fast field of Lucas Oil Stadium in Indy. One only needs to look at last year’s Super Bowl (31-25 Packers) to see how the scoring might be.

6) New York Jets: The Packers have had trouble with big running backs this year (see: the Packers’ attempts to tackle LeGarrette Blount in Week 11), and the 226-pound Shonn Greene could present a handful. Say what you will about Jets QB Mark Sanchez; he has proven to be a big-game player, going 4-2 as a playoff starter in his first two NFL seasons.
 

FINAL ANALYSIS

The greatest threats to the Packers and their quest for history appear to be teams that look to be able to keep pace with Aaron Rodgers' high-scoring crew: the NFC’s Saints and Giants, and the AFC’s Patriots.

Disagree? Leave a comment!  One thing is for sure.  No mater who the Packers line up against, it will certainly be Must See TV. 
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