With division title in hand, Packers seeking NFC’s top seed

National Sports

Now that they’ve clinched their third straight NFC North title, the Green Bay Packers can turn their focus to claiming the conference’s top seed and lone first-round playoff bye.

The Packers could use the extra week of rest at the start of the postseason. Star quarterbackAaron Rodgers is playing through a toe injury and several other notable players are sidelined as the Packers head into the stretch run of the regular season.

”Having an extra week, I think would be really great for my toe,” Rodger said Sunday after the Packers’ 31-30 road victory over the Baltimore Ravens.”I mean, that would be fantastic – to get another week. And then, the fact that we can win two home playoff games and make it to the Super Bowl.”

Green Bay (11-3) has a one-game lead over Arizona, Dallas and Tampa Bay in the race to earn the NFC’s top regular-season record. The Packers host Cleveland and Minnesota and visit Detroit in their final three games.

”There are a lot of advantages to getting the No. 1 seed in terms of getting that week off and then having every playoff game come through your home stadium,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said Monday. ”We all know the advantages of Lambeau and the climate that we play in.”

The Packers know all too well that a No. 1 seed doesn’t guarantee anything.

They had the NFC’s top seed last season, but suffered their second straight NFC championship game loss, a 31-26 home setbackagainst the eventual Super Bowl champion Buccaneers.

But that No. 1 seed and first-round playoff bye certainly would help a team that has needed to withstand major injuries all season.

Rodgers has thrown 13 touchdown passes without an interception over his past four games despite playing with a toe injury that has dramatically reduced his practice time. Rodgers says he fractured his left pinkie toewhile working out at home last month during his quarantine after a positive COVID-19 test.

He’s working behind a line missing most of its usual starters.

Knee injuries have sidelined 2020 All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari, 2020 Pro Bowl selection Elgton Jenkins. rookie center Josh Myers and right tackle Billy Turner. Bakhtiari hasn’t played all season.

The receiving group is missing wideout Randall Cobb (core) and tight end Robert Tonyan (knee).

Green Bay’s defense has played most of the season without outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith (back) and cornerback Jaire Alexander (shoulder).

All those players other than Jenkins and Tonyan are still hoping to return as the Packers chase their first Super Bowl berth since their 2010 championship season.

WHAT’S WORKING

The Packers have averaged 38.7 points during their three-game winning streak and scored at least 31 points in each of those games. That follows a seven-game stretch in which they never exceeded 27 points. The emergence of Marquez Valdes-Scantling on Sunday and Allen Lazard the previous week show the Packers have other receiving options when defenses focus on containing Davante Adams.

WHAT NEEDS WORK

Green Bay’s special-team woes continue. The Packers committed three special-teams penalties with interference on a fair-catch attempt, a hold on a kickoff return and a delay of game on a punt.

The defense struggled to contain Baltimore quarterback Tyler Huntley, who threw two touchdown passes and rushed for 73 yards and two more scores while filling in for an injured Lamar Jackson.

STOCK UP

Valdes-Scantling had five catches for 98 yards and a touchdown. One week after having 16 tackles in a 45-30 victory over the Chicago Bears, Campbell had 10 tackles and a sack.

STOCK DOWN

Isaac Yiadom’s penalty for interfering with a punt returner on a fair catch attempt enabled Baltimore to start its first touchdown drive in Packers territory.

Darnell Savage was a candidate for this list after struggling to cover Ravens TE Mark Andrews all day, but the safety redeemed himself when he appeared to deflect a 2-point conversion pass attempt to Andrews that would have put Baltimore ahead in the final minute.

INJURIES

DT Kenny Clark didn’t play after getting placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list earlier in the week.

NUMBERS

442 – Touchdown passes by Rodgers,tying Brett Favre for the most in franchise history.

NEXT STEPS

Green Bay has a short week to prepare for Saturday’s game with Cleveland, which marks the Packers’ first Christmas Day game since a 35-21 victory over the Chicago Bears in 2011. The Browns will have even less time to get ready, as they’ll be coming off a Monday game against the Las Vegas Raiders.

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