The Packers look to clinch home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs Sunday when they visit the struggling Kansas City Chiefs, who have a new coach and quarterback. A week after clinching the NFC North, Green Bay (13-0) secured a first-round playoff bye with last Sunday's 46-16 victory over Oakland. The Packers won their 19th straight game - the second-longest streak in NFL history - and can become the fourth team to go 14-0 if they defeat Kansas City. A win would also give Green Bay the top seed in the NFC, leaving the potential to go 16-0 as the last remaining goal for the final two regular season games.
The Packers had little trouble against the Raiders, leading 31-0 by halftime and winning easily enough that quarterback Aaron Rodgers got an early rest. While the loss of Rodgers' favorite target Greg Jennings is obviously a bit of an obstacle, Green Bay - which leads the league in scoring average (35.8) and has already set a franchise record with 466 points - has plenty of other offensive options. Fifteen Packers have scored at least one offensive touchdown, and Rodgers has hooked up with nine receivers for scores.
Jordy Nelson has 51 catches and team highs of 957 yards and 10 touchdowns, while tight end Jermichael Finley has 42 receptions for 600 yards and six TDs. Rodgers also pointed to James Jones and rookie wide receiver Randall Cobb as players he expects to help make up for Jennings' absence. Of course, McCarthy feels confident about his other receivers in part because he knows his quarterback is fully capable of making plays. Rodgers, who leads the NFL with 39 touchdowns and a 123.3 passer rating, is trying to become the first quarterback in NFL history to throw multiple TD passes in 14 consecutive games. He also needs just one more touchdown pass to establish a single-season franchise record.
While McCarthy, Rodgers and the rest of the Packers are gearing up for a possible second straight Super Bowl run, the Chiefs (5-8) are essentially looking to ahead to next season. Although still mathematically alive in a weak AFC West, Kansas City fired coach Todd Haley a day after Sunday's 37-10 loss to the New York Jets and has replaced him with defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel. Despite Haley's offensive background, his Chiefs ranked 28th in total offense (293.8 yards per game) and 31st in scoring (13.3). Season-ending injuries to All-Pro running back Jamaal Charles, quarterback Matt Cassel and tight end Tony Moeaki have hampered Kansas City. Crennel now has the difficult challenge of getting a team that has lost five of six to knock off the Packers.
He has decided to drop Tyler Palko from starting quarterback to third string after he led the Chiefs to only two touchdowns in four games since taking over for Cassel. Kyle Orton will start Sunday unless an injury to his right index finger on his throwing hand causes him problems, and in that case rookie Ricky Stanzi would get the call for the first time in his career. Claimed off waivers from Denver during Thanksgiving week, Orton dislocated his finger in his only play as a member of the Chiefs two weeks ago at Chicago. The Packers lead the NFL with 27 interceptions - nine more than any other team including three off Orton in a 49-23 victory over the Broncos in Week 4.
While losing Jennings will result in a fairly significant setback, Rodgers versaility and brass will give him more multiple options for completions. Ryan Grant could get on track running the football which might take some pressure off the MVP candidate as well as the urgency, but the Packers should avoid a letdown at all costs against a sub-.500 team in upheaval -- clinching home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs and moving one win closer to the perfect season.