Aaron Rodgers and the Packers look determined to secure the top seed in the NFC.
The Packers, behind a near-perfect first half from Green Bay at Lambeau Field on Saturday night, cruised past the Carolina Panthers 24-16 to grab their fourth-straight win — which keeps them in the driver’s seat to claim the lone playoff bye.
Panthers struggle to slow Green Bay early
The Panthers couldn’t seem to find a way to slow the Packers’ offense down in the first half. Green Bay scored a touchdown on each of its first three drives of the game, quickly amassing a 21-3 lead.
Rodgers — after the Packers forced a Panthers punt instantly — led a big 81-yard drive he capped with a one-yard touchdown toss to tight end Robert Tonyan to put them on the board first. That touchdown throw marked his 40th of the season, which officially made him the first quarterback in league history to accomplish that feat three different times.
Rodgers then brought back the classic discount double check celebration after scrambling for a six yard score himself on their next drive.
Teddy Bridgewater and the Panthers had a shot to find the end zone to kick off the second quarter, too, after running a 65-yard drive down to the one-yard line.
Yet when Bridgewater ran a quarterback sneak to try and dive in for a score, the ball was swatted out of his hands and ran back by Kevin King 48 yards.
With great field position in hand, running back Aaron Jones converted an eight-yard run for a touchdown just minutes later to give them an 18-point lead — which they carried into the break. Jones racked up 114 yards on the ground in the first half while averaging 9.5 yards per carry.
Though the Packers’ offense stalled a bit in the second half, and the Panthers cut it to just single digits after a field goal and a 13-yard Bridgewater touchdown run, it was too late. A 51-yard field goal from Mason Crosby and a defensive stand limiting the Panthers to a field goal of their own secured the eight-point win for Green Bay.
How the Packers can claim NFC playoff race
With a new playoff format this year, only one team in each conference can claim a first round bye in the postseason.
The Packers are in a tremendous position to do that in the NFC — and, if they continue like they did on Saturday night, should have no issue pulling that off.
Green Bay entered this week holding the tiebreaker atop the NFC standings with the New Orleans Saints, and simply need to win out. They will host the Tennessee Titans next week before traveling to Chicago to close out the regular season with the Bears on Jan. 3.
The Saints will square up against the 12-1 Chiefs on Sunday, too, a matchup Packers fans will surely be rooting for Kansas City in.
While three other teams can still sneak in to grab the first round bye — the Los Angeles Rams, Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers — a lot would have to go right in order for that to happen.
But as long as Rodgers and Co. play like they did in the first half on Sunday night, they should have no issue.
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