If the Green Bay Packers go on to win Super Bowl XLIX, Week 11 will be seen as the turning point of their season. In the weeks prior, the Packers played well but left many questions unanswered. Many observers wondered whether they simply feasted on weak opponents while wilting against top shelf competition. Some saw a weak defense carried by the otherworldly play of Aaron Rodgers. Though Green Bay is far from a finished product, the team's 53-20 rout of the Philadelphia Eagles leave little doubt as to its bona fides as a true title contender in 2014.
In the short run, the victory places the Packers into a tie for the division lead. However, the win has far greater long-term impact on Green Bay and the NFC as a whole.
Green Bay's signature win defined by more than just opponent
With little question, the Packers' 53-20 dismantling of the NFC East-leading Eagles has instantly become the defining moment of their season to date. The victory pushes Green Bay onto equal footing with the Detroit Lions as far as record is concerned and further reinforces the notion that even great teams visiting Lambeau should expect a bloodbath.
Yet that isn't what makes Sunday's victory the Packers' signature win.
One of the most telling and therefore significant characteristics of a football team is its ability to dominate opponents as opposed to pulling out close games. The latter are far too often determined by factors beyond the control of the team itself, such as a botched penalty call from the refs, a fumble recovery (which is largely random), or a multitude of other external forces. While any one of them can flip the outcome of a game, they don't really indicate much about the teams themselves. On the contrary, clubs that dominate opponents eliminate the impact of those random acts by creating considerable margin for error. By and large, those are the teams competing for a championship in February.
And by virtue of the Packers' latest exploits, they have collected their fifth such dominating win of the season. Their first came in Week 4 over the Chicago Bears, a 38-17 rout of their longtime archrival. Green Bay picked up another the following week against the Minnesota Vikings 42-10. The next came in Week 7, a 38-17 curbstomp of the hapless Carolina Panthers. The Packers then embarrassed the Bears once more, this time at Lambeau by a score of 55-14, followed by Sunday's game.
A pattern is now emerging. Of Green Bay's seven wins, five were slaughters of biblical proportions. With over half the regular season already played out, it appears increasingly likely that this version of the team -- the one that decimates its opposition -- is indeed the true identity of the Packers.
Dom Capers' defense enjoyed its finest hour since Super Bowl XLV
When previewing Sunday's matchup, the middle of the Packers' front seven stood out as the team's biggest concern. More specifically, the ability of the Letroy Guion-led front to stifle an opposing running game left a lot to be desired even if the recent returns suggested improvement. Here's the full explanation:
Though the NBC broadcast made it seem as though Clay Matthews was making a colossal shift to inside linebacker, this is actually something that he's done in the past to a lesser degree. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers moved Matthews around a lot in 2009 and 2010 when the Packers had more playmakers around the defense, but left him mostly at right outside linebacker for the past few seasons. Now with Julius Peppers roaming around and rookie safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix making an impact, Capers feels more comfortable shifting Matthews around again.
As for whether this fixes the run defense, it's a little early to jump to that conclusion. The Bears certainly didn't post any big rushing numbers last week, but that had more to with Marc Trestman abandoning the run game after Green Bay sprinted out to a multi-touchdown lead in the first quarter.
Though the Eagles had struggled running the ball relative to last season, LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles presented viable threats to the Packers' defense. It made sense given Chip Kelly's track record of finding and exploiting weakness that Philadelphia's ground game would seriously challenge Green Bay.
Instead, the Eagles barely topped 100 yards as a group and averaged a mere 3.5 yards a carry, an inspiring performance by Dom Capers' defense. Moreover, it looks even more impressive when considering how the Packers similarly stopped Matt Forte and the Bears rushing attack a week earlier. The move of Clay Matthews to inside linebacker on early downs appears to have reinvigorated a moribund run defense while actually increasing the All-Pro's productivity as a pass rusher. Meanwhile, Julius Peppers is enjoying his best season since 2012, his last as an All-Pro. His latest pick six provides ample evidence that the linebacker's freakish athleticism remains intact after 13 years in the NFL. Though the sample size is still too small to fully judge, Capers has his defense playing its best football since 2010. That of course was the season Green Bay won its last Super Bowl.
A top two seed in the postseason now a realistic goal
The win over Philadelphia wasn't the only thing that broke the Packers' way on Sunday. The Arizona Cardinals shut down the Lions 14-6, never trailing at any point in the game. Elsewhere, the Kansas City Chiefs endured a back-and-forth battle with the Seattle Seahawks, ultimately emerging with a 24-20 victory over the defending champs. These two games produced a wide-open path for Green Bay to secure a top two seed in the NFC playoff picture and a postseason bye.
The Packers' remaining schedule includes only two teams with a winning record, the New England Patriots and the Lions. While both dangerous opponents, those contests will take place at Lambeau Field where Green Bay has outscored teams by a combined 219-85 and remains undefeated in 2014. Meanwhile, they now stand in a three-way tie with the Eagles, Lions, and Dallas Cowboys for second place in the conference.
Other than the 9-1 Cardinals, no NFC team possesses an easier path the rest of the way than the Packers. Dallas and Philadelphia each play three games against opponents with winning records (including two against each other) while Detroit plays New England and Green Bay on the road. The Seahawks currently have a worse record than all of those clubs, and they don't play another team currently with a .500 record or worse until December 28. Though either the Atlanta Falcons or New Orleans Saints will make the playoffs, neither currently possesses a winning record and, like the rest of the NFC South, have played mostly terrible football.
With the Packers offense performing as well as it did during their record-setting 2011 campaign and the defense steadily establishing itself as an above-average unit, few teams appear to have a higher ceiling. By securing a postseason bye and the right to play one or more playoff games at Lambeau, Green Bay could very well earn its second Super Bowl appearance of the Rodgers-McCarthy era.