With Green Bay, anything is possible
Foles has Philadelphia on the rise
It was Week 17 of the 2010-2011 NFL season. The Bears were in Green Bay to close out the regular season against the rival Packers. Chicago had already clinched the NFC North title and the No. 2 seed in the conference, while Green Bay needed a win to grab the sixth and final playoff spot.
Cold, wet and surrounded by Packers fans, I watched as my hometown team fell to Green Bay 10-3. The Bears had a chance to eliminate the Packers from the postseason altogether, but they couldn't do it. "No big deal," I said. The Bears had already won the division, so the game meant nothing to them.
Fast-forward three weeks. The Packers had defeated the Eagles and Falcons to earn a spot in the NFC Championship Game -- at Soldier Field, against the Bears. Despite being a wild-card team, on the road, against the division champions, Green Bay won 21-14 and went on to win the Super Bowl.
The Bears saw Green Bay's never-say-die spirit come back to bite them again this season. With Aaron Rodgers sidelined by injury, the Packers dropped to 5-6-1. With just four games remaining, it looked a two-team battle between the Bears and Lions for the division title.
But a late-season collapse by Detroit resulted in a winner-takes-all regular-season finale between the Bears and Packers, and wouldn't you know it, Rodgers returned to lead Green Bay to a 33-28 victory at Soldier Field. Safe to say, not many Bears fans were surprised.
And that's why, with Rodgers leading the Packers on Sunday at Lambeau, there's not a chance that I'd put money on San Francisco. And I say that despite knowing all of these things:
• Kaepernick boasts 895 total yards and seven touchdowns in his two career starts against Green Bay.
• San Francisco has won six straight heading into the matchup.
• The Packers' defense is abysmal.
• Clay Matthews is out with a thumb injury, Eddie Lacy is fighting a right foot/ankle injury, and Rodgers and Randall Cobb are both rusty after lengthy absences.
On paper, it looks like the Niners will win this one in a runaway, but take it from a burned Bears fan: When it comes to the Packers, anything can happen.
In the past three years, all of the eventual Super Bowl champions have played in a wild-card game. In the 2011-2012 season, it was the unlikely Giants, who squeaked into the wild-card round and then ended up Victor Cruz-ing to a title.
So there are two kinds of teams that can often be found playing in the opening round: those who get in based on the relative weakness of the teams competing for spots, like the Chargers this season, and stronger teams who underperformed based on circumstances such as injuries. For example, Green Bay this season.
It would be easy to pick the Packers, with their dashingly refreshed quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, and a pedigree that includes the 2011 world championship. But they are a favorite masquerading as an upstart. So I'm going to choose one of those long shots: the Eagles
See, the Eagles might end up being this year's version of the Giants, while Green Bay, San Francisco and the Saints were strong preseason favorites who needed a playoff spot to justify their perennial contender status.
Philadelphia won seven of its last eight games to close out 2013, finishing 10-6.
The Eagles are playing well with Nick Foles at quarterback. He's like a ganglier version of Colin Kaepernick, last year's ascendant QB.
Like Kaepernick was last season, Foles is in his second year in the NFL and had the bulk of his freshman year to learn from a veteran quarterback, in his case Michael Vick.
Sure, it's not as cool as leaping into your starting job out of the draft, but apparently it still works.
Imagine the Eagles in the Super Bowl. I-95 would be packed with caravans of fans from Philadelphia on Sunday morning who would have no issue sitting through the windy, 20-degree temperatures -- an average February night for MetLife Stadium. Bring it on, lousy weather. Eagles fans have endured worse.