Another “playoff game” on New Year’s Eve for the Packers

GREEN BAY – The math could allow the loser of Sunday night’s Packers-Vikings game to have some kind of complicated path to the playoffs, akin to a six-foot bet or a lottery ticket.

But for all intents and purposes it is a postseason game in itself. The winner lives, the loser is done. Avoiding elimination is the goal.

“It’s pretty much a playoff game,” defensive end Quay Walker said this week. “Not only that, it’s a rivalry game and both teams are trying to get to where we want to be at the end of the year. That would be a big win.”

It probably will be. In that sense, it’s perhaps fitting that most of Green Bay’s history of playing on New Year’s Eve — when regular seasons were shorter — is filled with postseason contests.

The first four times the Packers played on Dec. 31, the games were do-or-die postseason games. And the fifth almost became so. The latter was as forgettable as it was pointless.

Green Bay is 5-1 overall on Dec. 31 heading into US Bank Stadium on Sunday night. One week after you used this space to recap the Packers’ history on Christmas Eve, it’s only right to do the same for the previous games on New Year’s Eve. So here it is.

1961: Packers 37, Giants 0 (NFL Championship)

At City Stadium (still unnamed Lambeau Field), Paul Hornung scored 19 points with a touchdown, three field goals and four PATs, Bart Starr threw three TD passes (two to Ron Kramer) and Green Bay’s defense generated five first downs of five titles in the Vince Lombardi era were secured in convincing fashion.

1967: Packers 21, Cowboys 17 (NFL Championship)

The ice bowl. You may have heard that it was really cold and the QB’s sneak won the game. Two weeks later, the Packers won Super Bowl II, Lombardi’s fifth title and final game as head coach.

1994: Packers 16, Lions 12 (NFC Wild Card)

Another notable at Lambeau as the Packers held Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders to minus-1 yards on 13 carries. Dorsey Levens ran for a TD and Chris Jacke made three field goals, including a Packers postseason record (at the time) 51 yards.

Still, with Detroit trailing 16-3 in the fourth quarter, Wisconsin native Dave Krieg drove the Lions for a touchdown and got them to the 11-yard line on their final possession before a turnover on downs and an intentional safety sealed the game.

1995: Packers 37, Falcons 20 (NFC Wild Card)

On a foggy day in Green Bay, the Packers bounced back from Atlanta’s early 65-yard TD pass from Jeff George to Eric Metcalf. Rookie Antonio Freeman’s 76-yard punt return for a TD, Green Bay’s first-ever punt return for a score in the postseason, highlighted a commanding 27-10 halftime lead.

Edgar Bennett rushed for a (then) Packers postseason record 108 yards and a TD, and Brett Favre threw three TD passes as Green Bay earned a trip to San Francisco, where the Packers defeated the defending Super Bowl champions a week later.

2006: Packers 26, Bears 7

In primetime in the regular-season finale at Soldier Field, the Packers began the day with little chance of a playoff berth if a handful of plays had gone awry earlier in the day. That didn’t work out.

The Bears had the NFC’s No. 1 seed and home-field advantage, but played their starters in the first half anyway, and a surging Packers team dominated behind pick-sixes from Nick Collins and Patrick Dendy to take a 23-0 halftime lead.

The win allowed the Packers to end Mike McCarthy’s first season as head coach with a four-game winning streak after a 4-8 start, momentum that propelled them to a big season in 2007. Chicago eventually reached the franchise’s second Super Bowl , before losing to the Colts.

2017: Lions 35, Packers 11

With Green Bay out of the playoff race, QB Brett Hundley made his final start for the injured Aaron Rodgers (and his final appearance for the Packers, as it turned out) at Ford Field as the Lions finished the season with a winning record behind long TD passes Matthew Stafford to Kenny Golladay (54 yards) and Golden Tate (71 yards).

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