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Why the Packers are glad they got written off this season

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When Green Bay fell to 4-6 in November, they looked inward. They’ve been in playoff mode, winning their last five and playing for a division title this week.

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Green Bay Packers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

We saw horror. But they say they saw hope. We saw a carcass. But they say they saw re-birth.

Get real.

Because there is no way that the Green Bay Packers back on Nov. 20, when they were tattooed 42-24 at Washington to drop their fourth straight game and fall to a 4-6 record were collectively full of hope and re-birth. No doubt, a handful of Packers might have believed that. All of them, for sure, wished that. But the best the Packers could do was play the final six regular-season games with renewed purpose and see what it brought them.

"Six losses puts your ass against the wall," Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said that night.

"That’s where we are."

Since, the Packers have won five straight. Since, they are plus-13 in turnover differential. Since, quarterback Aaron Rodgers has boosted his season total to an NFL-best 36 touchdown passes. Rodgers has not thrown a pick in 206 consecutive pass attempts. And the Packers defense has forced 12 turnovers in its last three games while the offense has not committed one.

Green Bay is 9-6. The Detroit Lions are the same. When they meet at Detroit’s Ford Field on Sunday night, the winner claims the NFC North division. Green Bay won this division five consecutive seasons from 2011 through 2014 before Minnesota won it last year. Detroit has not won it since 1993. While Green Bay enters with a five-game winning streak, Detroit arrives with a two-game losing streak.

The Packers defensive resurrection is the crux of this rebirth.

Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers orchestrated it.

"In my 31 years in the league, I’ve learned to stay off of the roller coaster,” Capers said in a telephone interview from his office on Wednesday night. “You just can’t listen to naysayers, or you have no chance. You do the best you can, and we’ve done that. We’ve been in playoff mode for awhile. We don’t want to come this far and take our feet off of that.”

It was Capers’ defense in that Washington debacle that drew the hottest fire.

It allowed 515 offensive yards. It looked bad. Capers said it wasn’t as bad as it looked.

"We had held them to about 230 yards for most of that game and then we gave up some big plays and got into that scramble mode where the wheels came off," Capers said. "We didn’t convert the opportunities we had to take the ball away and that’s who we are, that’s the way we’ve always played here. We are built to take the ball away and give Aaron at least a couple of more possessions and that often for us can make the difference in games.

"We went through a tough period there where we were kind of mixing and matching and trying to figure out with our injuries what the guys left could do and what exactly we had. We started to figure some of those things out after Washington. And we got healthier."

Especially defensive end Mike Daniels and linebackers Nick Perry and Clay Matthews.

Perry (hamstring) and Matthews (shoulder) have battled through the most serious injuries. Both are healthy now and it is not a coincidence that the Packers defense is healthier, Capers says.

Both players play integral roles in Capers’ game plan against the Lions.

"Matthew Stafford is having a really good year for them," Capers said. "He is coming to the line, looking things over, making audibles. He can play uptempo. He’s athletic and can win with his legs and extend plays for receivers to uncover downfield. Their tight end, (Eric) Ebron, is a factor. (Receiver) Golden Tate is good for yardage after the catch. (Receiver) Anquan Boldin has been a good pickup for them in terms of experience, competitiveness and he’s big and strong and good on third downs and in the red zone. (Receiver) Marvin Jones is the vertical factor for them. So, when you add it up, they are a handful."

But so are the Packers for the Lions today and in every historical way. Detroit has lost three of the last four meetings. This is the longest continuing rivalry in the NFL of teams that have played each other twice a year every year since 1932. Of their 174 meetings, Green Bay has won 99 of them.

Just last December, Green Bay at Ford Field completed the longest Hail Mary, game-ending touchdown pass (61 yards) in NFL history to beat the Lions 27-23.

But Capers is not relying on any historical Lions foibles.

He knows that the Lions naysayers in this game are some of the same ones that were Packers naysayers two months ago.

"They can be a fast-starting team, so, we have to handle their initial surge," Capers said. "We have to handle that and we have to disrupt Stafford’s rhythm. We’ve got to get turnovers in this game."

Capers remembers the 2010 season when Green Bay was 8-6 and had to beat the Giants and Chicago to make the playoffs then win playoff road games all the way to becoming champions. This Packers season reminds him of that path, a team that has created hope and rebirth in marching to this NFC North championship-deciding game.

"If you had told us back as the start of the season that we could win the division in our last game of the year, we would have taken it," Capers said. "When we were 4-6 in Washington, we certainly would have taken it. These are the kind of games why we are all in this business. Our guys know it doesn’t mean a thing if we don’t take advantage of it."