ATLANTA — The postseason began a week early for the Packers, who needed a victory in the regular-season finale over the Bears just to make the playoffs.
Now, with the hot hand of quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the best secondary in the postseason, they're one victory away from reaching Super Bowl XLV. It's a remarkable story for a team that placed 15 players on injured reserve this season and had 13 starters miss time because of injuries.
The Packers toppled the No. 1 seed with an aerial show by Rodgers and a clinic by cornerback Tramon Williams, who has blossomed into a shutdown corner opposite reigning defensive player of the year Charles Woodson. Both Rodgers and Williams were snubbed from the NFC Pro Bowl team, but if the Packers reach Dallas, missing an expenses-paid trip to Honolulu won't matter one bit. Only one sixth seed has won the Super Bowl, the 2005 Steelers.
"We're a confident football team," coach Mike McCarthy said. "We've definitely hit our groove."
It sets up the Packers for a possible third meeting with the second-seeded Bears, who are a 10-point favorite over the Seahawks on Sunday. The Packers and Bears have met just once previously in the playoffs, in 1941.
Rodgers, who finished 31 of 36 for 366 yards and three touchdowns and ran for a 7-yard score, led three long scoring drives in the first half and the Packers opened a 28-14 lead when Williams intercepted Matt Ryan and returned it 70 yards for a TD on the final play of the second quarter. It was the second pick of the game for Williams, who also intercepted Ryan in the end zone.
"The offense is hot," Williams said. "All we need to do now is hold up and we'll make it."