Packers, Lions Playing To Win, But How Long?

While Detroit is playing to avoid the No. 6 seed, Green Bay has next to nothing to play for in Sunday's regular-season finale. Still, coaches Mike McCarthy and Jim Schwartz have plenty to consider while crafting their game plans.

Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy and his counterpart, Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz, seemingly have the same thinking heading into Sunday's regular-season finale.

"We're preparing to win this game," McCarthy said on Monday, one day after his team wrapped up homefield advantage through the NFC playoffs by trouncing rival Chicago. "It's important for us to sweep our division (and finish) 15-1. We're going to have an excellent game plan and we're onto Detroit as a staff. We're approaching this game just like the others."

On Saturday, Schwartz's Lions earned their first playoff berth since 1999 by crushing San Diego. Detroit (10-5) will be either the No. 5 or No. 6 seed, meaning a road game next week against the winner of the NFC East (Giants or Cowboys), South (Saints) or West (49ers).

None of that, however, seemed to matter to Schwartz.

"We are going to play every game that comes on our schedule to win the game," he told reporters on Monday in Allen Park, Mich.

Asked if he would consider resting players this week, Schwartz answered, "We are going to play the game to win."

Both teams have different things to consider during game-planning meetings on Monday and Tuesday.

For Green Bay, health is of utmost importance. For as good as the offensive line played against Chicago, they're clearly a better offense with Bryan Bulaga (knee sprain) at right tackle instead of T.J. Lang, and they're better with Lang at left guard instead of Evan Dietrich-Smith. If Bulaga is cleared to play, it would make sense to get him and left tackle Chad Clifton (hamstring/back) back into the lineup to build some continuity. The Packers' No. 1 line hasn't played together since Week 3.

However, there's no reason to risk Ryan Pickett, who has missed the last two games with a concussion, and there's no reason to risk James Starks, who has been in and out of the lineup with sprained ankles for the more than a month. And there's absolutely no reason to risk receiver Greg Jennings, who's missed the last two games with a knee sprain.

Beyond the injured players, McCarthy needs to weigh the risk of injury for the reward of momentum for some of his key players: Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson, B.J. Raji, Charles Woodson and Clay Matthews.

McCarthy had similar decisions to make in 2007 and 2009.

In 2007, with the No. 2 seed and first-round bye secured, Brett Favre started and threw two touchdowns to give the Packers a 21-3 lead against Detroit in the second quarter before getting the rest of the day off. McCarthy, however, rested Donald Driver, Aaron Kampman, Jennings and Woodson.

In 2009, McCarthy played pedal to the metal in a 33-7 victory over Arizona, even though the Packers were going to play the Cardinals a week later in the wild-card round.

"Every team's different," McCarthy said. "Every player that played and didn't play in the game, it was an individual situation. You look at those factors. I think about '07, I think about two years ago when we went out and played at Arizona, so you draw from those experiences, how you thought your team went through that, what was best for that team. But at the end of the day, you're going to do what's best for this team and the individuals on your football team."

While McCarthy said the intention is to win the game, it's hard to imagine he's going to risk Rodgers for a full 60 minutes against a Lions defense that loves to attack the quarterback. However, with a bye next week, is two weeks off too much rest?

On the other hand, the Lions have plenty to play for because the difference between the fifth and sixth seed could be tremendous. While the No. 6 seed will have to play at either San Francisco (12-3) or New Orleans (12-3) next week, the No. 5 seed gets the NFC East champion — the winner of Sunday night's Cowboys-Giants game. That team will be 9-7, and neither Dallas (5-3) or New York (3-4) has been strong at home.

The Lions, who snapped a league-record 26-game road losing streak on Dec. 19, 2010, are 5-2 on the road this season.

"Not only is this game on the road, but the next game after that is going to be on the road," Schwartz said. "I think we have some confidence from winning on the road. The best way to do that is take good players with you on the team playing and we have some of those."

To finish 6-2 on the road, they'll have to beat the Packers in Wisconsin for the first time since 1991. Whether that will be against the Packers' "A Team" or a mix-and-match of starters and backups remains to be seen.

 "We can't control who they play or what objectives they have in the game," Schwartz said. "It doesn't change our objectives or anything. I mean, obviously, if we are preparing for a different quarterback, you need to be ready for that, but their offense isn't going to change. They are what they are. It's not like some of the other situations that we have seen. You go to Minnesota, another division opponent, and you have one quarterback and a very different skill set in a different quarterback or any other team (or) even another division opponent like Chicago."


Agree or disagree?: Discuss hot Packers topics in our, free forums. Leave Bill a question in the subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum.


Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


Packer Report Top Stories