Regardless of which team emerges from this weekend's wild-card lineup, it will be a rematch for the Packers. If Detroit upsets New Orleans on Saturday night, the Lions will be coming to Lambeau Field on Jan. 15 to face the Packers for the third time in less that two months. If the Lions lose to the Saints, then the Packers will get the winner of Sunday's game between Atlanta and New York. The Packers beat the Falcons on Oct. 9 and have faced them three times in less than 14 months. The Packers beat the Giants on Dec. 4.
"I think maybe some people like playing a team for the second or third time," coach Mike McCarthy said.
But he wasn't among them.
"I've always felt, based on our coaching staff, I feel we do a very good job against opponents when we play them for the first time," McCarthy continued. "I feel like we've given our players an edge; that's just a feeling just because of the way that we operate offensively and defensively. I think it'd be a challenge if you're going to play us for the first time on a seven-day week."
In last year's playoffs, all three NFC games were rematches for the Packers: victories over Philadelphia in Week 1 and in the wild-card game; a loss to Atlanta in Week 12 but a victory in the divisional game; split of the season series against Chicago but a victory in the NFC Championship Game.
"On the other side of it," McCarthy added, "there's the personnel matchups that you're in tune with because you have played the other opponent and things you may not have done a good enough job matchup-wise in the first game that you can try to prevent the second game. It could go either way."
Practices on Wednesday and Thursday had a fundamentals focus, but the Packers worked on each of the three possible matchups.
"We've had preliminary game-planning that's been done on Atlanta, Detroit and the Giants," McCarthy said. "Once the opponent is determined, we'll take that and then start doing the preliminary game plans Sunday and Monday and then we'll clean them up on Monday night and just go through a final game-plan session that we always do on Tuesdays. We may even move ahead and do some more situational work as far as game-planning – maybe do red zone Tuesday night, which we normally don't do til Wednesday night."
Philbin in demand
Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin was back at practice on Thursday after meeting with the Chiefs on Wednesday. Next, Philbin is scheduled to interview with the Dolphins this weekend.
The Dolphins have interviewed Jeff Fisher, former coach of the Titans, Bears special teams coach Dave Toub and interim head coach Todd Bowles.
Philbin, 50, has been a Packers assistant coach since 2003, first as assistant offensive line coach. He was promoted to offensive coordinator by head coach Mike McCarthy in 2007. Philbin has never been a head coach at any level. The 2003 job was his first in the NFL after 20 years at the college ranks.
Center Scott Wells and inside linebacker D.J. Smith were back at practice after being held out on Wednesday. The only player who did not appear to be practicing on Thursday was running back James Starks, who stood to the side without his helmet during the portion of practice open to reporters.
The exact status of the team was not available because the Packers don't have to produce an injury report until Wednesday.
One player McCarthy did talk about was left tackle Chad Clifton, who played on Sunday for the first time since Oct. 9.
"Chad Clifton's sore, which you would expect," McCarthy said. "He played 25 plays against Detroit. (Wednesday) was a challenging practice for him. Did a lot of movement drills – excessively. The individual positions had 20 minutes of individual time, which usually equates probably to 30-plus for the O-line because they get more time with the seven-on-seven drills and so forth. He's had two full days of work. I know he was sore today and it was good for him to go through the padded drills and also the team drills. I'm sure he'll be sore (Friday)."
— McCarthy was pleased with the two days of practice. "My goal yesterday and today was to walk off the field and feel fundamentally strong about the number of reps that we were able to accomplish today with the pads. To be able to go one-on-one blocking and one-on-one pass rush and do one-on-one bump-and-run drills, red zone drills and all those things, it had a lot of characteristics of a training camp practice, which is so important to being successful."
— The players are free until Monday. "Didn't you hear the cars running out the door? About ran my (butt) over," McCarthy quipped. Monday will be mostly meetings, along with a walk-through session in the gym. The players voted for playoff captains on Thursday; those results will be announced to the team on Monday.
— On possessions called by Aaron Rodgers last week, the Packers scored 24 points. On possessions called by McCarthy, the Packers scored 21. Any smack talk from Rodgers? "Uh, no. I don't want him to get sensitive or anything," Rodgers joked.
— Asked to pick two games that define this year's team, Rodgers picked the games at Detroit and the Giants. "The way we responded to adversity, I think, those two games were big wins for us."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.