What should be foremost to the Packers, even this week, is getting ready for the post-season. Here are five not-so-obvious keys that could go a long way in getting the Packers to Super Bowl XLII:
1. Treat Sunday's game like it's the preseason: In some cases, momentum can be overrated. For the Packers, this is one of them.
At the risk of losing back-to-back games, the Packers must limit certain key players to one half of play or less against the Lions regardless of what happens during the game. It is the only way to minimize any injury concerns.
On the top of the list of players who would benefit from some rest are quarterback Brett Favre, cornerback Charles Woodson, defensive tackle Ryan Pickett, and defensive end Aaron Kampman, all veterans who have nagging injury issues.
Head coach Mike McCarthy has continually stated that he will be smart with the health of his team down the stretch. He needs to remind himself of that in the heat of the moment because only his actions during the game will show his true intentions.
2. Toughness: As much as the Bears beat the Packers last Sunday, so did the weather. The Packers were not only inept physically, but also mentally by the arctic conditions.
In the playoffs, they will have to be mentally tougher if faced with difficult circumstances.
Need a couple reminders of what tough football is all about?
Ask old Packers fullback Jim Taylor, who in the bitter cold conditions of the 1962 NFL title game fought through a badly gashed elbow, a badly cut tongue, and a tough-as-nails linebacker named Sam Huff to help the Packers win a championship.
Ask the '96 Packers, who dominance could have been neutralized by a quagmire of a field against the 49ers and one of the coldest days in Lambeau Field history against the Panthers, yet got to the Super Bowl.
Execution and game plans are nice to talk about, but sometimes who wants it more – especially when more is on the line, will win out.
The Packers have all the makeup of a tough team, starting with their head coach, but they have to show it. Last week they fell flat on their face and were embarrassed.
3. Will Blackmon and Koren Robinson: For the first time in a long time, the Packers have two special teams return players who are instinctive, fearless, and have breakaway ability. Both Blackmon and Robinson can make a huge difference in the playoffs should another part of the Packers' machine breakdown.
After spending much of the last two years on the bench with injuries, Blackmon is back and seems like he is on a mission. He has shown good ball security fielding punts and has a knack for making cuts up the field, not sideline to sideline. He is also one of the best athletes on the team, which just might earn him some more time at nickel back in the playoffs.
Robinson, after coming back from his year-long NFL suspension, has finally found a comfort zone returning kicks. After shaking off the rust and being close on a few returns, he looks ready to "bring one to the house" in the playoffs.
4. Manage the clock: For all of the well-deserved chatter about the job McCarthy has done this year, one area he has been questionable in is his clock management. It has yet to cost the Packers a game, but could if it continues.
In several games – the Eagles (Sept. 9), the Redskins (Oct. 14), the Chiefs (Nov. 4), and the Lions (Nov. 22) - the Packers blew chances at more points or gave opponents better opportunities at others because of clock issues at the end of the half.
Managing the clock can short-circuit even the most highly-prepared coaches. How it is handled in the heat of the moment is what matters most. McCarthy has been put in enough situations over the past two years to learn from his mistakes. If he has not, another mistake in the playoffs could be magnified for a long time.
5. Believe in what got you there: The Packers show no signs of any drastic changes headed into the playoffs and need to carry the confidence they have built into the post-season. That means sticking to their short passing game (weather permitting), asserting their man-to-man defensive style, and staying focused on the big picture, not what happened against the Bears or what could happen against the Lions.
Just about a month ago in a loss to the Cowboys, the Packers looked baffled and confused for the first time all season. In what was the biggest game of the year, they got away from their short-passing game on offense and man-to-man coverage principals on defense which put them in a big hole.
Should the Packers get another crack at the Cowboys, they will have likely learned from their mistakes. That might be just enough to produce a different outcome and a trip to the Super Bowl.
Matt Tevsh is a frequent contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.