Preseason II

Packers will enter finale with objectives to win playoff war first, then the battle

Nick Barnett, Green Bay's hard-nosed middle linebacker, summed it up nicely while fielding questions from reporters in front of his locker Wednesday night. The Packers have to be smart about finishing the regular season. They have to play to win. Above all, they have to play hard - mentally and physically.

"Once you get out there and try to play smart and try to play safe, that's when you get hurt," Barnett said. "You go out there and play the same way you've been playing every week, then you don't have to worry about getting hurt, or anything stupid like that."

Whomever lines up for the Packers in their meaningless game against the Detroit Lions on Sunday afternoon, owes it to Packers fans to play hard against the Lions and not fret over the weather. That was hardly the case last Sunday in Chicago where the elements and Bears embarrassed the Packers.

Coach Mike McCarthy said a few times during his press conference Wednesday that he will be "smart" about playing his starters. He again acknowledged that his team played poorly in all phases against the Bears, and that he's not happy about it. But he also emphasized that the Packers have the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs locked up and hinted that he will treat Sunday's game like a dress rehearsal for the playoffs.

Like any third or fourth preseason game, all the coach is looking for are signs of crispness out of the offense, defense and special teams. The guess here is when that occurs, whether it is in the second quarter or fourth quarter, McCarthy will gradually replace starters and let the chips fall where they may as far as winning or losing the game. Winning the battle is one thing, but winning the war in the playoffs is foremost on the coach's mind this week.

"I think you can really categorize it a lot like the preseason," McCarthy said. "Everybody puts a lot of weight into the third preseason game. If in the third preseason game, if things don't go well, maybe you play a little longer in the fourth preseason game. I know our fourth preseason game, we felt the offense didn't have enough snaps so we played a little longer. Those are all types of experiences you draw from. Winning 12 football games, it's tough to do. We are the No. 2 seed in the NFC. It's important for us to take full advantage of that opportunity, and that will be the determining factor as we move through the week."

In other words, Brett Favre will be pulled from the game at some point. Same with others like Ryan Grant, Donald Driver, Aaron Kampman, and Green Bay's starting cornerbacks. If any key players are slightly sore from nagging injuries, like Ryan Pickett (groin) and Greg Jennings (ankle), they probably won't be activated.

When the starters are in the game, they have a few things to prove, whether they want to admit it or not. The Packers have to show that they can function and play well in cold weather. They also have to prove in all areas that they resemble the team that streaked to a NFC North Division title this season.

Don't expect the Lions to roll over for the Packers, either. Detroit has a chance to finish its frustrating season at 8-8 and with two straight wins. That's a lot for a team that lost six straight games after a 6-2 start. Detroit also hasn't won a game in Wisconsin since 1991, losing 16 straight to the Packers, including the playoffs, between Green Bay and Milwaukee.

"I'm sure they're going to come in and do everything they can to win the football game," McCarthy said. "To end their season with two wins in a row is something they can build off of, and they have improved from last year clearly, so their program in my view is definitely going in the right direction. I'm sure those are all things they're looking at. And the opportunity to win here for the first time since 1991, to me those are all important points you can motivate your football team with."

So though the game on Sunday means little for the Packers in the big picture, there is still meaning to it, especially after last Sunday's debacle. McCarthy will play it smart, but his team must respond favorably in order to accomplish its objectives and re-establish momentum for the playoffs.

Todd Korth is managing editor of and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at

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