Playoff tuneup

Packers must win against Lions to establish momentum for post-season, says's Bob Fox

The Green Bay Packers will be playing again in a couple of weekends in the playoffs after their game Sunday against the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field. The Packers have achieved the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs with their 12-3 record and their NFC North divisional title. That means the Packers will get a bye next weekend and will play at home for at least one playoff game in two weeks.

But the Packers' woeful performance in Chicago last weekend is still staring at them in the rearview mirror. By losing to the Bears 35-7, and looking bad on all three phases - offense, defense and special teams - the Packers need to rebound this week with a positive performance. Some would say they are lucky to be playing the 7-8 Lions, who have not won in Green Bay since 1991.

Head coach Mike McCarthy says he is going to be "smart" with players this week who have had injury issues. That means that DT Ryan Pickett (groin), CB Charles Woodson (toe) and perhaps WR Greg Jennings (ankle) won't play. Pickett and Woodson mean too much to the Packers defense to risk further injury. Jennings is the Packers leading scorer among the receivers with 12 touchdowns, but the Packers have excellent depth at the wide out position with Donald Driver, James Jones, Koren Robinson and Ruvell Martin. Plus, the Packers can also activate Shaun Bodiford.

McCarthy also expects to be smart with the starters in this game. That means players like QB Brett Favre, RB Ryan Grant, MLB Nick Barnett, DE Aaron Kampman and CB Al Harris may not play much more than half of the game. The Packers need to make sure that they are as healthy as possible for the playoff game, but they also want to win on Sunday and get some swagger back in their walk.

Players such as QB Craig Nall will get an excellent opportunity to show what he can do because backup QB Aaron Rodgers is still hampered by a hamstring injury. Other players that will probably get significant playing time will be RB Brandon Jackson, TE Bubba Franks, DE Jason Hunter, MLB Desmond Bishop and defensive backs S Aaron Rouse, S Charlie Peprah, CB Will Blackmon, CB Tramon Williams, and CB Frank Walker.

This will be an great chance for the backups. The 2007 Packers are the youngest team in the NFL, and a lot of these players with opportunities this Sunday are the reason why. The depth of the team will be very important in the playoffs. The Packers know this too well with DT's Johnny Jolly and Colin Cole on injured reserve now because of injuries. Both played well this year, especially Jolly, but now 1st round pick Justin Harrell is getting his opportunity, even more so with the groin injury that has sidelined Pickett.

But the Packers also need to play well this Sunday in all three phases of the football team. That means the starters and the reserves. The team has to get the bad taste out of their mouths after what happened last Sunday in the Windy City. Being that this game is at the Frozen Tundra, the Packers also need to re-establish that they can play very well outdoors in the cold, especially with a home playoff game looming in two weeks.

The 2007 Packers have had an excellent season. Of their three losses, the Packers have only played real badly in one game, last week against the Bears. Not too many expected the Packers to win the NFC North (I did), nor did many expect the Packers to be the number two playoff seed in the NFC (I didn't). The Packers have a chance this Sunday to equal the team record as far as wins in the regular season, 13. Only the 1962, 1996 and 1997 Packer teams ever won 13 games.

But all the good feelings about the 2007 season will be forgotten if the Packers stumble in the playoffs. That's one of the reasons Mike Sherman isn't head coach anymore, as his teams were 2-4 in the playoffs, including the ONLY two losses at home in team history. That's why it's so important to be healthy for the playoffs, but also to be feeling good about yourselves.

This proud Green Bay franchise has won 12 world championships. But only one time, did a team that lost it's last two games of the regular season (1967), win it all. That was Vince Lombardi's last year as head coach of the Packers. It was a magical post-season with wins over the mighty Rams in Milwaukee, the "Ice Bowl" win over the Cowboys and the Super Bowl II win over the Raiders.

The Packers will need more magic to duplicate the 1967 Packers championship. They must start by playing well on Sunday against an opponent that is in a freefall and will be without the two best offensive players, WR Roy Williams and RB Kevin Jones. A win will help the Packers forget about the debacle in Chicago last weekend. But coach McCarthy must be smart as he tries to get a win, plus keep the team as healthy as possible. It won't be an easy task, but the Packers realize what's down the road, and they have to get tuned up for the great race.

Bob Fox is a frequent contributor to E-mail him at

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