Seattle Seahawks (13-2) at Green Bay Packers (3-12)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
TV: FOX, Curt Menefee, JC Pearson
SERIES: 10th meeting. Packers lead 5-4. Green Bay has also won the only playoff game between the teams. The most recent regular-season meeting saw the Packers claim a 35-13 victory at Lambeau Field in 2003. Seattle won the previous meeting, a 27-7 decision in 1999 on Monday night.
2005 RANKINGS: Seahawks: offense 1st (3rd rush, 12th pass); defense 15th (6th rush, 26th pass). Packers: offense 18th (30th rush, 6th pass); defense 8th (26th rush, 1st pass)
KEYS TO THE GAME: Escaping the cold of Lambeau Field without suffering any significant injuries is the Seahawks' top priority. Seattle would love to jump out to an early lead - preferably with RB Shaun Alexander scoring his record 28th touchdown of the season in the process - and then turn the game over to the second-stringers to see if they can hold on. The goal is far different for the Packers, who could be playing their final games with QB Brett Favre and/or coach Mike Sherman. Favre has struggled with his decision-making all season, but will continue to be aggressive against a depleted Seahawks secondary likely to be without its top three corners. The two things Favre has to be most concerned about is the Seahawks' strong pass rush that often includes blitzing linebackers, and S Michael Boulware, who is a playmaker capable of turning poor Favre passes into fatal turnovers.
FAST FACTS: Seahawks: Have a team-record 11-game winning streak. ... Alexander needs one touchdown to break RB Priest Holmes' single-season NFL record of 27 set in 2003. Packers: Favre has not thrown a touchdown pass in a career-high four consecutive games. ... WR Donald Driver has 1,103 receiving yards is 106 shy of breaking his career high set last season.
--Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said on Friday that he will be resting WR Darrell Jackson, who missed ten weeks this season with a knee injury. Jackson has been effective since his return. Jackson is listed as probable on the team's Friday injury report. "There are a handful of guys we are probably going to leave home (as opposed to playing in the Green Bay game) and Darrell will be one of them,” Holmgren said.
--CB Andre Dyson (ankle) missed practice Friday and will not make the trip to Green Bay. The team thinks he'll return for the playoffs.
--CB Marcus Trufant (back) missed practice Friday and will not make the trip to Green Bay. The team thinks he'll return for the playoffs.
--FS John Howell was placed on the injured reserve list by the team today. Howell suffered a hamstring injury aginst the 49ers on November 19th, and had not played since. An IR designation means that he will not play through the postseason. Howell, a free-agent acquisition in June of 2005, was a dynamic presence on special teams. The Seahawks promoted DE Alain Kashama from the practice squad to fill Howell's roster spot.
--LB D.D. Lewis (foot) is questionable. He did not practice Friday.
--DE Joe Tafoya (hamstring) is questionable. He did not practice Friday.
--LT Walter Jones (back) is probable. He did not practice Friday, but is expected to play..
--WR Bobby Engram (illness) is probable. He practiced Friday and is expected to be available Sunday.
--DT Chuck Darby (knee) is probable. He practiced Friday and is expected to be available Sunday.
--RBs Tony Fisher and Noah Herron continued to split the reps in practice Thursday and figure to share the load in Sunday's regular-season finale against Seattle. Herron stands to get most of the carries on early downs, while Fisher will primarily be utilized in his customary third-down role.
They are picking up the slack after rookie Samkon Gado was lost to a knee injury in the Dec. 19 defeat at Baltimore.
--WR Robert Ferguson hasn't practiced this week and said he won't play Sunday, although he's on the injury report as questionable. Ferguson also missed the last game after he aggravated a torn ligament in his left knee. Antonio Chatman and Rod Gardner will see increased playing time opposite Donald Driver.
--TE David Martin didn't practice Friday for the third straight day. He remains listed on the injury report as probable, though his status is iffy for Sunday because of lingering symptoms from a concussion he sustained in the last game. That leaves Donald Lee as the lone tight end, though the team has a vacant roster spot that it could fill to replenish the depth at the position before Sunday.
--C Mike Flanagan returned to practice Friday. Flanagan managed to play in only the first two offensive series in the last game because of a sore groin that's plagued him since returning from surgery for a sports hernia in October. He's on the injury report as questionable.
Grey Ruegamer handled the reps again in practice and is penciled in as the starter Sunday.
--RG Will Whitticker held up in practice and should be able to return to the starting lineup Sunday. The rookie missed the last game because of a concussion. He's still listed as questionable on the injury report.
--CB Al Harris returned to practice Thursday after being away from the team Wednesday to undergo emergency dental work.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
--Expect to see quite a bit of third-year QB Seneca Wallace on Sunday, as All-Pro Matt Hasselbeck will most likely rest for the playoffs during most of the game. Holmgren was asked about Wallace's reps in practice. “He had a good week," Holmgren said. "I think there are a number of players on our football team who are not starting that could start. I think they are pretty good football players. Now they get a chance to play a little bit on Sunday. This is what they wanted and we will see how they do.”
Holmgren also intimated that Wallace might see a more wide-open gameplan than in the past. “Sure, depending on when he goes in the game. In the situations he has gone in games before, you are right, we are not going to pass the ball very much, if at all. That is what his role was. Now, I suspect he will go in the game and the game will still be a game and he has got to play. So he is looking forward to it.”
--Pro Bowl running back Shaun Alexander practiced Thursday before leaving to attend a relative's funeral near Cincinnati on Friday. He then planned to catch a plane to Green Bay for the Seahawks' final regular-season game Sunday.
Alexander leads the Giants' Tiki Barber by 150 yards in the race for the NFL rushing title. Alexander also needs one touchdown to break a tie with Priest Holmes for the most ever in a season. Holmes scored 27 touchdowns during the 2003 season; Alexander has 27 through 15 games this season. The Seahawks plan to remove their starters early because Seattle already has clinched home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.
Seattle coach Mike Holmgren hedged when asked whether he would re-insert Alexander into the game for the sake of breaking the record.
"I don't know," Holmgren said. "Let me think about that one a little. I want him to get the record; we all want him to get the record. Green Bay, of course, is going to do everything in their power to win the football game and not give him the record.
"The most important thing is we have our guys healthy for the playoffs. If the situation comes up, I am going to have to make the decision at the time, just like whether to go for it on fourth down."
Alexander has 1,807 yards rushing. He has topped 100 yards rushing in 11 of 15 games this season.
"The touchdown record, to me, I already got it," Alexander said. "That's how it feels like. When they ask who has the most touchdowns all year, they are going to say Priest Holmes and Shaun Alexander.
"It could be mine by myself, but I don't think too much about it."
--Defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes will not make the trip to Green Bay. Rhodes has spent this season recovering from a mild stroke, and a recurrence of stroke-like symptoms. He has acted as a consultant to acting DC John Marshall, Seattle's linebackers coach.
“I think (Rhodes) is doing good," Holmgren said. "Heck, he was the former head coach at Green Bay, he probably doesn’t need to go to this game. He was in the stadium against Indy, so he seems do be doing OK. Healing up.”
Rhodes led the Packers to an 8-8 record in 1999, the year after Holmgren's own seven-year tenure as Green Bay's head coach ended with his arrival in Seattle.
It has the makings of being a farewell Sunday at Lambeau Field. While most of the attention will be cast toward quarterback Brett Favre and coach Mike Sherman, whose futures with the team are cloudy, there are a number of other veteran players who could be ending their Packers careers in the season finale against Seattle.
"I think I'd be robbing myself of some good memories if I would approach it like any other game. So I'll certainly be taking in the sights and sounds a little extra this Sunday, for sure," kicker Ryan Longwell said. Longwell is among 16 players presently with the team whose contracts will be up after Sunday. They are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents in March.
Counting Longwell and long snapper Rob Davis, all but three of those players have had a starting role at one point or another during the dismal 3-12 season.
The other front-line players are running backs Ahman Green, Najeh Davenport and Tony Fisher; fullback William Henderson; tight end David Martin; center Mike Flanagan; center/guard Grey Ruegamer; tackle Kevin Barry; defensive end Aaron Kampman; nose tackle Grady Jackson and linebacker Paris Lenon.
Also headed toward free agency are third-string quarterback Craig Nall, safety Todd Franz and wide receiver Rod Gardner, a former first-round draft pick the team signed off waivers from Carolina last week.
Given the glut of high-profile players eligible to hit the open market, the turnover from this season's team to next season's may be pronounced. Even more so if Favre, Green Bay's most tenured player in his 14th season, decides to retire with five years left on his contract.
As Longwell said matter-of-factly, "There's a lot of decisions that need to be made upstairs."
General manager Ted Thompson will have the means to re-sign any number of his free agents. The Packers figure to usher in the offseason at least $15 million and possibly as much as $20 million under the salary cap. Many of the impending free agents aren't sure that they'll be back with the team, however. Kampman, who's had a breakout season in his fourth year in the league, is believed to be the only player with whom the Packers have had discussions about a contract extension.
"They haven't called yet. So we'll get to the offseason and wait and see how it pans out," said Longwell, a ninth-year veteran and the team's all-time leading scorer.
It's not out of the question that the offensive backfield will be gutted. Green and Davenport, the team's top two halfbacks, suffered season-ending leg injuries by the midway point of the schedule. Fill-in starter Fisher was beset for a short time with a broken rib, which paved the way for unheralded rookie Samkon Gado to excel in the featured role before he suffered a season-ending knee injury Dec. 19.
Henderson, who's toiled with the Packers 11 years at fullback, also could be deemed expendable. Nevertheless, he won't allow himself to get sentimental Sunday in possibly his final game as a Packer.
"It's an emotional game simply because we're playing football at Lambeau. That's what it is. It's the next opportunity to play football," Henderson said. "I'm not going to make it any bigger game than it is. I've never done that for any other game."