NFC wild card roundup

While the Vikings take the week off, their potential opponents in the divisional round are preparing to play. The Cowboys won't guarantee a job for Wade Phillips just yet, DeSean Jackson is battling a groin injury, the Packers are focusing on fundamentals, and the Cardinals have four starters with injuries. Those stories and many more notes inside.


Jerry Jones has said on more than one occasion that he does not want to make a coaching change.

He said it's in the best interest of the Cowboys for Wade Phillips to retain his job for at least another season. Still, Phillips is in the final year of his contract, and Jones holds an option for next season.

Jones praises Phillips for leading the Cowboys to an 11-5 record and the NFC East title, his second in three years. He acknowledges that Phillips has the best winning percentage in Cowboys history with a 37-16 mark.

To that end, Jones is leaning toward bringing Phillips back.

First, however, he will wait to see what the Cowboys do in the playoffs.

There is no win one game or go the super bowl mantra. But they Cowboys must leave a positive taste in Jones' mouth.

"I really don't know how you can sit here and make a change with the winningest percentage coach that we've had in the history of the Cowboys," Jones said. "But it's always been about our uptick. We know there's a swoon if you miss a out a game in the playoffs and go home. But at this particular time, he's looking good."


  • QB Tony Romo has conquered the December stretch. Now he must conquer the playoffs. He is 0-2 in the postseason with losses against the Seahawks in 2006 and the Giants in 2007.

    Romo is playing the best football of his career and the Cowboys believe he is ready to take the next step.

    "Those are lifetimes ago," offensive coordinator Jason Garrett said of Romo's past playoff failures. "Those are lifetimes ago. He's certainly developed as a quarterback. I keep saying this, but his approach to try to get better every day, that's what's allowed him to grow and to develop and has a lot to do with how he goes about his business, and hopefully he can continue that this week."

  • LB Anthony Spencer earned his first NFC Defensive Player of the Week award for his play against the Philadelphia Eagles that gave Dallas their 17th NFC East Division title, 21st overall and home-field advantage for this weekend's playoff game. He finished third on the team with five tackles while adding two pressures and a team-best 2.0 sacks - marking his third multiple sack game of the season and his career. Spencer also forced a fumble on one of the sacks.

  • RB Tashard Choice (concussion) didn't practice with the Cowboys but he did work out on Tuesday and seems to be readying for action on Saturday against the Eagles.

  • OT Marc Colombo practiced with the Cowboys on Tuesday and is set to return to action on Saturday after missing the final seven games with a high ankle sprain and a fractured fibula. He will retake his starting spot from Doug Free, although Free played very well in his absence and will also see playing time against the Eagles.

  • WR Roy Williams has been made a nonfactor with the Cowboys' passing game. Quarterback Tony Romo no longer looks in his direction and he is used mainly on running plays. Williams said it's tough to get used to but he's just happy to be in the playoffs for the first time in his career.

    "That's not how it's always been the last 22 years of my life," Williams "This is a great opportunity. I'm in it to win it. People don't see the small things that I do out on the football field as far as blocking and getting others open. It's just part of being a football team. Whether the ball is coming to me or not - who cares? We're winning. And I've said that since training camp. I would trade anything in the world besides my family and my kids for a win. I could easily be at home right now, coming from Detroit. I could be 2-14 but instead I'm 11-5, East champion, it's a great feeling."

  • CB Mike Jenkins, along with linebacker Anthony Spencer, has been one of the keys to the Cowboys' surge on defense. Spencer gives the Cowboys a bookend pass rusher to go along with DeMarcus Ware. Jenkins has been shut down corner the Cowboys thought Terence Newman was going to develop into.


    The Eagles' big-play wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who aggravated a groin injury in Sunday's 24-0 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, practiced Tuesday, but it remains to be seen how much effect the injury will have on his performance Saturday when the Eagles and Cowboys meet again in the first round of the playoffs.

    Jackson had three catches for 47 yards against the Cowboys. He had just two catches for 15 yards after tweaking his groin.

    "I got a little banged up, so I'll just get some treatment this week and freshen up," Jackson said. "It will be all right. It's not a big deal.

    "Anytime you blow out your tire or your tire is leaking a little bit - and that's kind of how I look at it because my legs are my speedburners - if I don't have my speed, I'm not the same person. It definitely hurt me in the game, but I was able to stick in there and play it out."

    Jackson had 63 catches for 1,167 yards this season. That's a league-best 18.5 yards per catch. He also had a team-high nine receiving touchdowns, including six of 40-plus yards. But in the Eagles' two losses to the Cowboys, he was held to five catches for 76 yards and no touchdowns.

    He got behind the Cowboys' secondary early in the game Sunday, but quarterback Donovan McNabb overthrew him.


  • QB Donovan McNabb has completed 60-plus percent of his passes in just one of his last 13 starts against the Eagles' wild-card opponent, the Cowboys.

  • TE Brent Celek, who had a team-high 76 catches, has 20 receptions for 345 yards and two touchdowns in the Eagles' last four games.

  • WR Jeremy Maclin has had virtually identical numbers in each of the Eagles' two losses to Saturday's wild-card opponent, the Dallas Cowboys. He had three catches for 44 yards in Week 9 and three catches for 47 yards last week.

  • RB Brian Westbrook has had 20 touches in the two games since his return following his second concussion. The Eagles split him out as a receiver quite a bit in Sunday's loss to the Cowboys and probably will do the same in Saturday's playoff rematch.

  • FB Leonard Weaver's touches have dropped with the return of Brian Westbrook. He's had eight touches in the last two games after getting 66 in the previous eight games.


    The Packers' preparations for their first playoff game since losing to the New York Giants in overtime in the NFC Championship on Jan. 20, 2008, have an elementary framework.

    "We need to do the fundamental things that we've been doing very well," head coach Mike McCarthy said. "We need to take care of the football; we need to take the football away; we need to tackle; and we need to block. Those are things we're going to spend more time emphasizing this week."

    McCarthy and his staff had the luxury of getting a game plan in place for the Arizona Cardinals, the Packers' opponents in the first round of the NFC playoffs Sunday, because the teams met to end the regular season last weekend.

    While Green Bay carried some segments into its 33-7 rout of the Cardinals on Sunday, offensive play-caller McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers held back quite a bit of their respective game plans even though they went with their starters for most of the game.

    Consequently, when the players reconvened Tuesday for meetings and film study after a day off, the legwork for the postseason rematch against Arizona already was in place and wouldn't be anything new to them.

    "We're not going to just change everything that we did in (the last) game when we play these guys Sunday over there in Arizona," McCarthy said. "Our principles are still the same; our base concepts are still the same. We've established who we are, the way we want to play - that will not change. Now, what you do, change the face of it, those types of things, that's all part of the game planning."

    Having a Sunday game on the opening weekend of the postseason also plays into McCarthy's amended practice schedule that he instituted the final two weeks of the regular season.

    The team will be put through full practices Wednesday and Thursday before tapering off Friday with what will amount to about an hour of a jog-through review on the field. The thrust is to keep the players well-rested for playing Sunday, since they'll endure another three-hour flight back to Phoenix on Saturday.

    "I feel very good about our football team," said McCarthy, whose team has won seven of its last eight games. "It's like anything, you're trying to build as far as the vision, the plan. I like the way our football team looks right now. I like the energy they're playing with; I like the way they prepare; and I like the way they're focused. And, we'll be totally in tune with the fact that playoff football is different.

    "We have a group of men that experienced this two years ago. We have a group of men that have not experienced it. Through our week of preparation, I'm looking for a focused, disciplined week of preparation, and we're getting ready to go play Arizona."


  • CB Charles Woodson isn't in jeopardy of missing the NFC wild-card game at the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. Woodson aggravated what the team classified as a shoulder strain late in the first half of the Packers' 33-7 win over the host Cardinals to end the regular season Sunday. The Pro Bowl player has been bothered by soreness in the shoulder the last several weeks, but has managed to practice by week's end and play in every game, which should be the case this week.

  • OLB Brad Jones also is expected to be OK after sustaining an ankle injury before halftime Sunday. Like CB Charles Woodson, the rookie starter should benefit from a full week of recovery and be ready for the playoff opener.

  • NT Ryan Pickett is counting on returning to starting duties Sunday for the first time in more than a month. Pickett has been deactivated for three of the last four games because of a lingering hamstring injury, but the team was playing it safe with the veteran down the stretch of the regular season.

  • LB Brandon Chillar, who contributes greatly in the defense's situational packages, also should be ready to return to game action after being held out of Sunday's contest because of recurring back spasms.

  • QB Aaron Rodgers enters the playoffs without an interception in four straight games, his longest stretch without a passing turnover in two seasons as a starter. Rodgers' pick-less streak is at 133 passes, dating to the Dec. 7 win over the Baltimore Ravens - he had an identical streak end in that game, when he threw two interceptions. Rodgers' career-best run without an interception is 159 passes, which was halted in Week 4 this season.


    The game plan for Sunday's playoff game for the Packers has been installed, already. The Cardinals' priority in practice this week is to get healthy.

    Four starters are dealing with significant injuries.

    Receiver Anquan Boldin suffered a sprained left ankle in the season finale and underwent an MRI early this week. The results aren't available, but Boldin said after the game that he expects to play.

    The Cardinals at least have some depth at that position. Steve Breaston has experience starting and Early Doucet and Jerheme Urban have played significant backup roles in important games before.

    The other three injured players play positions where there is little depth, however.

    Right defensive end Calais Campbell has a fractured thumb and likely will have to play with a cast. His backup, Alan Branch, has performed well but he's never had to start and play a significant amount.

    Free safety Antrel Rolle missed last week's game with a thigh bruise. He likely will play this week but it's questionable if he will be 100 percent. With Matt Ware on injured reserve, the backup is rookie Rashad Johnson, who has developed slowly this season.

    Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie suffered a bruised left kneecap last week, but the injury wasn't as bad as initially feared. Still, it's questionable if he will be at full speed.

    If he can't play, Michael Adams will start and the Packers picked on him last week.


  • QB Kurt Warner should have benefited from playing only a quarter last week. Warner is nursing bumps and bruises and the time off should do him good.

  • QB Matt Leinart didn't impress last week in two quarters of play, but he's not likely to play in the post-season anyway.

  • RB Beanie Wells was limited last week by a sore groin and didn't play much. He should be healthy for Sunday's game.

  • RB Tim Hightower has had fewer carries than Beanie Wells over the last five games, but still plays an important role in passing situations. If Hightower gets hot in the run game, the Cardinals will stick with him.

  • RB Jason Wright plays a limited role when the team goes to its two-back sets in passing situations. He does catch some passes near the goal line and can play fullback in a pinch.

  • WR Larry Fitzgerald is reasonably healthy and has been productive on the field. He has 13 touchdown catches, setting a career record. Fitzgerald has a badly bruised left elbow but doesn't seem hindered by it.

  • WR Anquan Boldin has a sprained left ankle and likely will miss practice time this week. Boldin has said he will play this week.

  • WR Steve Breaston could surprise in the playoffs if the Cardinals go to more three- and four-receiver sets. Breaston's speed makes him a deep threat, and he often sees single coverage.

  • WR Early Doucet has passed Jerheme Urban for the No. 4 job. Doucet scored his first NFL touchdown last week.

  • TE Ben Patrick continues to be the team's most effective tight end, especially in the red zone. Patrick missed the past two games with a concussion but should be ready to play in the playoffs.

  • TE Anthony Becht is the best blocking tight end on the club, but he's not a big part of the passing game.

  • K Neil Rackers has been reliable this season, missing only one field goal. He returned last week after missing two games with a groin injury.

  • DE Calais Campbell has seven sacks in his first full season as a starter, but has a fractured left thumb. He likely will be playing with a cast, which would limit his effectiveness.

  • FS Antrel Rolle missed last week's game with a thigh bruise but is expected to return this week. His backup, Rashad Johnson, has not developed quickly in his rookie season.

  • CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie suffered a left kneecap contusion and probably will be limited in practice this week. He is expected to play. His backup, Michael Adams, is a fierce competitor but the Packers will try to take advantage of him if he has to start.

  • Viking Update Top Stories