The Packers have a few targets to shoot for in Sunday’s regular-season finale against Detroit.
Sweeping the division for the first time since the league went to the current divisional format in 1967.
Completing the team’s first 8-0 home record since 2002.
“And getting out healthy, too,” tight end Jermichael Finley said.
Ah, yes, the health goal. Make no mistake, that’s really priority No. 1 for the 14-1 Packers in a game that won’t have any impact on playoff positioning for Green Bay.
A week ago there was the thought of needing to regain some momentum after the first loss of the season in Kansas City. That was essentially accomplished, though, as the Packers clinched home field throughout the playoffs by scoring touchdowns on four straight possessions on Christmas night against Chicago.
“I don’t think anybody’s real worried about momentum at this point,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said this week. “We’re the No. 1 seed. That’s enough momentum.
“We’re going to host a home playoff game. It’s tough to play in Lambeau with the crowd going and the elements. I don’t think many people are too worried about potential momentum going in, knowing we have a bye the first week in the playoffs.”
The Packers haven’t been in this position since 2007, when they rested several starters in a meaningless regular-season finale against Detroit and then came back after the playoff bye to score 42 points in their first postseason game.
Head Coach Mike McCarthy played it a different way two years ago, when the Packers had clinched a wild-card spot and had nothing to gain in a regular-season finale in Arizona. With his team having won six of its last seven following a 4-4 start, McCarthy played his regular lineup to keep momentum going and won, though the Packers returned to Arizona the following week and lost a playoff shootout in overtime.
This time, McCarthy has a keen eye on his team’s health. Left tackle Chad Clifton (hamstring/back) is slated to get his first action since Week 5 to gear up for possible playoff duty, but McCarthy may sit Rodgers altogether in favor of Matt Flynn at quarterback. Meanwhile three other banged-up offensive weapons – receivers Randall Cobb (groin) and Greg Jennings (knee) plus running back James Starks (knee/ankle) – won’t play until the postseason.
Right tackle Bryan Bulaga (knee) is doubtful and likely sitting out, while linebacker Clay Matthews (ankle) and cornerback Charles Woodson (knee) are questionable and good candidates for a rest as well.
McCarthy rejected the notion that he can play Sunday’s game like a preseason contest, though, simply because a training-camp roster has 80 members, while a regular-season game-day roster has just 46 active players.
The receiving corps is a perfect example. With Jennings and Cobb out this week, Jordy Nelson, Donald Driver and James Jones are the only receivers available, so they have to play.
“Our 46 players need to go out and play like they always have, and you hope you’re blessed by the hand of God that no one gets hurt,” McCarthy said. “Injuries are part of the game, and hopefully we can avoid them this week.”
Meanwhile, the Lions (10-5) are hoping to avoid a 21st consecutive loss in the state of Wisconsin. More importantly, they’re trying to avoid having to play their first playoff game against a potential 13-win team.
Should the Lions lose to the Packers and the Falcons beat the Buccaneers, Detroit would drop to the NFC’s No. 6 playoff seed and would play a wild-card game at either San Francisco or New Orleans, who are both 12-3 heading into this weekend.
But should the Lions beat the Packers to secure the No. 5 seed, they’d be matched up with either the New York Giants or Dallas Cowboys in the opening round, one of whom will be 9-7 as NFC East champion.
That’s a big difference, so there’s plenty at stake for the Lions, who are postseason-bound for the first time since 1999 and just three years removed from an 0-16 record that led to the hiring of Head Coach Jim Schwartz and the drafting of quarterback Matthew Stafford, defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh and a host of core players.
“They’ve obviously improved in the last couple years and are playing really well,” Rodgers said. “It’s no surprise they’re in the playoffs.”
For more Packers-Lions stories from the past week, click here.