McCarthy's Made His Decision...Posted:Dec 28th, 2011 8:37 pm
Mike McCarthy knows how he's going to handle his team's matchup with the Lions on Sunday. On the one hand, you've locked up the top seed in the NFC and can accomplish nothing with a win this Sunday, except a gaudy 15-1 record and a little thing called momentum.
And if you were facing the Bears this Sunday, a team with nothing to play for, it's a slam dunk. You rest your key guys, figure you can probably beat them without Rodgers, Woodson and Matthews and get 13 or 14 days of rest before you host a playoff game.
But you're facing the Detroit Lions, the motivated-to-win Detroit Lions. What's that? They've already clinched a playoff berth and the only thing they can do is clinch the #5 vs. the #6 seed? Yeah, well that's the difference between heading to the home of the NFC East champ or heading to Who Dat nation in the Superdome. You can bet Jim Schwartz is selling his team that they're the 2010 Packers, that dangerous low seed no one wants to face in the playoffs. And if they're #5 and have to head to New York or Dallas, few will doubt that they could pull off the minor road upset.
But a date with Drew Brees in New Orleans? They'd be hard pressed to keep up with that team in that building. And take it a step further. Say the #3 Saints meet the Falcons and dispatch the dirty birds. That means they would head to San Francisco in the divisional round. The winner of the Lions-NFC East champ would head to Lambeau.
So if Mike McCarthy elects to rest guys and the Lions are in it to win it, you set up another potential meeting with the dangerous Lions in two weeks at Lambeau. Not to say the Pack wouldn't handle the Kitties on the frozen tundra, but if I'm McCarthy I want to take a shot at handing them the sixth seed and a date with the Saints.
The downside of course is one of your key players gets injured in a "meaningless" game, a la Wes Welker four years ago. I say McCarthy would say it's the price of doing business. This regime constantly preaches that you go out to win every football game and I believe they will play their starters this Sunday. Let's be honest, the defense has been shaky since the Thanksgiving Day beat down of the Lions. This game would be a good litmus test to better understand where this unit is at, giving the defensive coaches more tape to study as they prepare for the playoffs. Coincidentally, the Lions have taken off since that Turkey Day domination.
There's really no dilemma here. You go out to finish off the season the way you've played it all year. You don't play the guys that are nicked. Jermichael Finley (knee) and Randall Cobb (groin) missed practice on Wednesday. Don't play them on Sunday. Ryan Pickett was fully cleared and Chad Clifton participated fully on Wednesday. Play them on Sunday. Play everybody who's healthy and evaluate as the game goes on.
The Super Bowl champs need to keep their mojo against a divisional foe who is already invited to the playoff party. You can bet McCarthy will go all out to keep that home winning streak going, as well as momentum heading into their defense of the Lombardi trophy.