Battle Of Bays Will Be Significant

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They are no longer divisional rivals, but this weekend's 'Battle of the Bays' could hardly be bigger.

The Packers take with them not only a chance to clinch the NFC North title Sunday, needing a win at Tampa Bay and a loss or tie by the Minnesota Vikings at New England, but also -- tied with the Buccaneers at 8-2 for the best record in the NFL -- an opportunity to step forward in the race for home-field advantage in the playoffs.

But despite the post-season implications, Packers GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman insists that this game is no more significant than any other. Of course, it's no less significant either. Which is why his discussions with the team this week won't look beyond the implications of Sunday alone, and trying to pick up the ninth win of the season.

"They have to understand that just winning the game is so important," Sherman said. "You have to go into every game that way. We didn't talk about clinching divisions, we're not going to talk about that stuff -- home-field advantage. We haven't even done anything yet, so to even talk about home-field advantage, we would be wrong to do that.

"We're going down to Tampa to play a very good opponent in a very competitive environment, and we have to play our best game. That's what we're going to talk about, preparing to play our very best game of the season on Sunday."

Earning a win might require nothing less.

The Packers will take on a Tampa Bay defense that's tops in the NFL, allowing just less 12 points per game (11.9 avg.). And only the Packers' plus-15 turnover ratio is better than the Bucs' plus-12 margin, which includes a league-high 21 interceptions.

Then there are the Packers' struggles at Raymond James Stadium to consider. Since its opening in 1998, the Packers are winless in four trips to the southern bay venue.

Of course in the history of sport, a stadium has never actually defeated an opposing team, but coming off last weekend's loss at the Metrodome, another house of seemingly constant struggle for the Packers, such stats are hardly seem worth dismissing.

Sherman hasn't forgotten about them, but he won't be making past woes the focal point of the practice week.

"I don't deal whole lot about what's happened in the past, because that really plays no part in the future," he said. "The tradition and history of the Packers, we'll reference that all the time. In regard to us going down there and not playing well in the past, I think that's something I have to look at as a coach. But for them as players, each season is a new season, each opportunity is a new opportunity and we're going to go down there and make the most of out of it."

Whatever the Packers' current streak on the road at Tampa Bay, the more important streak is the one on the 2002 regular season schedule, which currently stands at one loss.

Earlier this season, the Packers responded to a disappointing defeat at New Orleans with a win at Detroit that launched a seven-game victorious run.

It was a statement that hinted of championship character. And it's the kind of resolve the team would like to display now.

"We don't normally lose back to back games, and we're going to fight like hell not to do that," Sherman said. "I think this team will rise to the occasion."

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