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Day-After Notes: Packers Preparing To Hit Road


Head Coach Mike McCarthy works the sidelines from Soldier Field in Chicago on Dec. 13, one of the Packers' four road victories in 2009.

Moments after the Packers had clinched their NFC playoff berth on Sunday, Head Coach Mike McCarthy already was talking about the "road warrior" mentality his team will have to possess in the month of January.

As a Wild Card entrant seeded fifth or sixth in the NFC, it's highly likely the Packers will need to win three road playoff games in order to make it to the Super Bowl. Their first playoff game will be on the road against a division champion, and should they win, their second would be on the road against a division champion that received a first-round bye.

The highest remaining seed would then host the NFC Championship, so the only way the Packers would get a home game would be as a No. 5 seed hosting a No. 6 seed that also would have won two road games in the first two rounds.

But the odds of that are quite small. Since the NFL went to the current playoff format in 1990, two Wild Card teams have never met for a conference championship in either the NFC or AFC. So in order to reach the Super Bowl, it's best the Packers count on being road warriors for the entire month of January, beginning with their regular-season finale this week at Arizona.

"It's a big challenge," McCarthy said. "Everybody is in the position they are in for a reason. We've earned this playoff berth with 10 wins. The NFL is a great example of you get what you earn. We're going to have to earn it on the road, and we feel good about our chances."

Winning three road games to reach the Super Bowl isn't unprecedented. In fact, it's been done twice in the past four years - by Pittsburgh in 2005 and by the New York Giants in 2007, when they came to Lambeau Field to beat the Packers in overtime in the NFC Championship to finish off their three-game road streak.

Pittsburgh was a No. 6 seed in '05 and the Giants were a No. 5 seed in '07, and both teams ended up winning the Super Bowl. Last year, Baltimore and Philadelphia were the respective No. 6 seeds and won their first two games before falling in the conference title games.

The Packers like their chances of making a run because they have a solid road record under McCarthy. Heading into this week's game at Arizona, the Packers are 17-14 on the road under McCarthy, one of only nine teams in the league to be above .500 on the road since 2006. This year Green Bay is 4-3 with one regular-season game remaining.

McCarthy believes one of the keys to having success on the road is keeping the players in a routine. The team's travel schedule is virtually identical every time it takes to the road, and the preparation schedule for games in general is pretty much the same whether the game is at home or on the road.

"Obviously you have to factor in the travel, but (we) try to get to the opposing city as fast as we can and to get them on the same program," McCarthy said. "(We) encourage them to go to dinner with one another. I think it's great for team dynamics, team-building. You'll see a number of our positions eat dinner together in opposing cities."

With the emphasis on routine, McCarthy dismissed the idea of potentially staying in Arizona for the entire week after this Sunday's game if the Cardinals are the first-round playoff opponent.

Defensive coordinator Dom Capers, who has been a head coach twice himself in the NFL, also believes routine is a key element on the road because it keeps players from losing their focus on the task at hand.

"There are so many peripheral things that can distract you from focusing on what you have to focus on to go win a game," Capers said. "I think competitive maturity is important. If you're immature competitively, you may get influenced a lot more by all the outside things as opposed to just zeroing in on what you have to do to go play well."

Figuring out strategy

McCarthy was purposefully vague on how his team will approach Sunday's game in Arizona with the strong possibility that the two teams could be meeting in the same stadium again one week later in the playoffs.

"We're going to game plan for the Arizona Cardinals, and then we're going to decide anything to do with personnel, health, and so forth at the end of the week like we always do," McCarthy said.

The Packers could be playing for the No. 5 seed as opposed to the No. 6 seed on Sunday, but they have little to no control over who their first-round playoff opponent will be, because that depends more on the Eagles-Cowboys game next week and the Vikings' two remaining games beginning Monday night.

McCarthy indicated he's not afraid of "showing" too much to the Cardinals on Sunday because game plans can be so voluminous that there are always more options to bring into a rematch if necessary. He also believes those kinds of considerations are "overrated" because after four months teams have firmly established their identities anyway, and Capers echoed those thoughts.

{sportsad300}"We have so much tape, we study each other, you break down an awful lot of games, study the tendencies, and teams don't just all of a sudden change," Capers said. "You are what you are. When you get to this point in the season, so much of it comes down to being able to execute with a high degree of efficiency.

"If we play them a second time, they'll change some of their tendencies, but they're still going to be doing the same things they've been doing, the things they've had success with. I think you make a big mistake if you don't go with the things you've been successful at."

Injury update

The ankle injury to safety and special teams ace Derrick Martin will put him as doubtful for this week, according to McCarthy, who didn't indicate whether he thought Martin could be back in time for the playoffs.

Martin leads the team in special teams tackles with 21, including five just two weeks ago in Pittsburgh, a season-high for any Green Bay player this year. His injury came in the fourth quarter on Sunday when he was playing defense as a substitute late in the blowout of Seattle.

"Derrick Martin has been outstanding on special teams, he really has," McCarthy said. "Hopefully he can get back sooner than later. But he's made a big impact, and that's what we saw of him coming over here from Baltimore. He's done a very good job for us."

Reserve defensive end Mike Montgomery also has an ankle injury and could be doubtful this week.

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