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Packers look to 'keep the wheels turning' against the Lions

Green Bay set to play its starters in Sunday’s regular-season finale in Detroit

WR Davante Adams
WR Davante Adams

GREEN BAY – On paper, the Packers don't have much to play for this Sunday in Detroit after wrapping the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs and the first-round bye that comes with it.

But that isn't the way they're looking at it.

Head Coach Matt LaFleur is preparing for his starters to play and his team to win a competitive game against a gritty Lions team only a few weeks removed from a 30-12 drubbing of the playoff-bound Arizona Cardinals.

"The message to our team, and this is the way we truly feel, is we're going to Detroit to win a football game," said LaFleur on Wednesday. "We know that Detroit's been really tough in their last two home games. They beat Minnesota right at the end of the game and they put a pounding on Arizona.

"And it's not a secret as to why, because when you cut on the film and you watch these guys play, they play very physical and they play very hard and we know that they're going to do that for four quarters."

The locker room is with LaFleur. Both quarterback Aaron Rodgers and receiver Davante Adams made it clear following Green Bay's dominant 37-10 win over the Minnesota Vikings last Sunday that they wanted to play against the Lions.

Among the prevailing reasons are the team's desire to avoid too long of a layoff, while continuing to build momentum on what's now a five-game winning streak. After Sunday's win over the Vikings, LaFleur even remarked that the 27-point triumph was his team's most complete game of the season in all three phases.

In addition to the slew of players Green Bay activated off the reserve/COVID-19 list this week, there are also a several key players nearing a return. Left tackle David Bakhtiari (knee) and center Josh Myers (knee) did individual drills Wednesday, while cornerback Jaire Alexander had been practicing since Dec. 8 before going on the COVID list.

If any of them are cleared for Sunday, they certainly could benefit from the live reps before the postseason push begins.

"It's more just keeping the momentum going and the desire to be out there with the guys competing," Rodgers said. "I know there's possible players who could return this week – I don't know what their status is going to be – but that's exciting, for sure.

"If guys are healthy, guys want to play. There's risk every time you take the field. There's obviously the idea about rust compared to momentum but, yeah, I want to be out there and be with my guys."

Over in the other Zoom room, both Adams and defensive tackle Kenny Clark talked on Wednesday about the benefit of keeping your body in a routine and staying in a rhythm, especially with a bye on the other side Sunday's NFC North showdown.

Adams, who needs just 22 receiving yards to break Jordy Nelson's single-season franchise record, doesn't anticipate he'll play the entire game but said he'll be ready for anything.

One thing Adams feels strongly about is the value of playing in a regular-season finale compared to a preseason game, which comes during the ramp-up period of training camp against mostly vanilla defenses.

"The biggest part for me is just not being out two weeks before going into a heated playoff matchup," Adams said. "I just don't like having that type of time off going into a game like that.

"Obviously there's risk, but there's risk going across the street, so at this point, you can't run from me. If you're scared, go to church and just do what you gotta do. We're not thinking too much about it. Just wanna keep the wheels turning and get ready for playoffs."

The Packers put a lot of time and resources into deciding how to proceed this week. LaFleur credited director of football technology Mike Halbach and his team for the work they did breaking down the numbers on previous teams that had clinched early and how they handled their regular-season finale.

The strategies ranged from playing starters from a third of the game to the entire contest. The variables will always differ somewhat depending on the year and situation but LaFleur is confident in the plan the Packers developed and how his team will respond on Sunday and beyond.

"It was overwhelmingly in favor of giving the guys at least some time," LaFleur said of the team's research. "Certainly you weigh in that information, but you also talk to your players and these guys want to play. So that's how we're going to go about it."

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