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Packers Possess More Playoff Experience This Time Around


WR Greg Jennings celebrates a touchdown with RB Ryan Grant in Week 14 at Chicago. Both players were new to the playoffs back in 2007.

The Green Bay Packers entered the 2009 season as the NFL's youngest team for the fourth straight year.

But they're entering the 2009 postseason as a team with a lot more playoff experience than they had for their playoff run two years ago.

Following the 2007 season, the Packers began the playoffs with just 17 players on their 53-man roster possessing postseason experience. This time, 30 of their 53 players have played in the playoffs before, including 28 who appeared in at least one of the two '07 postseason contests in Green Bay.

That's a significant jump in terms of having a taste of postseason football. It does still leave 23 players on the roster as playoff newbies, but it helps to counter the argument that Sunday's NFC Wild Card opponent, the defending NFC champion Arizona Cardinals, are that much more loaded with postseason experience compared to the young Packers.

The Cardinals did win three playoff games a year ago in their march to the Super Bowl, but only 34 of those 53 players who began last season's run to the NFC championship are on their current roster. That's not many more than the 28 the Packers have from two years ago, when the team came within an overtime of winning the NFC title.

"I think (experience) is a factor, and I think that what we have to look to is the veteran players that have playoff experience for us, conveying that to the young guys, how important it is in their preparation," said defensive coordinator Dom Capers, who is in the playoffs with his fifth different team (New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Carolina, Jacksonville) in his coaching career.

"Once you get out there, it's football, but because they're all good teams, any team is capable of beating the other team, so you want to make sure you minimize your errors. You want to make that team beat you and you don't want to beat yourself."

This year's Packers have a total of 101 games of playoff experience, including 65 starts. That's actually not much more than the '07 team, which had 94 games and 62 starts, but nearly one-third of those starts then were from one player, quarterback Brett Favre, who had 20.

That of course puts all eyes on the successor, Aaron Rodgers, whose only playoff experience came in mop-up duty during the NFC Divisional playoff blowout of Seattle two years ago.

There's no discounting the importance of the quarterback spot, but Rodgers will be surrounded by a ton of offensive teammates with playoff experience. The only starters who have never played in the postseason are right guard Josh Sitton and tight end Jermichael Finley, with the only other potential contributors new to the playoffs being reserves in receiver/returner Jordy Nelson, fullback Quinn Johnson and tight end Spencer Havner.

That's not to say playoff rookies can't produce, however. Running back Ryan Grant was new to the playoffs two years ago, and after overcoming two early fumbles, he had the biggest rushing day in franchise history in the playoffs with 201 yards and three touchdowns against the Seahawks. Similarly, receiver Greg Jennings hadn't seen the postseason before that day and posted six catches for 71 yards and two TDs.

Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin believes it comes down to players focusing on their fundamentals each and every snap, which helps to keep them from getting distracted by the atmosphere and the high stakes.

"I certainly don't think (experience) hurts," Philbin said. "But again, I think the best thing is if you can execute well and play sound football, hold onto the ball, not give it to them, do what we do.

"Jermichael Finley hasn't played in a playoff game, but hopefully for him he gets a good release off the line of scrimmage, he gets to his depth, he gets his head around quick, and the ball's there and he catches it. That's more important to me than sitting around worrying about how many games Jermichael Finley has or hasn't played in playoff football."

{sportsad300}The number of playoff rookies for the Packers is in the same ballpark on defense. The only starters new to the playoffs are outside linebackers Clay Matthews and Brad Jones, with a key member of the defensive line in B.J. Raji also a rookie.

Other potential contributors new to the playoffs are defensive end Jarius Wynn and cornerbacks Josh Bell and Brandon Underwood. Special teamers include Derrick Martin, punter Jeremy Kapinos and long snapper Brett Goode.

In the big picture, that's not a startling number of newcomers to the playoffs in any phase of the game, but they are in for a change of scenery with regard to the atmosphere and intensity of the game.

High-impact players like Finley, Nelson, Matthews and Raji will have to continue playing well for the Packers, while the others new to the playoffs can't let themselves get overwhelmed. If that's the case, the bulk of the Packers who have been in the playoffs before can lead the way.

"We talk all the time about there's a great transition from preseason to regular season in terms of the speed and the tempo of the game, and for some of these young guys that haven't been in the playoffs before, there's that same kind of step when you go from the regular season into the playoffs," Capers said.

"You try to do your best in terms of getting them prepared and understanding it's going to take great focus, and there's less margin for error because every team that's playing now is a good team."

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