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Starters: To Play Or Not To Play, That Is The Question


On the surface the Seattle Seahawks-Green Bay Packers game features marquee players, but will that matchup feature Matt Hasselbeck vs. Brett Favre or Aaron Rodgers vs. Seneca Wallace?

At 3-12 the Packers cannot make the playoffs or climb out of last place in the NFC North division, but they plan to play all their starters.

"We go into this game like any game," Head Coach Mike Sherman said. "Every time I've gone out that tunnel, my expectation has been to win the game."

The Seahawks also want to win the game but find themselves in an opposite situation record-wise. The 13-2 squad has wrapped up homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. They must balance the need to create positive momentum for a playoff run with the need to keep their players healthy.

"This is not a preseason game. This is a regular season game," Seahawks head coach Mike Holmgren said. "Even though we have things locked up for the playoffs, one of the things that allowed us to have a decent record is that our players have approached every game pretty much the same way."

To maintain that focus, Holmgren has said the Seahawks will play all their starters to begin the game. The flow of the game will decide how much action they will receive, and he has not determined whether his stars, including quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, running back Shaun Alexander and linebacker Lofa Tatapu will play one series, one quarter or one half.

"They're going to start the game," Holmgren said. "Then we're going to see how the game unfolds."

Some of Holmgren's younger players, however, like the third-year Wallace, have seen more extensive practice time this week.

The local media questioned Sherman as to whether he will play more young players as a means to further evaluate them for next year. Sherman pointed out several rookies on the Packers roster already have received extensive action. Rookies William Whitticker, Samkon Gado, Roy Manning, Brady Poppinga and Nick Collins all started games.

"A lot of young guys have been playing a good part of the season," Sherman said. "They're going to continue to play, and we're going to continue to evaluate them."

Because Favre gives the team the best chance to win, Sherman said first round draft pick Rodgers will only see action if the Packers go way ahead or fall way behind.

For the Seahawks, the matter of playing time is further complicated by Alexander, who has tied Kansas City Chiefs running back Priest Holmes for the single-season touchdown record with 27. The Seahawks must decide the value of risking his health so that he can break that mark.

Alexander, who attended his aunt's funeral in Cincinnati on Thursday but will play on Sunday, insists the record does not carry that much significance.

"I haven't even really thought about it that much," he said. "If we play enough, we'll get it ... If we don't, then that's okay."

In last week's 28-13 Seahawks win against the Indianapolis Colts, however, they re-inserted Alexander into the lineup when they reached the one-yard-line with 4:02 to play, and he scored his 27th touchdown.

William Henderson played under Holmgren for four years and said his former head coach will give Alexander every chance to score his 28th touchdown even if it means playing him deep into the game.

"He would give Shaun the respect to let him establish himself for a record," Henderson said.

Alexander has a chance to eclipse another storied record on Sunday. Former Packers star Paul Hornung holds the record for most single-season points at 176, which he scored off of 15 touchdowns, 41 PATs and 15 field goals. Alexander has 162, making Hornung's record seemingly safe -- or so one would believe.

Alexander, however, stressed the capability of the Seahawks' No.1-ranked offense.

"If we play the whole game," he said. "Anything's possible."

If the Seahawks' marquee players do not play the whole game, Holmgren must be careful. He faces a Packers team hungry for a win, and he witnessed first hand how playing one's backups can backfire late in the season.

In 1996 the 12-1 Denver Broncos had locked up the AFC's best record and rested many of their starters against the Packers. The Packers then pummeled the Broncos 41-6 in Lambeau Field, and the Broncos never recovered. The 13-3 Broncos limped to a 1-2 regular-season finish and lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the divisional playoffs.

"Winning is contagious and so is losing," Alexander said.

Both teams must keep that in mind as the Seahawks want to ride their winning momentum into the postseason, and the Packers seek to establish a foundation for next season.

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