GREEN BAY—The 10-4 Packers will be playing for playoff seeding, with a chance to move into the No. 2 spot in the NFC with a win at Lambeau Field on Sunday. For their opponent, the 5-9 Tennessee Titans, Sunday's game is about the future.
"We know we don't have an opportunity to play for any more games than the 16 we're guaranteed. It's an opportunity to build momentum going into the offseason," first-year starting quarterback Jake Locker told Packers media on Wednesday.
Locker is the face of the Titans' future. He was the eighth pick of the 2011 draft, spent his rookie season on the bench and will be making his 10th career start and his sixth straight. Locker's stats aren't special, but his talent is and he's beginning to show signs of development.
"We're real happy with him and how he's developed," Titans Head Coach Mike Munchak said of Locker.
Most recently, he game-managed a win over the Jets on Monday Night Football by playing error-free football. The previous week, he stood up to the challenge Andrew Luck presented in a narrow defeat to the Colts. Locker threw for 309 yards but three interceptions against the Texans.
He's the classic work in progress, with as many interceptions as touchdown passes.
When will he make the next big step? Will it happen this Sunday, or in what's left of this season, or is it reserved for 2013?
If Locker hasn't quite reached major threat status, yet, Titans running back Chris Johnson has certainly returned to it. Johnson broke off a 94-yard touchdown run two days ago in the win over the Jets. Johnson has rushed for 1,159 yards this season.
"He's still a special football player that still has a lot of juice left in him, and we're going to need that this weekend," Munchak said of Johnson.
Tennessee is down the rankings on both sides of the ball – 23rd on offense and defense – but everything about the rebuilding of a franchise that was a perennial playoff contender under Jeff Fisher is about the next big step upward, and Munchak is hoping his team will take that step this Sunday.
"We feel like we're building something here that's going to take another year to get done," he said. "The fact that (the Packers are) one of the better teams in the league gives us a chance to come in there, play well and see where we're at."
Clearly, the Titans are using this Sunday's game as a measuring stick. They'll be measuring themselves against a high-profile opponent in a storied stadium, and that combination is likely to pique a young team's interest.
"I think we have a really good core of talented players here. You learn a lot about your team and the guys on your team. It's easy to cash in and shut it down. I don't feel like this team has done that at all," Locker said.
"A lot of young guys are playing. We're playing like we're still in this thing," Munchak added. Additional coverage - Dec. 19