Packers, 49ers dance To a different beat
Updated: 2011-12-11 08:21
Green Bay and San Francisco are a class apart as other NFC sides battle for playoff berths
The first step sometimes is the biggest for NFL teams: Making the playoffs.
With that accomplished, the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers have much loftier goals.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith pitches the ball out against the St. Louis Rams during their NFL game in San Francisco, California, in early December. The 49ers have won the NFC West title and are concentrating on winning all their remaining matches before the playoffs start. Robert Galbraith / Agencies
Green Bay clinched the NFC North and San Francisco grabbed the NFC West last week with wins. For the Packers, there's been nothing but victories, 12 of them, as they host the Oakland Raiders on Sunday. The defending Super Bowl champion is concentrating on ensuring all its playoff games are held at Lambeau Field. And there's that little challenge of going undefeated.
"Oh, I think it's way too early to even think about those things," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "We have 12 wins. Everybody knows what San Francisco's record is. It's important for us to stay focused and get ready for the Oakland Raiders. It's way too early to think about those types of things."
San Francisco's record is 10-2 and the 49ers don't have the most challenging remaining schedule. They are at the Arizona Diamondbacks on Sunday - the Niners are 4-1 on the road - and also go to Seattle and St. Louis. The biggest test is a home game with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Niners want, at worst, to finish second overall in the NFC and get a first-round playoff bye and a guaranteed home game. They also know NFC South leader New Orleans is just one game behind in the overall standings.
"I think we're still just kind of scratching at it, what we can become," 49ers quarterback Alex Smith said. "And we're doing some good things in the meantime, but still I think, we are still kind of forming and becoming what our potential is. That's encouraging as we just need to continue to keep getting better these last few weeks, each and every week taking a step."
The 49ers' stunning turnaround this season has earned them their first playoff spot since 2002 with the stingiest defense in the NFL (28 fewer points than Houston) and a solid running game. They also lead with 28 takeaways. That's a winning formula in any league.
Arizona has won four of its past five games, but the only loss was 23-7 at San Francisco.
The Packers passed a tough test last week with their impressive march to a winning field goal in the final 58 seconds against the New York Giants. But their defense remains spotty, and star cornerback Charles Woodson sustained a concussion last week.
For Oakland, what once seemed like a romp to its first AFC West crown since 2002 now is a battle with the surging Denver Broncos. The Raiders come off an awful performance at Miami and the offense has been stymied by injuries to running back Darren McFadden (right foot) and big-play receivers Jacoby Ford (left foot) and Denarius Moore (right foot). McFadden has missed the past five games, Ford the past three and Moore the past two.
But this is a resilient bunch that hopes to have success with the running game in Green Bay.
"Our guys have got to get people blocked, we've got to run like we know we can run, and get it done," coach Hue Jackson. "That's the bottom line."
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