GREEN BAY, Wis. — When the Packers cruised through the regular season last year, earned the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs and had a bye in the first round, the end result was clearly not what the team wanted.
But that experience of getting blown out by the New York Giants in the postseason divisional round has not changed the way coach Mike McCarthy views a first-round bye.
“I really feel the bye week last year and what happened in the Giants game is really overblown,” McCarthy said Wednesday. “It’s important to have a healthy football team. If you have an opportunity to achieve a bye week, that’s what we’re working for. I’m going to make that clear right now.
“We have our foot on the gas. We’re focused on winning games and improving as a football team. But we want the bye week. Make no bones about it.”
If the Packers (10-4) win their final two regular-season games, starting Sunday at home with the Tennessee Titans and concluding Dec. 30 in Minnesota against the Vikings, they’ll still need help in order to earn a bye.
A Green Bay victory this weekend will secure the No. 3 seed, but the Packers need the San Francisco 49ers (10-3-1) to lose at least one game in order for the No. 2 seed to become a possibility.
“It’d be nice to get that (No.) 2 seed,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “The 1 seed is going to be tough, but the 2 seed is probably doable.”
Green Bay would already be in the driver’s seat for the No. 2 seed had it not been for the replacement referees mistakenly awarding a touchdown to Seattle on the infamous final play of the Packers’ Week 3 loss. Coincidentally, it’s the Seahawks who face the 49ers this weekend, with a Seattle win potentially lifting Green Bay past San Francisco in the standings and into the No. 2 seed.
“That’s one thing you worried about at the time (after the loss to the Seahawks) was, if we’re sitting here last week of the season and have to win to get in, or maybe win and get some help, that would have probably been talked about more,” Rodgers said. “It’s not on our minds anymore. There’s a lot of what-ifs. (There’s) nothing we can do about it.
“We’d love to have that bye, be sitting there at the 1 or 2 seed. So, at this point, trying to have a short memory, kind of rooting for the teams that you need to win. We’ve been on the other end where we’ve needed a little bit of help at times. It’s nice to be able to be in already and just kind of playing for your seeding right now.”
Not only did the Packers have a bye in the postseason last year, but they already had the No. 1 seed locked up heading into Week 17. That allowed Rodgers, along with several of Green Bay’s other star players, to rest during the final regular-season game. The Packers won that game against the Detroit Lions with quarterback Matt Flynn and many other backups playing, but the two full weeks without game action for Rodgers and others made it conceivable to assume that their supposedly advantageous position actually worked against Green Bay.
“I understand and have looked at it extensively, (but) the Giants beat us,” McCarthy said. “I looked at the way we practiced and all the things we did leading up to that game. I will do some things differently if I’m in that position, just things as far as the practice structure.”
The past two Super Bowl champions — the Packers in 2010 and the Giants in 2011 — both had to win their final two regular-season games in their respective championship seasons just to make the playoffs. Though Green Bay doesn’t have that type of pressure this season, it could still benefit from having its seeding yet to be determined.
“There’s a lot to play for, and I think we learned last year, you’ve got to be playing the right way at the end of the season,” Rodgers said. “Hopefully we can keep the momentum going that we started and keep it rolling.”