Seattle Seahawks (10-6) at Green Bay Packers (13-3)
KICKOFF: Saturday, 4:30 ET
TV: FOX, Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, Tony Siragusa
SERIES: 13th meeting. Packers lead series, 7-5, though the Seahawks captured a 34-24 decision in 2006. The only time the teams met in the postseason, Green Bay won a 33-27 overtime game when Matt Hasselbeck threw an interception to Al Harris that was returned 52 yards for the score.
PREDICTION: Packers 27-24
KEYS TO THE GAME: With temperatures predicted below freezing with possible snow flurries, weather could cause problems for the Seahawks' pass-heavy offense. Then again, the majority of QB Matt Hasselbeck's passes are of the short to medium variety. Of bigger concern might be the sprained wrist he aggravated against Washington that could hurt his accuracy. ... With the Seahawks looking to prevent big plays by bringing linebackers on the blitz, QB Brett Favre will rely on plenty of slants and screens to combat the quickness of Seattle's front seven. RB Ryan Grant will be a key factor as well, but when the Packers spread the field, look for Favre to target CBs Jordan Babineaux and Josh Wilson in nickel and dime packages.
KEY INJURIES: Packers: CB Will Blackmon (foot) is uncertain.
Seahawks: DE Patrick Kerney has missed some practice this week but will play.
FAST FACTS: Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren is tied for fifth all-time with 13 postseason wins -- including nine with Green Bay. ... The Packers' defensive line has accounted for 31.5 of the team's 36 sacks.
-- DE Patrick Kerney practiced for the first time this week and is expected to play on Saturday.
-- WR Deion Branch practiced despite a calf strain and is expected to play on Saturday.
-- WR D.J. Hackett had limited participation in practice to rest an ankle he has sprained twice this season but is expected to play Saturday.
-- OT Walter Jones practiced for the first time this week. He has been resting sore shoulders. He will play against Green Bay.
-- DT Rocky Bernard practiced for the first time this week. He has been resting a sore groin. He will play against the Packers.
-- LB Niko Koutouvides practiced for the first time this week because of a knee injury but will play on Saturday.
--MLB Nick Barnett was added to the injury report and didn't do much in practice Thursday because of hamstring soreness. The team took a cautious approach in holding Barnett back. He is expected to be fine for the game Saturday.
--CB Charles Woodson returned to practice after being out the previous day. He was limited, though, to give him more time to get well for the game after experiencing knee swelling following Tuesday's practice, on top of a lingering toe injury.
--DT Corey Williams was added to the injury report because of hamstring soreness. He was held out most of the practice Thursday for precautionary reasons and should make the start Saturday.
--CB Will Blackmon appears to be doubtful to play this weekend. He didn't take part in any team drills this week as he copes with a right foot injury he aggravated in the regular-season finale. Tramon Williams likely will fill in for Blackmon at both nickel back and on punt returns.
--WR Greg Jennings had limited involvement Thursday, a day after he left toward the end of practice when he experienced tightness in his groin. The team was simply being cautious with its No. 2 receiver, who will make the start Saturday.
--RG Jason Spitz (quadriceps) and WR James Jones (hamstring) were removed from the injury report Thursday and are good to play in the game. Spitz will be in the starting lineup.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
Seattle Seahawks defensive end Patrick Kerney returned to practice on Thursday, the first time the defensive player of the year runner-up has practiced this week. Kerney said on Tuesday that he was just being given a day off, but he missed practice on Wednesday as well with what was described as a knee injury -- though he has not spoken to the media since Tuesday to clarify his injury.
In either case, the fact that Kerney will play Saturday is a key for the Seahawks because Kerney, signed as a free agent in the offseason, has been invaluable to Seattle, especially in the second half of the season.
He has had three three-sack games, the first player in NFL history to do that in a four-game span. He has had five forced fumbles. He was all over Washington quarterback Todd Collins last week, to the point that the Redskins needed to eventually double- and triple-team him -- perhaps the reason for his knee injury.
"First and foremost, Patrick Kerney's playing unbelievable," Packers quarterback Brett Favre said. "You can say what you want, he's relentless. In some respects he's a lot like Aaron Kampman, his high motor or whatever you want to say, on top of talent. I think high motor is not doing the guy justice. He's a good player. He's strong, he makes plays on runs, he runs people down. He has a bull rush, he has a speed rush, and so you have to focus on him first. You have to put two people on him or you're kidding yourself."
That, however, goes against what the Packers like to do. They prefer to spread out their offense, allow Favre to read the defense, get rid of the ball quickly and let the receivers do the rest.
Kerney, however, disrupts that philosophy.
"I don't think we're naive enough to think that singling their guys up all day is a wise thing to do," Favre said. "Sliding protection to Kerney, helping with a tight end, helping out with a back, is the logical thing to do."
Having harped on the importance of staying focused in his discussions with the players this week, the last thing head coach Mike McCarthy needed was a distraction to come between the team and its first playoff game in three years.
McCarthy was none too pleased with the timing of a published article Thursday in which quarterback Brett Favre all but declared he would return for the 2008 season. The report surfaced on the Web site of the Sun Herald in Biloxi, Miss., Favre's hometown newspaper, two days before the 13-3 Packers play host to Seattle in the NFC divisional playoffs.
Favre said in an interview with sportswriter Al Jones, a longtime family friend: "Each week, I bring more stress on myself wondering if this is too good to be true. I want to continue the streak and winning. When I talk about the streak, it's not the (consecutive) starts; it's the hot streak we are on. Then, I ask what can I do better?
"I am trying to enjoy it because this could be my last game in Green Bay. For the first time in three years, I haven't thought this could be my last game. I would like to continue longer."
Favre has been notorious the last few offseasons to wait weeks and even months after a season ends to make up his mind about playing another season.
The 38-year-old Favre, though, has had one of his better seasons in 16 years as the Green Bay starter and drew consideration for league MVP, which went to New England's Tom Brady. Favre said in the Sun Herald article that daughters Brittany and Breleigh encouraged him last weekend, while they were out getting ice cream in Green Bay, to again put off retirement and play one more year.
"I have a lot to think about. It's been a fun year and winning has made it a good year," Favre said in the article. "For the first time in a couple of years, at this point, my focus is solely on Seattle and winning a playoff
game at home."
Favre wasn't available for comment after practice Thursday, but McCarthy didn't hold back with his thoughts on the matter. "I'll try not to laugh, but I have not been part of any conversation with Brett on that topic,"
McCarthy said. "I think we just need to move on and focus on Seattle because that's what we are focused on, I'm sure that's what he's focused on. I don't know anything about it, and I think it's just someone trying to distract my quarterback."
McCarthy asserted that he and Favre wouldn't enter into discussions about the quarterback's playing future until this season ends. "Brett's playing at a very high level, and we're preparing for him to play on another higher level this weekend," McCarthy said. "That's our focus."
Teammates downplayed the buzz that spread throughout Wisconsin on Thursday afternoon with the presumption that Favre is coming back for an 18th NFL season. "Who wouldn't want him to come back?" veteran receiver Donald Driver said. "I want everyone in this locker room to come back, but everybody probably won't. We'll see what happens."
The chatter prompted by the newspaper article clearly didn't agree with McCarthy, however, as the Packers wrapped up their final full day of preparations for the Seahawks. He was short with reporters who queried him on the status of select players who are on the injury report and haven't fully participated in practice this week.
"We'll give you the full report tomorrow, and everybody's fine," McCarthy said tersely, adding, "We're healthy as hell, and we're ready to go."