Black and Blue all over: Playoff rematches

Welcome to the 2009 playoffs and/or 2010 offseason, depending which NFC North team your allegiances lie with. We’ve got plenty coming on all four Black and Blue teams this week, but our primary focus will be on Green Bay as the Packers prepare for Sunday’s wild-card playoff game at Arizona.

To that end, let’s note that there have been 13 occasions in NFL history when two teams have faced each other in the final week of the regular season and then the following week in the playoffs, according to ESPN’s Stats & Information. (Both games were played at the same site on seven of the 13 instances.) Overall, the team that won the first game is 5-8 in the second game.

The most recent instance of a same-site rematch came in 2001, when the New York Jets defeated Oakland 24-22 in the regular season. The Raiders then defeated the Jets 38-24 in the next game.

Let’s wrap up coverage of all three NFC North games Sunday:

  • Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel describes the thought process that led Packers coach Mike McCarthy to play most of his starters Sunday into the second half: “There is no manual to consult when it comes to playing out the season with a playoff berth in hand and nothing much to gain. Mike McCarthy went with a gut feeling. As he headed into what was essentially a meaningless game against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, the Green Bay Packers coach took stock of the makeup of his team, the road it has traveled to get here and the health of his players and kept coming to the same conclusion. Let the train roll on.”

  • Mike Vandermause of the Green Bay Press-Gazette agreed with the plan: “While that bold approach will cause some worrywarts to fret over the injury risk to key players, McCarthy threw caution to the wind. He gave his red-hot team, which has won seven of its last eight games, the kind of momentum it needs heading into the postseason.”

  • The Packers set a team record for fewest rushing yards in a season (1,333) and also finished the season as the NFL’s top-ranked rush defense (89.3 yards allowed per game.) Jason Wilde of ESPN Milwaukee has more.

  • Minnesota’s defense stepped up in Sunday’s 44-7 victory over the New York Giants, writes Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune. Vikings defensive end Jared Allen: “We just kind of wanted to shut the outside people up and show ourselves that it's all about what we do.” I hope Allen doesn’t think that stuffing a cashed-in Giants team will totally silence the “outside people.”

  • Tom Powers of the St. Paul Pioneer Press: “Finally! This is how it's going to have to be for the Vikings to have a chance in the playoffs. Forget about establishing the run and maybe losing a fumble in the process. That's nonsense. The Vikings will go as far as Brett Favre's right arm takes them.”

  • Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Sun-Times sees no head coaching change in the Bears’ future: “A 7-9 season is in the books for the Bears, as is a third straight season out of the playoffs. In other cities, that might sound bad. In Chicago, it sounds like job security for Lovie Smith. In cities that take football seriously, what the Bears have done the past three years almost would make it a mathematical certainty the head coach would lose his job. But there didn’t seem to be any concerns in the locker room after the Bears’ 37-23 victory over the Lions, who are hoping to get called up from Triple-A next season.”

  • The Bears’ top need is a ball-hawking safety, writes Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune.

  • Bears cornerback Nate Vasher started Sunday at Detroit, but that might be his last game for the Bears. Brad Biggs of the Tribune has more.

  • The Lions’ 2-14 record feels just as bad as 0-16, writes Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press. Sharp: “The stench of futility remains as strong at 2-14 as it did at 0-16 because nobody can say with certainty that the Lions are pointed in the right direction after the first season of the Martin Mayhew-Jim Schwartz experiment.”

  • The “sobering reality,” writes Bob Wojnowski of the Detroit News, is that the Lions are at least a couple of years away from competing.

  • Schwartz will move quickly into personnel chopping-block mode this offseason, writes Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com.