Packers get extra days of rest ahead of Lions showdown

December 27, 2016

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Minnesota Vikings' Sam Bradford fumbles as he is hit by Green Bay Packers' Clay Matthews during the first half of an NFL football game Saturday, Dec. 24, 2016, in Green Bay, Wis. The Packers recovered the fumble.

GREEN BAY The Green Bay Packers are guaranteed to have at least one advantage over the Lions when the NFC North rivals play for the division title to close the regular season.

Two extra days of rest in late December might do wonders for a team making a playoff push.

Green Bay (9-6) beat Minnesota on Saturday for its fifth straight victory.

By the time the Lions wrap up the NFL's Week 16 schedule with a tough road game against the Dallas Cowboys on Monday night, the Packers will have enjoyed a game-free Sunday with their families to celebrate the holidays; and a lighter Monday.

That means a little more recuperation time for key players dealing with injuries, such as receiver Randall Cobb, and linebackers Clay Matthews and Nick Perry. The Packers visit the Lions on Sunday night in the final game of the regular season.

The Packers had their bye in Week 4. Three weeks later, a few extra days off following a Thursday night win over the Bears provided Green Bay its last real significant break.

"Playing 10 straight games coming out of the Thursday night game against the Chicago, that's a grind, it's the first time we've had to do that," coach Mike McCarthy said Monday. "That makes a difference. So we've made it through, had the extra day (that) will benefit us."

Green Bay has powered through numerous injuries to put itself back in position to win the division.

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, whose calf injury is improving, hasn't thrown an interception in six games . Cobb missed the Vikings game with a nagging ankle injury.

Matthews' left shoulder injury is getting better, and he returned to being an impact player with a strip-sack against the Vikings, three quarterback hurries and two deflected passes. Perry returned from a two-game absence to sack Sam Bradford twice in spite of a heavy wrap protecting his injured left hand.

The defense might be able to use the extra time to figure out how to shore up pass coverage.

After a porous fourth quarter against the Bears in Week 15, the Packers followed up by allowing 382 yards passing to Bradford, and a career-high 202 yards and two scores on 12 catches by Adam Thielen.

The lopsided score played a factor. Green Bay led by two touchdowns at halftime, and 38-13 with 9 minutes left in the fourth quarter when Minnesota went with a hurry-up offense.

"You'd like to say we need to finish better, but it's good that we're putting ourselves into positions to even go up like that," safety Micah Hyde said after the game.

Injuries also hit the cornerback position again, with Ladarius Gunter leaving the game in the second quarter with an elbow injury. He was replaced by Damarious Randall, a starter when healthy who was already questionable to play with a shoulder injury.

"Once again, we sustained an injury ... we had to move people in," McCarthy said. "Damarious Randall, I give the young man a ton of credit ... I didn't really think he was going to play in the game."

The defense has made up for any deficiencies with a recent penchant for takeaways. The Packers are plus-12 in turnover differential with no giveaways over the past three games, in part due to getting more pressure on the quarterback.

The better health of Matthews and Perry, in turn, has helped to generate more pass rush against Minnesota.

The Packers get a regular day off on Tuesday before resuming their normal practice schedule on Wednesday.

"I'm going to try to give these players as much time as possible to get their bodies back, especially with what we've endured here the last nine weeks," McCarthy said.

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Associated Press