GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Good thing the Green Bay Packers are off this week.
They're going to need it.
Five of Green Bay's last seven games will be against NFC North opponents, a stretch that could prove every bit as tough for the banged-up Packers as the challenges they faced in the first half.
"To do what we want to do, you have to win your division games," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said Monday. "When you have five of seven, we're going to get a heavy dose of guys who know a lot about us and we know a lot about them. That's always a challenge. You've got to put extra effort in the preparation. There's always a little more intensity that comes with division games. It'll start right as soon as we get back."
Though the Packers (6-3) were on a roll with four straight wins, they desperately needed their bye. Their injured list was already cramped, with top receiver Greg Jennings, perennial Pro Bowl defensive back Charles Woodson and workhorse running back Cedric Benson among the headliners.
Three more starters — Clay Matthews, Jordy Nelson and Bryan Bulaga — were hurt in Sunday's 31-17 victory over Arizona, and Bulaga's hip injury appears serious enough to keep him out for an extended period of time. Matthews doesn't feel his hamstring is as bad as it's been in the past, coach Mike McCarthy said, but it still could sideline him for "a couple weeks."
"We need the physical rest, get our bodies back," Ryan Pickett said. "We've got two weeks to get them right, get them closer to playing. And guys that have been hurt before that, we have a chance to get them back. So this bye is at the perfect time, the ideal time for us.
"We've got a lot of fighters — guys going down, guys stepping up, it shows a lot of character. (But) we can't wait to get all our players back," Pickett added. "It's huge that we won these four games, but Chicago is out there a pretty good ways. We have to keep winning. I don't see them losing anytime soon. We just have to keep building off each win that we have, keep getting better."
The Packers got off to a rocky start, thanks to the Inaccurate Reception and blowing an 18-point lead against the Colts. But players responded to McCarthy's challenge after the Indianapolis loss, and their recent winning streak has put them back in position to contend for the NFC North title. They are 1 ½ games behind Chicago, and have one game left against the Bears.
Green Bay is the only team to beat Chicago this year. Did it badly, too, a 23-10 drubbing at Lambeau Field that was even more lopsided than the score indicated.
Even if the Packers can't catch Chicago, they're in good position to make the playoffs as one of the NFC wild cards. Green Bay has the best record of any second-place team, with Seattle and Minnesota, both 5-4, the only other NFC teams with winning records.
"I like where we're at," Aaron Rodgers said. "We've had some adversity early in the season, we've come together, we've taken some heat and it's brought us closer together. We went on the kind of run we need to go on with four big wins in a row to get to the bye week, and now we can get healthy, and hopefully we can get some of our guys back.
"We've got a lot of guys who, if we can have back in the mix, we can really take off."
But division games can be tricky. There is little these teams don't know about each other, and coaches usually spend a good part of the offseason trying to find some kind of edge.
"We take one week per division team as a staff, looking at everything they did the prior year," McCarthy said.
Now add to that what the Bears, Vikings and Tigers have done this season, and you know how the Packers coaches will be spending their "break."
"It's definitely a different challenge," McCarthy said. "Having the bye week will definitely help us be ready."
The players are doing their part by resting, both mentally and physically. McCarthy gave the Packers the entire week off, saying he wanted to make sure they were fresh for the final grind of the regular season, and he got no argument from his players.
"We're going to rest and recover this next week," Randall Cobb said, "and then it's back to work."