GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) – Mike McCarthy likes the forecast for Sunday night.
“Well, we live in Green Bay, Wisconsin, so snow’s going to happen,” the Packers coach said Friday. “I hope it does snow. I think it’d be great. It’s a great setting. Personally, I think snow’s fun to play in, so I think our players will enjoy it.”
The Packers host Detroit on Sunday night and Green Bay will try to stay atop the NFC North without five starters.
The team has ruled out linebacker Clay Matthews (hamstring), safety Charles Woodson (collarbone), receiver Jordy Nelson (hamstring), running back James Starks (knee) and defensive end C.J. Wilson (knee) against its NFC North rival.
Woodson returned to practice on a limited basis this week after being sidelined since suffering his injury Oct. 21. Matthews, who leads the team with nine sacks, still hasn’t been cleared to practice after he reinjured his hamstring Nov. 4.
“We’re getting close (with Matthews),” McCarthy said. “But I think it’s very important for Clay, no different with Charles, that when we do bring those guys back it’s not potentially just a one-week situation.”
And in the big picture, the Packers are vying for a second straight division title with a first-place showdown against the Bears looming Dec. 16 in Chicago. Having playmakers such as Matthews and Woodson back for that game would be ideal for Green Bay, but defensive coordinator Dom Capers isn’t looking that far ahead.
“I’ve always felt that when we get them back let’s have them because every game is critical for us,” Capers said. “There’s not one (game) that’s more critical than another. The game Sunday night is the most critical game for us. We’ve got to find some way to go play our best.”
After rallying in the final minutes for a 24-20 victory at Detroit (4-8) three weeks ago, Green Bay (8-4) will try to extend its league-best home winning streak of 21 games over the Lions with a depleted offense as well.
Right tackle T.J. Lang returned to practice Friday in limited fashion after suffering an ankle injury in the Packers’ win over Minnesota last Sunday.
Lang is questionable to play against the Lions. But McCarthy indicated after practice Friday that undrafted rookie Don Barclay would make his first pro start at Lang’s spot.
“That’s the way we’ve prepared all week,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy confirmed Alex Green would be the starter at running back after Starks suffered his injury in the last game.
Green, a second-year player, had been splitting carries with Starks the last few games. Before that, Green was the primary back in a three-game stretch after Cedric Benson suffered what turned out to be a season-ending foot injury in early October.
“It’s a blessing to get a second chance to make a first impression again. That’s rare,” said Green, who leads the team with 360 rushing yards.
Veteran Ryan Grant also will see action in the backfield after the team re-signed him earlier this week.
If McCarthy gets his wish for a snow game Sunday night, he could be compelled to take a long look at Grant. He ran for Packers postseason records of 201 yards and three touchdowns on a snow-covered Lambeau turf in their rout of Seattle in the 2007 divisional playoffs.
“He plays well in the snow. History would tell you that,” McCarthy said. “I’m comfortable with Ryan Grant.”
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