|National Football League|
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By JEFF BARTL
(AP) -- Coach Mike McCarthy isn't about to disregard the importance of the first-round bye simply because his Green Bay Packers were bounced out of last season's NFC playoffs without a victory.
The only difference in his team's pursuit of that goal this season is the starters likely won't be receiving any rest over the final weeks this time around.
Green Bay can help its chances of earning another bye with a victory over the visiting Tennessee Titans on Sunday.
The Packers cruised into the postseason with a 15-1 record after resting most of their starters Week 17, but they were upset at home by the eventual champion New York Giants - one year after rolling to a Super Bowl title as a wild-card team.
McCarthy isn't worried about the successes or failures of the past, but he's rather focused on getting his team an extra week of rest for this season's playoffs, seeing as he doesn't anticipate sitting anyone prematurely over the next couple games.
The Packers clinched the NFC North with last week's 21-13 win at Chicago.
"We want the bye week, make no bones about it," McCarthy said. "It's important to have a healthy football team, and if you have an opportunity to achieve the bye week, that's what we're working for.
"I'm making it clear right now. We're going to play all the way through."
Aaron Rodgers essentially received two weeks off before the playoff loss, but he'll be under center to close out this season. Green Bay (10-4) must win its final two games - it also plays at Minnesota on Dec. 30 - and needs San Francisco to lose to either Seattle or Arizona in order to receive the No. 2 seed.
"There's a lot to play for," Rodgers said. "We learned last year you have to be playing the right way at the end of the season."
The top spot also is a possibility, though Atlanta would have to fall in both of its last games.
"It would be nice to get that (No. 2) seed," Rodgers said. "The (No. 1) seed is going to be tough, but the (No. 2) seed is probably doable."
Rodgers connected with James Jones on three touchdown passes as part of his 23-for-36, 291-yard performance against the Bears, while Randall Cobb caught six passes for 115 yards and added 37 in kick-return yardage.
Cobb is 108 yards receiving and 36 kick-return yards from becoming the first player in NFL history with 1,000 yards receiving and 1,000 yards in kick returns.
Jordy Nelson sat out again with a bad hamstring and is questionable for this week, but Cobb, Jones and Greg Jennings seem well prepared to help carry the passing game.
"(McCarthy) talked about playing like it's the playoffs, like it's one-game elimination right now," Jennings said. "We have to put ourselves in that mindset."
Tennessee (5-9) will be looking to play spoiler while finishing up a disappointing season, but it is coming off a 14-10 victory over the New York Jets on Monday that ended a three-game losing streak.
It wasn't pretty - the Titans' 14 penalties were their most since getting flagged 18 times Jan. 1, 2006 - but coach Mike Munchak was pleased with the result.
"We won is all that matters right now," Munchak said. "We need to figure out for the next game how to score more points and build off of that. So you'd rather build off of at least we found a way to win a football game."
Though Tennessee ranks 23rd in total defense allowing 368.9 yards per game and 30th giving up an average of 28.3 points, it has been much better of late.
Since a 51-20 loss to Chicago on Nov. 4, the Titans rank third in total defense (285.8 yards per game), and fourth giving up 17.6 points per contest.
"I like to judge a team by kind of how they're playing lately, and I think they're playing really well," Rodgers said. "They're an opportunistic defense. They have some guys with some ball skills in the secondary, they've got some athletic players."
Chris Johnson finished with 21 carries for 122 yards, including a 94-yard touchdown run, to help take some of the pressure off Jake Locker, who went 13 for 22 for 149 yards Monday.
The offense didn't turn the ball over after totaling 10 giveaways in the previous three games.
"We knew it wasn't all the defense," Munchak said regarding the team's earlier problems. "It was turnovers, it was the offense. It was a lot of things that were leading to statistically things looking worse than they were. We obviously weren't playing as well as we needed to play on either side of the ball."
Tennessee has won three straight matchups with Green Bay, though they haven't met since the Titans' 19-16 overtime victory Nov. 2, 2008.
Updated December 20, 2012