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Packers, 49ers in playoffs, have business left

By Barry Wilner

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Dec. 10 2011 12:08 p.m. MST

San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Kyle Williams (10) celebrates after scoring on a 56-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Alex Smith during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game against the St. Louis Rams in San Francisco, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2011.

Paul Sakuma, Associated Press

The first step sometimes is the biggest for NFL teams: making the playoffs.

With that accomplished, the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers have much loftier goals.

Green Bay clinched the NFC North and San Francisco grabbed the NFC West last week with wins. For the Packers, there's been nothing but victories, 12 of them, as they host Oakland on Sunday. The defending Super Bowl champions are concentrating on ensuring all their playoff games are held at Lambeau Field. And there's that little challenge of going undefeated.

"Oh, I think it's way too early to even think about those things," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "We have 12 wins. Everybody knows what San Francisco's record is. It's important for us to stay focused and get ready for the Oakland Raiders. It's way too early to think about those types of things."

San Francisco's record is 10-2 and the 49ers don't have the most challenging remaining schedule. They are at Arizona on Sunday — the Niners are 4-1 on the road — and also go to Seattle and St. Louis. The biggest test is a home game with the Steelers.

The Niners want, at worst, to finish second overall in the NFC and get a first-round playoff bye and a guaranteed home game. They also know NFC South leader New Orleans is just one game behind in the overall standings.

"I think we're still just kind of scratching at it, what we can become," 49ers quarterback Alex Smith said. "And we're doing some good things in the meantime, but still I think, still kind of forming and becoming what our potential is. That's encouraging as well that we just need to continue to keep getting better these last few weeks, each and every week taking a step ..."

Also Sunday, it's New Orleans at Tennessee, Atlanta at Carolina, Houston at Cincinnati, the New York Giants at Dallas, Chicago at Denver, Minnesota at Detroit, New England at Washington, Kansas City at the New York Jets, Indianapolis at Baltimore, Buffalo at San Diego, Philadelphia at Miami, and Tampa Bay at Jacksonville.

St. Louis is at Seattle on Monday night.

On Thursday night, Pittsburgh beat Cleveland 14-3. The Steelers (10-3) have won eight out of nine to move a half-game ahead of Baltimore in the race for the AFC North title. Cleveland dropped to (4-9), losing for the 15th time in itsr last 16 meetings with the Steelers.

Oakland (7-5) at Green Bay (12-0)

The Packers passed a tough test with their impressive march to a winning field goal in the final 58 seconds at the Giants. But their defense remains spotty, and star cornerback Charles Woodson sustained a concussion last week.

For Oakland, what once seemed like a romp to its first AFC West crown since 2002 now is a battle with surging Denver. The Raiders come off an awful performance at Miami and the offense has been stymied by injuries to running back Darren McFadden (right foot) and big-play receivers Jacoby Ford (left foot) and Denarius Moore (right foot). McFadden has missed the past five games, Ford the past three and Moore the past two.

But this is a resilient bunch that hopes to have success with the run game in Green Bay.

"Our guys got to get people blocked, we've got to run like we know we can run, and get it done," coach Hue Jackson. "That's the bottom line."

San Francisco (10-2) at Arizona (5-7)

The 49ers' stunning turnaround earned them their first playoff spot since 2002 with the stingiest defense in the NFL (28 fewer points than Houston) and a solid running game. They also lead with 28 takeaways and a plus-18 turnover margin. That's a winning formula in any league.

Arizona has won four of its last five, but the only loss was 23-7 at San Francisco.

New Orleans (9-3) at Tennessee (7-5)

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