The Green Bay Packers were a mess when they hired Dom Capers as their defensive coordinator 2 years ago, and the Chicago Bears had issues on offense when they turned to Mike Martz after last season. Now look at them.

The Packers and Bears meet in the NFC Championship Game tomorrow, and the outcome just might hinge on the chess match between two veteran coordinators.

“Mike has certainly been doing this for a lot of years, and he has a lot of little intricacies that are true to his system, I think, that you never know when that’s going to come out,” Capers said.

Martz called Capers “a terrific teacher” whose teams have always been “well schooled.” And Green Bay’s defense sure earned high grades this year.

“They show you a lot of looks,” Bears quarterback Jay Cutler said. “They’re really good. Dom Capers does a great job of preparing each and every week and keeping offenses off balance, which they’ve done to us in the past.”

With Martz, many wondered whether the architect behind “The Greatest Show on Turf” in St. Louis was the right fit.

“He’s a great coach, great mentor, great teacher,” receiver Earl Bennett said. “He’s one of those coaches that always can help you get better. By having a guy like him around, he can take your game to a whole ‘nother level.”

In injury news, Bears safety Chris Harris practiced on a limited basis for the first time this week after suffering a hip pointer in a playoff win over Seattle on Sunday.




* New York Jets defensive end Shaun Ellis sat out practice with a knee ailment, but coach Rex Ryan said he’ll play in tomorrow’s AFC Championship Game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Wide receiver-kick returner Brad Smith (groin), safety James Ihedigbo (right knee/ankle) and defensive back Drew Coleman (knee) were limited and also listed as questionable.

Steelers starting cornerback Bryant McFadden practiced for the first time this week after suffering an abdominal injury during a playoff victory against Baltimore last Saturday. McFadden said he will see how he feels today before a decision is made about playing.

Steelers safety Troy Polamalu (Achilles’ tendon) also returned to practice and will play.

* Titans backup quarterback Chris Simms rejected a plea deal after being charged with driving while high on marijuana on July 1, putting the case on track for a trial as soon as March.

* Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford had surgery on his throwing shoulder is expected to be ready by training camp.

* Former University of Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt agreed to a multiyear deal to become the Buffalo Bills assistant head coach, a person familiar with the negotiations told the Associated Press. Wannstedt has worked in the NFL at Miami, Dallas and Chicago.

* The Panthers hired Mike Shula as quarterbacks coach. *