27

December

Rodgers puts Packers back in championship contention

With Aaron Rodgers set to return, the Packers are eyeing a division championship. And perhaps more.

With Aaron Rodgers set to return, the Packers are eyeing a division championship. And perhaps more.

When news broke Thursday that quarterback Aaron Rodgers was slated to return Sunday for the regular-season finale against the Chicago Bears, the outlook for the rest of the Packers’ season changed dramatically.

Without Rodgers, the Packers went 2-4-1, not including the first Packers-Bears game in which Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone on the game’s first possession. Coming into that game, the Packers were 5-2 with a favorable schedule and perhaps the hottest quarterback in football.

But despite a newly-feared running game providing balance to their offense, the small crack in Rodgers’ collarbone looked like a death blow to the Packers’ season, as Seneca Wallace would be starting the following week against the Philadelphia Eagles and for the foreseeable future. But Wallace was forced out of the lineup after the first possession, giving way to recent practice squad call-up Scott Tolzien. Then, the Packers signed a recycled Matt Flynn, who would get his chance a few weeks later against the Minnesota Vikings.

Flynn quarterbacked the Packers to one of their most embarrassing defeats in recent memory—a 40-10 Thanksgiving thumping at the hands of the Detroit Lions. For a team who had two All-World quarterbacks for the better part of two decades, the 2013 season was a slap in the face for a (let’s face it) spoiled fan base.

But somehow, at 8-7-1 with one game to play and Rodgers ready to roll, the Packers remain in contention for the NFC North title. A week 17 win in Chicago would punch the Packers’ ticket into the postseason, and they’d host either the San Francisco 49ers or New Orleans Saints in the wild card round January 4 or 5.

And as is the case year after year in the unpredictable NFL, anything can happen in the league’s 12-team tournament.

Typically, there’s a “hot team” that hits its stride late into the season and enters the postseason with a head of steam, much like the Packers’ unlikely run to Super Bowl XLV in 2010. Last year’s Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens backed into the playoffs after losing four of their last five games, but once the regular season is over, a new season begins. The Ravens 2012 regular season didn’t end well, but their postseason ended with a flood confetti and a Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Are the Packers the odds-on favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl? Absolutely not. Seattle, San Francisco and Carolina have been far more consistent than Green Bay throughout the 2013 season. But in my opinion, the team that took the field against the Minnesota Vikings Oct. 27—when Rodgers last played a full game—was capable of beating anyone.

If not for Rodgers’ injury, the Packers would have almost certainly been favored in every game over the second half of the season.

The Packers certainly aren’t guaranteed to get a win Sunday despite Rodgers’ return. Clay Matthews has been ruled out, which will hurt the Packers’ already struggling defense, and the Bears are a solid team with an explosive offense. But the rest of the NFC playoff field would likely prefer to travel to Chicago to face Jay Cutler and a porous Bears defense, rather than head to frigid Lambeau Field to take on a recharged Packers offense featuring Rodgers and Randall Cobb, along with battering ram Eddie Lacy on the ground.

Throughout the season, the Seattle Seahawks have looked like the most complete team in the NFC. They’ve been atop the standings behind steady quarterback Russell Wilson, a physical run game powered by Marshawn Lynch and one of the best defenses in the league. Combined with the best home-field advantage in the NFL, the Seahawks road to Super Bowl XLVIII looked relatively clear. But the Arizona Cardinals proved in week 15 that football can happen, as they defeated the Seahawks in Seattle despite four turnovers from their quarterback.

In the past decade, only twice has a No. 1 seed won the Super Bowl–the Saints did it in 2009, and the Patriots in 2003. The NFL’s postseason is March Madness in January. You can spend all your time salivating over Duke, Kentucky and the rest of the powerhouses, but then Butler happens. Because in a one-game scenario, anything can happen.

In the NFL, where the “any given Sunday” moniker rings true on a weekly basis, the talent gap is minimal compared to other sports. I’m of the belief that player talent is relatively equal with the exception of the true “star” players. The Packers may have two on the roster (Clay Matthews), but they certainly have at least one in Rodgers.

In 2011, everyone saw the difference between Peyton Manning’s Indianapolis Colts and Curtis Painter’s Indianapolis Colts. With Manning on the sideline, the Colts went 2-14 and “earned” the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.

This year, Rodgers’ value was put under the microscope, as Packers quarterbacks compiled the league’s worst QBR since Rodgers’ injury in week 10. With Rodgers, the Packers were barely keeping their head above water despite a slew of key injuries. Without Rodgers, the Packers cooled off to the tune of a 2-4-1 record in which three different quarterbacks started a game.

But now, Rodgers is back and the playoffs have officially begun for the Green Bay Packers; a win would earn a home playoff game next week and a loss would put a fork in the Packers’ roller-coaster 2013 season.

Flynn has given the Packers a spark post-Thanksgiving, as they’ve went 2-1 with a pair of one-point wins and a late-game loss against the Steelers. But while Flynn gives the Packers a chance to get by, Rodgers gives the Packers a chance to beat anyone.

——————

Follow @MJEversoll

Marques is a Journalism student, serving as the Sports Editor of UW-Green Bay\'s campus newspaper The Fourth Estate and a Packers writer at Jersey Al\'s AllGBP.com. Follow Marques on Twitter @MJEversoll.

——————

---- Get AddToAny

42 Responses to “Rodgers puts Packers back in championship contention”

  1. Big T says:

    Superbowl Baby!!!!

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 7 Thumb down 3

  2. James David says:

    I see the running game and Rogers as being the key to a long post season run. This allows Rogers to have his vertical game with play action passes. Unless the defense steps up their play, all of these games should be very high scoring games. Just win it one game at a time.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  3. Bearmeat Bearmeat says:

    Sorry Marques,

    It’s not happening unless Raji and Pickett and (now Boyd/Wilson) can keep our ILBs clean. Otherwise we’ll continue to get shredded against the run no matter who we play. Oh, and the safety play would have to at least return to marginal.

    IF we win on Sunday AND AZ beats SF AND NO beats TB, THEN we MIGHT make it to round 2 against CAR and who knows?

    But we’re not beating SF or SEA with their strong running games.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 8 Thumb down 5

    • Hank Scorpio says:

      The key to any game, especially in the postseason, is turnover margin. Far more so than running defense (or offense for that matter). In fact, passing rating differential and/or yards per pass are also better indicators of success than run game dominance.

      Seattle and San Fran are both good but hardly unbeatable. If the Packers take care of the ball and force a few turnovers, they can beat anyone, anywhere. That has been a traditional strength in the McCarthy era, although not so much this year. But it just takes getting it right for a 5 game run (counting this week as the playoffs).

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

      • Bearmeat Bearmeat says:

        I agree that SF/SEA aren’t unbeatable. GB 2010 would have handled both. GB 2011 might have been able to outscore both. And GB 2009 would have been able to beat SF (assuming they doubled Crabtree).

        But GB 2013? The run D has been atrocious since week 6. Those teams run the ball really well. And they play great D.

        Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

        • Hank Scorpio says:

          You sure got it right that Packers haven’t been very good on run defense. But getting beat up in the run game is the easiest flaw to cover up in today’s NFL. There is plenty of evidence to support that. There is far less evidence to support the run game being a key to postseason success.

          I don’t care how bad they play run defense if the offense gets humming like it can and the defense is forcing turnovers. Conversely, if they play sloppy on offense and lose or draw on turnover margin, it won’t matter if they suddenly transform into a lock-down run defense. They’ll still lose.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

          • Bearmeat Bearmeat says:

            Yeah – but where have the turnovers been? Assuming the run D stays atrocious, we all had better hope that the turnovers keep coming like they have been since Thanksgiving.

            This is, of course assuming ARod’s offense puts up 30+ a game.

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

            • Hank Scorpio says:

              That’s a very good question. And one that cuts both ways. Not only do they need to force turnovers, they need to be secure with the ball when they have it.

              This year’s team has been uncharacteristically bad in both areas. And that’s a far bigger concern to me than the fact they can’t seem to stop the run to save their lives.

              Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

      • Archie says:

        Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

        Poorly-rated. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 5

        • Stroh says:

          McCarthy helped MAKE Rodgers the QB he is. His offense in NO was pretty damn good w/ Aaron Brooks at QB. He helped make Brooks into a one time Pro Bowl QB. He helped resurrect the career of Rich Gannon. McCarthy get credit for those QB’s just like he does Rodgers! A lot of Packer fans were so down on Rodgers after he completely forgettable rookie season they wanted Thompson to draft Matt Freakin Leinart!

          Fletcher Cox was drafted in ’12 and 16 picks before the Packers chose. Only a butt pirate would blame Thomspon for drafting him. He never had the chance, same w/ Richardson 13 spots ahead of the Packers 1st pick. Again never had a chance to pick him! Sly Williams has 2 sack compared to Jones 3.5. He hasn’t even played as well as Jones has!

          Don’t let any of this stop you from making yourself look bad tho! Archie OWNED Again!!!

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

    • TC026 says:

      Rogers is our best defensive player.
      Alls Rogers needs is a healthy Starks
      to shred the #$@^& out of the Bears defense.
      I am predicting a blow out.
      Packers 41
      Bears 24

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

    • Neal says:

      Exactly. Our defense has only one impact player, Clay Matthews. He’s hurt and that means we have zero play makers on defense now. We can only hope that Lacy’s ankle holds up and he and Starks can run the ball, because we have to keep those huge WR’s off the field. If I were Cutler, I’d challenge GB’s DB’s all day. None of our DB’s have ball skills and those big guys can get penalties called on the Packers even when they don’t catch the ball.
      I hate to say it, but I think the Bears will beat the Packers, in spite of Rodgers’ presence. I see their offense rolling all day with Forte gashing us in the run and their WR’s catching everything Cutler throws. The Bears defense stinks, too, so that give us a chance. But can we expect Rodgers to pick up as if he hasn’t been gone for 7 weeks? I think that’s too much to expect and once again, our special teams and defense won’t show up. One good thing is if our defense crumbles again, maybe it’ll make the Packers realize they have to go in a different direction from Capers and many of the players. I think that is obvious, anyway.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    • Archie says:

      Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

      Poorly-rated. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 6

  4. Russell says:

    The key in this game is to get pressure on Jay Cutler. When you get in Cutlers face, he will give you a few picks. I think it comes down to creating turnovers in this game.

    The other key is keeping Peppers off of ARod. MM should take a page out of the Eagles playbook and run it right at him to neutralize his pass rush.

    Go Pack Go!!

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

    • Archie says:

      Problem is, Packers can’t apply consistent pressure to any QB with a decent OL in front of him. Bears will eat our defense alive with a short to intermediate passing attack complemented by Matt Forte’s beautiful running. The hope is we do the same to theirs. I look for a high scoring game with the team who scores last winning. That could be either team.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3

  5. Hank Scorpio says:

    Recent NFL history has shown the favorites don’t often survive the postseason tournament. The Packers, Giants (x2), Ravens and Steelers have all proven that being a lower seed is no death sentence to a team’s Lombardi chances.

    With Rodgers back, the Packers have a punchers chance at another SB win. They have the talent necessary if they can get hot. I won’t exactly being running out to Vegas to put my mortgage payment on them winning it all. But I can think of worse ways to spend a Jackson.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  6. Tarynfor12 Tarynfor12 says:

    The play of our defense ensures the mantra anything can happen on ‘Any Given Sunday’ as we have been privy to seeing such weekly.

    I’ve read many a post and comment on how the defense suffered due to the loss of Rodgers…I hope this game vs the Bears can offer some validity to it….does Rodgers make the defense better or was his absence to be seen as just an excuse for the horrible play it has shown.

    I expect a victory for our Packers but I hope for a real answer as to what our defense has or never really had.Everyone on defense better put their ‘big boy’ pants on as the Bears will be wearing theirs….since their diapers were ruined last week against the Eagles.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 2

  7. marpag says:

    The Packers lose a few games and every member of the organization needs to be immediately fired in disgrace.

    Four days later, Aaron Rodgers announces his return from injury everyone is wondering who the Packers will defeat in this year’s Superbowl.

    Such is the circle of life in Packerville. Like a dog watching a yo-yo.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 4

    • Nick Perry says:

      I don’t see much SB talk at all. Fans are excited about Rodgers coming back and rightfully so. He helps cover up a lot of the issues this team has. That last play against Pittsburgh, I promise you Rodgers see’s Jordy come open. Throw in that he Packers defense has actually been creating turnovers the last 4 games, that’s normally points with Rodgers. With Flynn it was almost always 3 points if any except in Dallas.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

      • marpag says:

        Fair enough. Let’s just say that many Packer fans could use a bit more ballast to level out and steady their opinions. Teams are rarely as bad or as good as many people think, nor do entire organizations become awesome, or disintegrate, overnight.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

        • Ken Allen KW says:

          Marpag, watching this year’s season made me think … The adversity the team has faced and with the losses come (maybe, I hope) a plus for the younger fans who have never known anything else but winning seasons. You can tell just by some of the posts how they really do NOT understand how lucky they are to be Packers fans in this day and age. We grey beards remember all too well the 70′s and 80′s and the accompanying suffering. I think sticking with a team losing for 20 years gives you clarity. I laugh at the immediate responses to FIRE someone as soon as there’s a loss. Sometimes you LOSE even when you shouldn’t have. Of course getting trophys for just being there and never keeping score hasn’t helped the young-uns! LOL I’m sure THEY don’t have anyone screaming to have them expelled from HS or thrown out of college or fired from THEIR job if they screw-up once in a while. It’s all about clarity and balance. It’s been an interesting season to watch IMHO.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

          • marpag says:

            While I won’t call myself a greybeard just yet, I was born just in the nick of time to MISS COMPLETELY the glory days of Packer football. Taking on the full brunt of 70s and 80s crappiness, the only Packers teams I ever knew growing up were terrible. I remember everyone’s absolute shock and amazement when Reggie White voluntarily signed on to play in “NFL Siberia”. I remember thinking, “Dang! This guy Farve is pretty good! How did we get him?” I remember being utterly dumbfounded that a team wearing green and gold actually won the Superbowl. So yeah, I guess that provides some context.

            But what’s even more perplexing to me is that the NFL of today is vastly different from back then. Today, we hear about “worst to first” stories all the time. It’s almost impossible in the salary cap, free agency era to maintain success for decades. But the Packers have been doing it for 20 years, and still people can’t seem to appreciate the incredible accomplishment.

            Go figure, huh?

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  8. Since '61 says:

    Rodgers, Cobb and Lacy make the defense better of they control TOP. Rodgers will have some rust, but if we get through this game then Rodgers makes us capable of beating any team in the playoffs, home or away. Pressure on Cutler and a successful run game for GB are the keys to this game. Keep Bears offense off the field, get a lead and pound with Lacy. Also, no stupid penalties like last week. Go Pack Go! Thanks, Since ’61

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

    • Ken Allen KW says:

      Totally agree. Nice that we have a running game for Rodgers to lean on until he gets his feet back under him. Regardless of the season, you can see how much difference having an elite QB has on a game. Rodgers scores a ton of points and the defense is a lot more forgivable. But I think (hope) the defense actually steps-up this week.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  9. tim says:

    Rodger, Cobb and Lacy all being ready to go is huge. Hope it doesnt take long for Rodgers to knock off the rust. This is eerily like 2010, when an injury-riddled Pack had to bump off the bears in order to eek into the playoffs… Then promptly beat then again. I’m confident of yet another Lombardi trophy in light of these developments.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  10. Wagszilla says:

    Anything is possible, especially this year.

    Packers win and Cards lose:
    SF @ GB

    Packers win and Cards win:
    CAR/NO @ GB

    Go Cardinals!

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

    • Hank Scorpio says:

      I would LOVE to see SF first up in Lambeau for a potential Packers postseason. I bet the Packers’ locker room would love that chance, too.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

    • Stroh says:

      Nothing more that I’d like to see than NO in the playoffs at Lambeau! They would play like Aint’s. They don’t travel very well period, much less to FRIGID Lambeau in January! Guarenteed 1st post-season win getting the Packers on a roll.

      Playing SF would be a little more dicey, but we would all LOVE to see the Pack knock SF out of the playoffs!

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

      • Nick Perry says:

        For once I agree with Stroh. The best thing that could happen for the Packers, is to play the Saints at Lambeau, assuming they beat the Bears. Totally different team away from home and on grass. Throw in a 10 below with wind chill and that’s a winnable game.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  11. Big O says:

    Back from Christmas vaca. Sister in Chicago, sat with fanatical fans through the bears-eagles game, got real quiet real quick!!! I hope to have that same warm fuzzy fealing after sundays game!!!! GO PACK!!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

    • Ken Allen KW says:

      O … should have been here in Joisey with the EAGLES fans watching that game! Did you know THEY are going to the SUPER BOWL? LMAO

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  12. Art says:

    Rodgers has to get the ball into the end zone and not settle for three as has been the case too often this year. MM has to be a bit creative with his play calling in lieu of run run pass punt. DC also has to kick his players in their ass before the game.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  13. GBPDAN says:

    It’s exciting having Rodgers back and a chance to beat the bears for the division title. Knocking the bears out of the playoffs would be great.

    But as far as going far in the playoffs?…..I just don’t think we have the D to do that, especially with CM3, Jolly and Hayward all lost for the playoffs.

    Plus we won’t have a healthy Lacey because he’s playing every week and re aggravating the injury. Would love to see a 100% healthy Lacey playing with Rodgers. What a unstoppable combination

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  14. PackerbackerJim says:

    Our DBS don’t have ball skills? You haven’t seen Shields play obviously.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  15. Archie says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

    Poorly-rated. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 7

    • marpag says:

      LOL. “What does it say about TT’s draft and develop philosophy?”

      Well, lessee here, Arch ol’ boy…

      Since 2005, not counting the current unfinished year, it says that even with a “one man team” Ted Thompson is still good enough to post a 78-50 record, good for 5th best in the league, with one superbowl victory.

      Only 6 teams have superbowl victories during that time. TT’s Green Bay team is one of them.

      The only teams with two SB victories during that time are the Steelers and the Giants.

      Only four teams (NE, IND, PIT and NYG) have gone to the Superbowl more than once during that time.

      Only 11 teams have even appearing in a superbowl since that time.

      That’s what it says.

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  16. tim says:

    Well said Marpag. Some focus too much on the trees versus the forest, and only focus on the bad trees at that. – and half of the bad players are there only because of injuries to better ones. The green and gold forest is pretty healthy I’d say. Every team has holes, many way bigger than ours. I’d love a Ted Thompson who got all pros with every move. I wish he’d have gotten more help at safety, or sooner gotten back-up qb help. But perfect ain’t gonna happen anywhere on my planet at least. Its a team & as such has performed well. Any TT or MM replacement, odds are, would be a downgrade. Can’t be perfect, but as you point out, TT has had a track record of success with the pack.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  17. Chicago should be windy & cold Sunday. Hope collarbones aren’t temperature sensitive. The one factor in our favor is we have nothing to lose, as most football fans are probably wondering how we got there to begin with. A ray of hope, the line went from Bears -4 to GB -3.Even the gamblers are Rodgers believers, or is it Cutler realists.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  18. Shavager says:

    First place, I totally disagree with the insinuation that the loss to Lions on Turkey day was on Matt Flynn–McCarthy completely blew the game plan on this one, never going to ‘no huddle’ offense or rolling pocket to keep Lions’ pressure off GB’s offense or tire the D-line players. Having Pack offense huddling for plays only allowed Lions to freely substitute fresh players and prohibited any offensive consistency Packers could generate. IF McCarthy’s play calling was BAD–Dom Capers defense was even worse, neither coach provided much evidence that they knew what they were doing, their units proved it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  19. jimmy c says:

    The Pack get 3 quick TD’s in the first qtr…the defense comes alive and makes Cutler’s day a mess with 3 turns…Cobb gets involved on a deep route to ice game.. Lacy grinds out 80+ yds…ARod has a big one with 300+ yds and 3TD’s.. game over 34-24…time to host a playoff game in Lambeau….GET IT ON!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  20. CornHolio says:

    Do not let him shave!
    If he nicks himself…
    There goes next season.
    jk
    Love Pack Always-GoPackGo!!!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0