It is official: Aaron Rodgers in off injured reserve and back on the Packers’ active roster. One would assume that means he starts tomorrow in Charlotte when the Packers meet Carolina.
What is at Stake
Chances are every team in the NFC postseason will have at least 10 wins. That means, at 7-6, the Packers absolutely have to win out. And with Rodgers back, it is not the pipe dream it once appeared to be. But it also will not be easy with three tough opponents looming, including the now 8-6 division rival Lions. A road game against the surging Panthers may be the toughest of them all, especially given how the Carolina pass rush is playing lately.
Carolina, on the other hand, gave themselves flexibility with a huge win over the Vikings last week. At 9-4 they are tied for the NFC South lead and are atop the NFC wild card standings. While a win over Green Bay would not mathematically guarantee a playoff spot, it would, for all intents and purposes, lock Carolina into January football.
Keys to the Game
Keep Rodgers upright
When healthy, this is not an issue. The Packers have one of the best left tackles in the game in David Bakhtiari and group is solid throughout. But the pass protection takes on a whole new spotlight tomorrow for two reasons: One, the Panther defensive line has been exceptional lately at getting pressure. Two, Rodgers’ injury is going to make fans wince every time he gets hit. That being said, we all know what Rodgers is capable of when he is on his feet, and the Panthers’ secondary is one of the more suspect groups in the NFC.
When comfortable, Cam Newton is an elite quarterback. He can make every throw from the pocket and on the run and can improvise as well as most. And that is not even taking into account the threat of his running ability. Newton turns into an entirely different quarterback when under duress, however. He ranks in the bottom half of the league against pressure and against the blitz. The Vikings failed to get consistent pressure last week and Newton had a big game as a result. The Packers do not have an elite pass rush but this is the game to make a big splash.
Green Bay is guaranteed to be without one starter as cornerback Davon House has been ruled out. House injured his shoulder in last week’s win over the Browns. Starting linebackers Jake Ryan and Nick Perry have been listed as questionable, as has tackle Jason Spriggs.
The Panthers are nursing some injuries at key positions, themselves. Carolina’s Pro Bowl guard Trai Turner will miss his first game of the season due to a concussion. They will also be without linebacker Shaq Thompson, who will miss his second consecutive game with a foot injury. Wide receiver Devin Funchess, who has had a resurgence since Carolina traded Kelvin Benjamin, is listed as questionable with a shoulder and did not practice Friday. Ron Rivera did say, however, that he sat out practice to rest him in time to play Sunday.
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