For Packers, Is Reward Greater Than Risk?

The answer to that question goes far deeper than risking Aaron Rodgers' collarbone to win the NFC North. Rather, the question might be whether there's any point to risking Rodgers to win the division, given how the rest of the team has been playing.

It's time for the ultimate risk vs. reward conversation for the Green Bay Packers.

On one level, the decision is pretty simple. Do they let Aaron Rodgers play, with a chance to win the NFC North at stake?

On a second level, perhaps the decision is more complex. Is the reward — a third consecutive division championship and a fifth consecutive playoff berth — big enough to risk Rodgers if he's not fully healed?

"This is something I think clearly after seeing Aaron practice for two weeks, this is something Ted Thompson and I need to sit down and we need to assess all the information and to decide if it's time for him to play," coach Mike McCarthy said on Monday. "Aaron wants to play — has wanted to play for the last couple of weeks. He fully accepts, understands everything going on with his injury, so this is really a decision for Ted Thompson and I representing the organization. That's how it works."

The season has been like a rickety old dam, which started hemorrhaging water after Rodgers sustained a broken collarbone on Nov. 4 against Chicago.

Green Bay went 2-5-1 after Rodgers went down. One minute, it's been the run defense. Actually, a lot of minutes, it's been the run defense. One minute, it's been the special teams. Another minute, it's been the untimely penalties. One minute, it's red-zone offense. Another minute, it's third-down defense.

Can Rodgers' return make a dramatic difference? The Packers, after all, were 5-2 in the games Rodgers started and finished.

Of those seven games, the Packers played road games against San Francisco, Cincinnati and Baltimore. The 49ers and Bengals are headed to the playoffs and the Ravens are in the mix entering Week 17. Green Bay blew fourth-quarter leads against San Francisco and Cincinnati but managed to hold off Baltimore.

Since playing those three teams, the Packers' injury situation has become a major issue. Randall Cobb broke his leg against Baltimore; who knows when he'll be ready to play. Jermichael Finley sustained a career-threatening neck injury against Cleveland. Casey Hayward's cursed second season ended against Philadelphia. Clay Matthews reinjured his broken thumb on Sunday; McCarthy didn't have an update, other than saying the medical staff "didn't feel very good about the injury." He missed four games when he broke it the first time. If it's the same injury, Matthews wouldn't return to the Super Bowl. Eddie Lacy, who has carried the load on offense without Rodgers, aggravated his sore ankle and couldn't finish the Pittsburgh game.

So, the question might not be if Rodgers can return to help the Packers win the NFC North title. Rather, the question might be whether there's any point to winning the NFC North, other than the financial windfall of hosting a playoff game.

If the Packers win the North, they'd be the No. 4 seed. That would mean a home playoff game against the No. 5 seed — at this point, that would be either San Francisco or New Orleans. Maybe the dome-loving Saints would freeze at Lambeau Field, but could the Packers beat the 49ers? If so, that would set up a divisional game at Seattle or Carolina. There's almost no reason to believe the Packers could win that game.

Then again, there was almost no reason to believe the Ravens would go on a championship run at this point last year.

The Ravens entered the postseason having lost four of their last five games. Other than finishing plus-9 in turnovers, they really had no redeeming qualities; they ranked 16th in offense and 17th in defense. But they beat Peyton Manning and Tom Brady on the road in the divisional and championship rounds, then held off the 49ers in the Super Bowl.

For Thompson and McCarthy, here's the decision: Presuming the best-case scenarios, can a healthy Rodgers, Cobb and Lacy change the face of this team so dramatically that it can go on a surprising playoff run? Or is the dam so leaky that not even Rodgers — the NFL's ultimate dam repairman — can plug all the holes? And even taking the chance for a reinjury out of the equation, if Rodgers can't plug all the holes in January, perhaps picking something like 15th in every round in April is a better option than picking 21st.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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