In the blink of an eye, or the time it took for Aaron Rodgers’ shoulder to get slammed into the Lambeau Field turf Monday night, the Green Bay Packers’ playoff prospects went from glitzy to grim.
Had Rodgers not broken his collarbone on the first series of the game, the Packers would have beaten the Chicago Bears, could have been riding high with a 6-2 record, and should have been able to make a serious run at earning home-field advantage in the playoffs.
As it is, the Packers are deadlocked at 5-3 in the NFC North with Detroit and Chicago and must scramble just to stay relevant in the NFC postseason race.
The best guess is Rodgers will miss a minimum of four games — vs. Philadelphia, at the New York Giants, vs. Minnesota and at Detroit.
In that scenario, the Packers could afford to go 1-3 and still have an outside shot at the playoffs when Rodgers comes back. But they would then need to run the table against Atlanta, Dallas, Pittsburgh and Chicago.
That would put them at 10-6, which should be good enough to earn a playoff berth, likely as a wild-card qualifier.
As the Packers proved in 2010 when they won the Super Bowl as the NFC’s No. 6 seed, all they need is an invitation to the postseason party. With a healthy Rodgers, Randall Cobb and Clay Matthews, the Packers could make a deep playoff run, even if they’re forced to hit the road.
But first things first. The Packers are faced with the monumental task of winning games in the next month without Rodgers. One victory during that span keeps them in the playoff conversation, while two wins would give them some breathing room with a 7-5 record heading into December.
They must depend on backup quarterback Seneca Wallace, who during an eight-year NFL career has just six career victories as a starter and none since the 2010 season.
Wallace isn’t capable of hoisting the Packers on his back and carrying them to victory like Rodgers can. In fairness, few backups possess that ability.
Wallace must display just enough passing prowess to keep defenses honest, and also avoid committing killer mistakes. He failed on both counts against the Bears, and not surprisingly the Packers lost.
The revitalized running attack featuring Eddie Lacy and James Starks could keep the Packers in business on offense, but unless Wallace proves he can make some effective throws downfield, defenses will stack the box against the run.
The Packers aren’t going to win any shootouts with Rodgers out of commission, which means it’s “put up” or “shut up” time for the defense.
When it was needed most against the Bears, the Packers wilted on defense. But there is hope that things will get better on that side of the ball with the return this week of Matthews.
In the past, the Packers could usually make up for subpar performances here or there by the defense, running game or special teams units, as long as Rodgers was launching missiles in a high-powered aerial attack.
But for the next month, there will be far less room for error. Wallace must hold up his end with effective game management, but he’s going to need a lot of help from his teammates.
These are desperate times for the Packers, who must find ways to overcome the loss of their best player. Their playoff hopes depend on it.
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @MikeVandermause.