Dougherty: Will Rodgers be ready for early tests?

Pete Dougherty
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Last year, Aaron Rodgers played in only one quarter of one preseason game.

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers  throws the ball around before their preseason game against the Oakland Raiders Thursday, August 18,, 2016 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay.

One of the first things I wondered after seeing the Green Bay Packers’ 2017 schedule was whether coach Mike McCarthy will handle that differently this year with his team’s highly challenging start to the season.

The Packers open against what figure to be two of the NFC’s leading Super Bowl contenders: at home against Seattle and then at Atlanta against the defending NFC champions.

That’s about as tough as it gets in Weeks 1 and 2. And while any or all three of those teams might be very different by January than they are in September, those games could very much matter if for no other reason than as tiebreakers for playoff spots and seeding.

If the Packers finish tied with the Seahawks or Falcons for playoff seeding for a home game, or a wild-card spot, the head-to-head outcome will determine the winner. And both are NFC opponents. Conference record is the first tiebreaker for teams in different divisions that didn’t play head to head, so those games would come into play if the Packers tie for a spot with, say, a team from the NFC East or NFC West.

That leads back to Rodgers. McCarthy barely played him in the 2016 preseason because Rodgers has played long enough that he doesn’t really need the game reps and basically had everyone back on offense. The coach didn’t want to expose his quarterback to the injury risk of preseason action, however small that might be.

The downside was a greater risk of starting the season slower. Don’t know if it was a factor, but the Packers’ offense was a little sluggish the first two games, and the Packers started 1-1. Rodgers played about twice as much in the 2015 preseason (two games, two full quarters total), and the offense scored 31 and 27 points in those first two wins.

Are the two related? I have my doubts but can’t say for sure.

McCarthy doesn’t forecast his plans, so we’ll have to see what he does on game days in August. My suspicion is he won’t play Rodgers any more than he did last year, but that’s just a guess. Maybe he’ll look at 2015 and think playing Rodgers that extra quarter helped at least a little.

I might be in the minority here, but I wouldn’t. I’d play him only a quarter again. You simply can’t get Rodgers hurt, even a little bit, in a game that doesn’t count in the standings. If that costs your offense a little to start the season, so be it. It’s a price you have to pay.

Remember, Brett Favre broke the thumb on his throwing hand when he hit somebody’s helmet or shoulder pad on his follow through in a preseason game in 1999. He didn’t miss a game, but that injury definitely affected his throwing all season. Playing with a splint on his thumb in every game, he had the lowest completion percentage (57.3) of his career, and his passer rating (74.7) was about 15 points lower than his career average.

So I’d play it just like McCarthy did last year. Even though these early games are uncommonly tough, what matters most is how you’re playing at season’s end.

Here are a couple other quick observations about the Packers’ 2017 schedule:

Good Bye: The Packers’ Week 8 bye jumps out. It’s not the absolute ideal but it’s much better than their horrendous bye last year in Week 4, which is the earliest possible in the NFL schedule.

Not that there’s a bad time for a bye – there always are injuries that could use an extra week of healing. But the later the better, because those things accrue during the long NFL season.

If you don’t think it matters to players, there’s this tweet from Packers safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix after the Packers’ bye was reported Thursday afternoon:

“Lord thank you for answering all my prayers even the small ones. Like having bye week mid way through the season much needed.”

Taking heat: The Packers’ schedule doesn’t look bad for challenging weather on the road. In fact, their toughest weather road game could be at Dallas on Oct. 8, but even that depends on a couple factors.

The average high temperature in Dallas in October is 80 degrees, according to the  The game is just far enough into the season to wonder if the Packers will have lost their heat acclimation from training camp.

Last year they played at Jacksonville in the opener, but that was right after camp, and they seemed to hold up pretty well despite a 90-degree day.

If Green Bay weather starting in mid-September is mild or even cool for Packers practices – the average high in Green Bay in September is 70 degrees, and the low 49 degrees – the players could lose their heat acclimation by Oct. 8. And if the temperature in Dallas on game days is into the 80s, the heat could be a factor for the Packers.

The question then is whether the Cowboys open the roof and/or sliding doors at AT&T Stadium.

The Cowboys usually close them on game day. NFL rules mandate that teams have to decide to open or close retractable roofs no later than 90 minutes before kickoff. If the roof is left closed, it has to stay closed. If open, only the referees can close it if it rains or there is a threat of hazardous weather.

So that’s a few ifs, but something to keep in mind when the time comes.

The Packers have November and December outdoor road games at Chicago (Nov. 12), Pittsburgh (Nov. 26) and Cleveland (Dec. 10), but the conditions in those games shouldn’t be any different than what they’ll have practiced in.

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