The Green Bay Packers will be in the playoffs no matter what happens Sunday.
They enter their final regular-season game against the Minnesota Vikings with plenty at stake. The NFC North title will go to Sunday’s winner. Regardless, the Packers will get a crack at the postseason whether they win or lose.
With an injury-riddled roster, a team in the Packers’ position could be tempted to be extra cautious with key players this week. The Packers ended Sunday’s loss at the Arizona Cardinals without left tackle David Bakhtiari (inactive with a knee injury), right tackle Bryan Bulaga (ankle), top cornerback Sam Shields (concussion), and nose tackle B.J. Raji (concussion). Several more key players are battling through injuries.
McCarthy made it clear Monday every player able to be on the field against the Vikings will be activated.
“We obviously want our best players out there,” McCarthy said, “and to play to win the game and win the division and have the home playoff game. So that’s the goal, and as we go through, we’re not going to change our approach — our philosophy — on injuries. I’m not a big believer in holding players or just saying, ‘Hey, take another week.’ That’s a terrible mindset to have because winning in this league is so hard.
“You have to go out there and put your best players out there each and every week. That may not be the case with everybody that thinks that way, but that’s the way I think and that’s the way I operate when we do our game plans.”
Whether accurate or not, an argument could be made the Packers’ easiest wild-card matchup would come in a loss to the Vikings. A defeat Sunday would send the Packers to the Washington Redskins as a No. 5 seed. The alternative could include hosting the Vikings for a second straight week at Lambeau Field, or, potentially worse, hosting the two-time defending NFC champion Seattle Seahawks.
An unhealthy roster was perhaps one of the biggest factors in why Sunday’s game in Arizona got out of hand so quickly. Without their starting offensive tackles — Bulaga left in the third quarter — backups Don Barclay and Josh Walker were no match for the Cardinals’ pass rush. The duo allowed five sacks and eight quarterback hurries, according to Pro Football Focus. Barclay was also called for three penalties.
One only needs to look back a year ago to understand the importance of a healthy roster in the postseason. Every player on the Packers’ 53-man roster was available when the team traveled to the Seattle Seahawks for the NFC championship game. The Packers fell five minutes short of knocking off the Seahawks at home.
McCarthy made his team’s intentions clear Monday. The Packers will play to win against the Vikings, play to earn their fifth straight division title. Whatever comes next is a discussion for another day.
“Every injury is different,” McCarthy said. “Every player is different, every player reaction, recovery to injuries is different too. There’s a number of factors that go into that.”