The Green Bay Packers locked up the top seed in the NFC and the bye that goes with it on Sunday when they beat the Minnesota Vikings 37-10. Now, head coach Matt LaFleur and the rest of the Packers coaching staff has some difficult decisions to make ahead of the regular-season finale this Sunday in Detroit.
Should the Packers play their starters, have them sit out or treat this like a preseason game and have the starters play a quarter or a half and then sit out the rest of the game?
There are two groups of players to discuss: the starters and the injured players who may be able to return either for the season finale or the first playoff game.
The issue for the starters is this: if you rest your players on Sunday, they will go nearly three weeks without playing a game and could get cold. But if you play them, you run the risk of them getting injured or aggravating an existing injury in a meaningless game.
Both quarterback Aaron Rodgers and wide receiver Davante Adams said they want to play on Sunday and both have reasons for wanting to be in the lineup for at least part of the game.
“I’m going to play next week,” Rodgers said after Sunday night’s win at Lambeau. “I expect Davante to play, and our guys to play. We look forward to finishing off the season on a high note, and then getting the bye.”
Rodgers is now the favorite to win a second consecutive NFL MVP award. It would be the fourth of his NFL career. For what it’s worth, Rodgers needs 23 yards passing to reach the 4,000-yard mark for the season.
The other issue for Rodgers, however, is his injured toe. The quarterback indicated that the toe feels better than it has since he hurt it. He even said he may feel up to practicing later this week, something he hasn’t done often since breaking his toe.
His decision to not get surgery and play through the injury seems to be working out. But one player stepping on the toe in a meaningless game in Detroit could set Rodgers back and truly hurt the Packers chances of winning the Super Bowl.
Adams also wants to play. “Having two weeks off is, to each his own, but I wouldn’t want to do it. I want to play next week, at least some,” Adams said. “We’ll see the plan we come up with, but I’m definitely preparing to go out there and play. I want to get out there and run around, for sure.”
Adams needs 22 yards receiving to set the Packers single-season yardage mark set by Jordy Nelson back in 2014. Every catch he makes also sets a new single-season franchise record. But the most important thing for the former Fresno State star is being mentally and physically ready for the playoffs.
Then there are the injured Packers who the team is hoping to get back in time for the playoffs. That group includes OT David Bakhtiari, OLB Za’Darius Smith, C Josh Myers, OT Billy Turner, WR Randall Cobb and CB Jaire Alexander.
Cobb and Alexander are the only two in this group who have practiced recently. Cobb returned to practice after suffering a core muscle injury that needed surgery in the Week 12 win over the Rams. As a veteran, it is unclear whether he needs to play in Week 18 to be ready for the playoffs.
Alexander has returned to practice and was activated off the IR last week but then landed on the Covid reserve before the game against Minnesota. If he clears protocols and is healthy enough to play, would Alexander benefit from playing limited reps against Detroit or does another two weeks of rest get him better prepared?
Bakhtiari has had two setbacks and a second surgery since he first injured his knee a year ago. He has not practiced the last two weeks but of all the veterans in this situation, Bakhtiari probably needs the least number of reps to be ready to play in the postseason.
Za’Darius Smith has yet to return to practice since undergoing back surgery early this season. He has not played since Week 1 against the Saints. Myers has been out since suffered a knee injury in Week 6 against the Bears and has yet to return to practice. Turner has been out since Week 14 against Chicago and has also not been able to practice. Lucas Patrick replaced Myers while Dennis Kelly is playing right tackle in place of Turner.
LaFleur is taking a wait and see approach as of now. “That does seem like a long time off,” he said after the Vikings game. “We’ll play it by ear. We’ll have conversations tomorrow with our staff, we’ll definitely have talks with our players. We’ll make the best decision for us. But if you asked me right now, I’d say my gut is these guys are going to play at least a little bit next week. You kind of have to weigh everything, and then make the best decision for your football team.”
The most likely scenario is that the Packers almost treat the Lions game like a preseason contest. Many starters will play a quarter or a half and then players like Jordan Love, Juwann Winfree, Patrick Taylor and Tipa Galeai will see more action while starters may sit.
Still, LaFleur has some tough choices ahead as he figures out the best way to prepare his team for the postseason.
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