The Green Bay Packers have entered their bye week. The 2021 regular season which was filled with injuries, Covid and off the field distractions but the Packers persevered and finished with a 13-4 record and earned the top seed in the NFC playoffs.
Several of the injured Packers look like they should be able to return in time for the playoffs although what role they may be able to play remains to be seen.
Here is the latest on the Packers returning injured players and what we can expect come the Packers opening playoff game:
- OT David Bakhtiari
Bakhtiari saw his first game action of the 2021 season in the season finale in Detroit after missing the first 16 games due to a knee injury suffered late last year. The perennial All Pro played 27 snaps in the first half and looked good.
Expect Bakhtiari to be the Packers starting left tackle in their playoff opener at Lambeau the weekend of January 22 and 23.
- C Josh Myers
Myers also returned to action against the Lions last weekend playing 32 snaps at center. It was his first game action since he suffered a knee injury in Week 6 against the Bears.
Myers looks ready to play but head coach Matt LaFleur must decide whether having Myers or Lucas Patrick at center puts them in the best position to succeed in the playoffs. Either way, Myers is active and available going forward.
- WR Randall Cobb
Cobb last played in Week 12 against the Rams before suffering a core muscle injury. He has yet to return to action but several people close to the team said Cobb could have played this past weekend if it were a playoff game.
Cobb is the Packers third or fourth receiver but he excels in the slot and in the red zone and has the trust of Aaron Rodgers. He also has extensive playoff experience and has come through in the clutch for the Packers many times during his career.
Expect Cobb to resume his previous role in the offense and maybe even take on a bigger role if Marquez Valdes-Scantling’s injury is serious enough to slow him down during the playoffs.
- OLB Za’Darius Smith
Za’Darius Smith last played for the Packers in Week 1 before heading to IR with a back injury which required surgery. The Packers expect him to return to practice this week and then they will decide if he’s ready to return to action.
“We’ll get him back out there and see how he looks, see what type of shape he’s in,” LaFleur said. “If he progresses and checks all the boxes, then he’ll be back out on the field.”
If he can return to the lineup, Za’Darius Smith would give the Packers three talented and dangerous edge rushers when he joins Preston Smith and Rashan Gary on the active roster.
If he can play in the playoffs, expect Za’Darius to be a rotational pass rusher. He will likely start off playing on obvious passing downs and taking maybe 15-25 snaps. If his back holds up and he plays well, those numbers could increase in future games.
- CB Jaire Alexander
The Packers have activated Alexander off the Covid list and he is also on the active roster. He has not appeared in a game since Week 4 when the Packers defeated Pittsburgh. Had Alexander not entered Covid protocols, he likely would have seen some action in the season finale against Detroit.
When healthy, Alexander is one of the league’s best cover corners. Alexander, rookie first-round pick Eric Stokes and Rasul Douglas would give the Packers one of the best trio of cornerbacks in the league with Chandon Sullivan and Kevin King next on the depth chart.
The Packers still need to see where they line up each of their top corners and whether Alexander should be on the field on a limited basis until they’re more confident his injured shoulder will respond to contact.
“We have a pretty good problem in that we’ve got some other good players, especially at the corner position,” LaFleur said. “How do you get all these guys out on the grass at the same time and where are you placing them? Those are some of the things we’re kind of working through as a staff right now.”
- OL Billy Turner
Turner may return to practice this week after missing the final four games of the season after suffering a knee injury in the second game against the Bears. He is also right now officially in Covid protocols.
If Turner is ready to play in the team’s first playoff game, the coaching staff has some choices to make. Do they put Turner back at right tackle where he played so effectively all season or move him to right guard and stick with Dennis Kelly at right tackle? If Turner plays at tackle, who plays guard? They could go with Lucas Patrick (if he’s not playing center) or Royce Newman.
If Turner, Myers and Bakhtiari all return to the lineup, the Packers would have four of their top five players on the line available for the playoffs with only Elgton Jenkins still on the injured reserve.
The Packers are getting key players back at the right time. Now they need to figure out how to successfully integrate them back into the lineup.
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