Sunday, December 17, 2017

NFL Week 15: Packers vs. Carolina aka The Return of Aaron Rodgers

It's been two months since we've seen the two-time NFL MVP, Aaron Rodgers, behind center for the Green Bay Packers. The Pack went 3-4 during that period behind the able, and occasionally outstanding, work of QB Brett Hundley and teammates. The Packers are sitting at 7-6 with three games left and paper-thin playoff hopes still alive.

The Packers hope the return of QB Aaron Rodgers reignites WR Jordy Nelson
and the rest of the Packers offense in their game against Carolina.
(Photo: Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin)
It was a somewhat similar situation in 2013 when Rodgers returned after a long absence, also from a broken collarbone (non-throwing shoulder), to face Da Bearz. In that return, Rodgers showed rust early, throwing interceptions on his first two series. Then he got his mojo back, leading the Pack to a win over Chicago. Today, Packer fans hope for a similar result against the Carolina Panthers, who are ahead of the Packers in the playoff hunt. A win today -- and the next two weeks -- are essential for the Packers to have a shot, albeit a long one, at grabbing a wild card spot.

But first things first: what do things look like against the Panthers? Well, the oddsmakers have installed Carolina as a 3-point favorite at the time of this writing, i.e., home field advantage. Sure. Plus the freak of nature that is Cam Newton. And a really good defense. The Panthers should get the favorite designation today. The Packers will also be light in the defensive backfield once again, opening up potential downfield catches for Carolina receivers. And let's not forget Carolina's running game...which includes more than just Jonathon Stewart. You have to count Newton as a running back, as well, as he can take off and pick up huge yards if not kept in check. No quarterback in the league has more rushing yards this season than Newton.

So, Carolina presents huge challenges for the Packers defense. But, honestly, what team hasn't for this Packers team this season? Specifically, though, how do you keep Newton in check? It can be done. He can be an inconsistent quarterback who either gets frustrated or takes all he can get. You just hope the Pack is able to do enough today on defense to not let him take over the game. Will the Packers devote someone to shadow Newton? Some reports indicate that if the Packers take that approach, it might be that LB Blake Martinez gets the assignment. Martinez has had a great second season, and is perhaps best suited to assume that task.

For the Pack, it will likely take a few series for Rodgers to shake off the rust and get his timing back with his receivers. But, thankfully, over the past few months the Packers have been able to find a running game behind Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones, so that will relieve some of the pressure on Rodgers to carry the whole load on his still-recovering shoulders.

The Prediction

We think this is going to be a close game. We're used to that, though, with three overtime wins this season including two in the last two games. But this game will have Rodgers at the helm and not Hundley (barring re-injury to Rodgers) and that means the odds just got better for a Packers win. Many pundits, however, are still picking Carolina for many of the reasons noted above. Can't blame them. Seems like a pick 'em game in many respects.

But we think the return of Rodgers will lift the play of the entire team just enough to sneak out of Carolina with a much-needed win.

We're calling this game Packers 31 - Panthers 30.

Go Pack Go!!!