Fortune Favors the (Green and) Gold
How many Packers fans can honestly say that they predicted that the Packers would be 14-1 after 15 weeks of this season? I personally predicted this team would go 12-4 and I would’ve been greatly surprised if the Packers went 13-3. This entire year has been so surreal as the Packers have surpassed all reasonable expectations. Up until the Chiefs game, everything had been falling the Packers way for over a calendar year. By the way, if it makes you feel any better, the Packers didn’t lose their first game of the year to the scrappy Chiefs, the Packers also lost a pre-season game earlier in the year to the glorious Cleveland Browns. The score was 27-17 if you were wondering. Don’t you all feel better now? You’re very welcome. Still, I digress.
Most Packers fans have wiped the bad taste from the Chiefs game out of their mouths and many feel much better with the first seed and home field advantage wrapped up. Many Packers fans are looking forward to the playoffs and looking at the next two weeks as a time to rest the wounded to prepare for a successful three game playoff run. Many have wondered and some have even asked McCarthy if he would look to rest his starters in the final game of the year against the Lions. McCarthy is not going to show his hand but speculation continues. Many people have their opinion and a few posts have been written so far. Specifically, CheeseheadTV’s Aaron Nagler wrote a pretty convincing argument for McCarthy to sit Rodgers versus the Lions.
One of the best statements Aaron Nagler makes is that the Detroit Lions team has gained notoriety around the league for playing dirty. Nagler adds to this by strongly stating that there “is absolutely no reason for McCarthy to put his starting quarterback, and the league’s likely Most Valuable Player, in the lineup against the cheap-shot artists that reside along the Lions’ defensive line.” Essentially, playing Aaron Rodgers against the Lions exposes the Packers greatest weapon and catalyst to unnecessary risk with no foreseeable reward. I have no intention of attempting to provide a line item rebuttal of Aaron Nagler’s post because I believe it to be rational and the logic to be sound. Instead, I will counter with why I believe McCarthy should play all of his healthy starters–including Aaron Rodgers–for the entire game (unless a blowout ensues).
Motor City Motivation
People mistakenly believe that this game means nothing. However, this game does have a lot of significance for the Detroit Lions and therefore should have significance to the Packers. As chronicled by Packers.com, the Detroit Lions have the opportunity to clinch the NFC’s fifth seed with a win on New Year’s Day. The Lions have stated that they would like the fifth seed because it gives them the remote possibility of hosting a playoff game. Beyond that–and more superficially I might add–the Lions were embarrassed the last time these two teams met up. The Lions star player (Suh) embarrassed himself and his organization and the Lions were essentially emasculated on national television by the Green Bay Packers. I cannot be convinced that the players and coaches for the Detroit Lions have forgotten that game and hold no ill will towards the Packers. The Lions want to punch the Packers in the mouth, beat them, stand over them and say, “This will happen again in two weeks. We will be back here and we will finish you off.” It’s also important to note that the Detroit Lions have not won in Wisconsin in decades. They would love nothing more than to kill that streak before the playoffs. Detroit WILL come to play on the first day of 2012. It would behoove the Packers to do the same.
The Detroit Lions have secured a playoff berth for the first time in 12 years. There are plenty plausible scenarios that see the Detroit Lions coming back to Lambeau Field to face the Green Bay Packers in a single elimination game. This Week 17 game could be repeated in the playoffs in as short as two weeks. With the Detroit Lions presumably playing all of their starters and opening up the majority of their playbook, the Green Bay Packers will pretty much see the Detroit Lions team they would face in the playoffs. What happens when a team secure with it’s playoff standing plays a team hungry for playoff security in Week 17? The last few times the Green Bay Packers played a team in Week 17 and then again in the playoffs, the Packers played the Chicago Bears and before that, the Arizona Cardinals. In both instances, the Green Bay Packers were the hungry team looking for a Week 17 win and in both instances they were victorious in their Week 17 game. The Bears had supreme motivation to win in Week 17 as a win would prevent the Packers from the playoffs. The Bears played all of their starters and presumably opened up their entire playbook. The Bears ended up losing both the Week 17 game and the playoff game. Many believed that because the Bears went all out and failed in Week 17 that the Green Bay Packers smelled the proverbial ‘blood in the water’ and had the confidence to go in to Soldier Field for the NFC Championship victory. The results were different when the Packers played the Arizona Cardinals. The Packers played all of their starters and used all of their plays while the Arizona Cardinals were content to play more conservative. The Packers were overconfident going into the playoff rematch with the Cardinals and ended up losing in overtime. In this instance, many believed that by holding all their cards (no pun intended) close to the vest’, the Cardinals had an advantage over the Packers because the Packers played all out for the win in Week 17 of that year. At face value, one would tend to believe that due to these past experiences, the Packers would be better served by playing backups and playing more conservative against the Detroit Lions. I do not believe this to be the case, however. In the Bears playoff loss, the Bears lost their top two quarterbacks in the game, yet had a chance to win the NFC Championship game on their final drive with their third string quarterback. Additionally, the Packers lost the Cardinals Wild Card playoff game on a blown non-call by the officials. Either game could’ve easily had the opposite result which leads me to believe that the Week 17 games do not have an overbearing effect on a subsequent playoff game between the same teams. The cliché “Any Given Sunday” still applies to playoff games.
Prove Your Point
So far, I have: 1. Accepted the rationale that starting Aaron Rodgers in the final regular season game exposes the Packers’ best player and greatest weapon to unnecessary risk and 2. Stated that Week 17 results have not had a conclusive effect on the Green Bay Packers over the last few years. Then why am I saying that McCarthy should play all of his healthy starters in Week 17? There are a few reasons:
- Winning and achieving success in the playoffs is less about overall talent and more about momentum, consistency and team cohesion. The six seeded Packers defeated all comers last year with those three attributes. However, if the Packers sit a bunch of starters during this Week 17 game, the Packers will field a team for the Divisional Playoffs that hasn’t played consistently or with cohesion in weeks. The lack of the aforementioned attributes will surely dull any of the Green Bay Packers momentum which any Packers fan knows is the lifeblood of the 2011 Green Bay Packers. Consider the fact that Chad Clifton will almost surely be healthy to play this week and for the playoffs. If Clifton plays this week with Matt Flynn, he would not be afforded any live action experience with Aaron Rodgers since he was injured earlier in the season. Clifton’s return does not solely affect the left tackle position because Clifton returning at left tackle would allow Newhouse to slide to right tackle and allow Lang to play his natural left guard position. I believe Rodgers deserves to play behind 4/5ths of his expected offensive line before seeing playoff action. Additionally, Clifton needs to be able to knock the rust off with the trust that his starting QB won’t be intimidated by the admittedly fierce Detroit defensive line.
- Additionally, with Greg Jennings, Jermichael Finley, James Starks and Randall Cobb presumably out for the game, Rodgers can use the Week 17 game to strengthen his rapport with little used D.J. Williams and Ryan Taylor. Also, is Saine reliable to run against a formidable defense subsequently allowing Rodgers to set up the play action? Can those three players block in the backfield or rub off a rusher from the offensive line? Rodgers needs to experience and answer these questions against a playoff caliber team. On the defensive side, Capers would enjoy having more depth on his defensive line so that he has the ability to play with matchups to determine who best to cover all of the weapons the Lions have. If Capers is only afforded backups he really doesn’t have the ability to figure out all of the minute matchups that he should set up for certain downs and distances should Detroit come back into Lambeau.
- The Packers have a week off after this game due to their seeding. If players like Pickett and Clifton sit, it would be at least a month since they have seen live game action. You do not want unconditioned players coming on to the field in an elimination game. These players should be active and play against the Detroit Lions. Additionally, players like Hawk, Bishop and Sitton have just recently gotten back on the field. All three play positions that require them to understand their assignments in relation to their teammates. More playing time—against a playoff bound team—could only be to their benefit. Additionally, no one is really saying it out loud, but Rodgers has been a bit off for the past few weeks. Any additional playing time can only help him stay consistent with his teammates before he has a week to cool off.
- Finally, when a team worries about injuries or tries to plan or predict when injuries may occur, that team is more likely to suffer injuries. The Packers could sit every starter against the Lions in Week 17, get the Lions in the Divisional round AND still get Rodgers injured. A team looking to win a championship CANNOT afford to think that way. The ONLY thought the Packers should be considering is winning the Super Bowl. Everything else is just superfluous noise and should be treated as such. Injuries happen and winning teams learn how to deal with injuries. If one team in the playoffs would know that, it would be the Green Bay Packers.
I urge Mike McCarthy of the Green Bay Packers to play his healthy starters. I urge him to use any play in his playbook at his own discretion. A conservative Mike McCarthy begets an impotent Green Bay Packers team. I urge him to disregard the risk for injury in the same manner he did for the previous 16 games. I urge him to put the entire league on notice that the Green Bay Packers do not intend to take any team lightly. Should you stand in the way of the Super Bowl title, the Green Bay Packers will use any and all of its resources to defeat you. These are behaviors fit for the reigning Super Bowl champion. The playoffs are like Thanksgiving and everyone is coming to the table hungry. I urge the Green Bay Packers to show who eats first, who eats best and who get the largest piece of the turkey. “Audaces fortuna adjuvat“.