How the Packers can 'run the table' again

Rodgers return inspires postseason hope

As things sit right now, Green Bay has an 8 percent chance to make the playoffs, but with the return of two-time MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers from a broken collarbone this week, the 7-6 Packers hopes are looking up.

On FootballOutsiders.com, the Packers chances jumped from 11 percent to 15 percent when Rodgers announced his return on Wednesday. 

However, despite optimism from fans and analysts, and call-backs to 2013, where Rodgers returned from the same injury to beat the Bears and earn the NFC North crown, Rodgers does not see himself as a savior. 

"Hopefully, it gives a lift for some of the guys, but I'm not coming back to save this team," he said. "I'm coming back to play quarterback the way I know how to play it."

Though savior might be the role, he has to play if the Packers want to win out and secure a spot in a crowded playoff picture. 

Winning the division isn't possible. The Vikings would need to lose three straight to the Packers, 4-9 Bears, and 5-8 Bengals, who were smashed 33-7 at home by the Bears this past Sunday. So, the Packers only real route to the postseason is through the wild-card. 

Though, due to the strength of the NFC wild-card competition, this year is fierce with the 9-4 Panthers, 8-5 Falcons, 8-5 Seahawks, 7-6 Cowboys and 7-6 Lions all vying for the final two spots. 

Even worse for the Packers, they have the hardest remaining schedule of the six competing teams. Their remaining opponents, the Panthers, Vikings and Lions, have a combined record of 26-13 and they are the only team who will not face an under .500 opponent.

On the other hand, the Lions opponents have a combined 16-23 record, and the only over .500 team they have to face is the Packers in their week 17 showdown. 

Despite those harrowing odds, Packers players are not counting themselves out. 

"We've got a chance," left tackle David Bakhtiari said. "We know what the magic number is. We still have everything in front of us, so when [Rodgers] comes back, we're in playoff football ... It's go time."

Bakhtiari and his teammates know that they hold all of the cards. If they win out or as Rodgers famously put it last year, "run the table," Green Bay has a 92 percent chance to make the playoffs regardless of what else happens around the league.

So, the Packers strategy will be one game at a time, starting with the Panthers in Carolina this Sunday. 

The Panthers come in on a hot streak, winning five of their last six games, and earning a 31-24 statement win over Vikings last Sunday. Plus, they own the leagues sixth best overall defense. 

For all those reasons, Panthers head coach, Ron Rivera, said they have no reason to be overly intimidated by the return of Rodgers. 

"To us, it shouldn't be a big deal," Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said. "They said he was going to be back for our game. That's what we expected. I don't want our guys getting caught up in it. I want out guys focusing on getting prepared."

But Rodgers history in Carolina indicates that Rivera should be a bit cautious. 

In his two previous contests in Carolina, 2011 and 2015, Rodgers was a combined 44-78 for 677 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. 

Though his unique challenge this week will be trying to maintain that dominance fresh off an eight-week hiatus for collarbone surgery. 

"I feel confident I will be able to go out there and play the way I've always played, but I've been off for seven games and been out for a while," Rodgers said. "So, it's going to take getting out there, getting that first pass, getting that first hit, and I'll probably settle in."

Packers head coach Mike McCarthy shares his star's confidence regarding health. 

"He couldn't do any more than you possibly could as far as clearing each threshold that you have to to come back," he said. 
 

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