On the 12th Day of Christmas...

Thursday was a very good day for Packer fans. He may not be returning soon enough to save your fantasy season, but Aaron Rodgers has been cleared to return to the field just in time for the playoff game to determine the NFC North champion. A very good day indeed.

After making the big announcement, Mike McCarthy went on to say he expects Eddie Lacy to be good to go and he said he felt better about Randall Cobb's chances than he did at the beginning of the day. Suddenly, the thought of the Packers defense giving up big yardage and points seems a little less daunting.

I was wrong on this one. Despite the fact that he's been practicing and lobbying hard, Rodgers' return felt just out of reach. The team's conservative nature had me convinced they refused to risk his future health for a possible short-term payoff. But team doctor Pat McKenzie clearly saw enough healing to give him the green light and suddenly the matchup takes on a whole new look.

Rodgers returns against the team that derailed his season, a team he's beaten the last three times he's played them on their home field, including the 2010 NFC title game and he faces off against Jay Cutler, he of the 1-8 career record vs. the Pack.

As Trent Tucker reminded me this morning when we did a bonus "In the Zone" on KFAN from 9-noon, when a transcendent player returns from injury, it affects everyone. He recalls how he and all his Bulls teammates played a little bit harder when Michael Jordan returned from missing action. The same will be true for the Packers on Sunday. They'll be energized, focused and primed to seize this opportunity. One that seemingly had escaped their grasp when the clock ran out on Matt Flynn last Sunday.

It will still likely be a bit of a grind. Dom Capers has owned Cutler and the Bears, but he won't have playmakers like Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson or Nick Collins this time around. Mike Neal, Mike Daniels, Andy Mulumba: these are the guys that will need to step up and force Cutler into those timely mistakes we've grown to know and love.

If Josh McCown were starting I'd be a lot more nervous. He seemed to bring a steady hand to the offense, but Coach Mark Trestman went back to Cutler two weeks ago, to mixed results, and maintains he's the guy to lead his team. We'll see how long a leash he has if Cutler struggles early.

I'll write up a game blog tomorrow, for now let's bask in the post-Christmas glow that has the NFL's best quarterback returning for the game of the season against our most hated rivals. Sunday can't come fast enough.

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