Pack's Title Hopes Hinge on 3 Things: Health, Health and Health

Yes, there are some eerie parallels to the 2010 Packers season, but forgive me for not ordering my Super Bowl tickets just yet in the loaded NFC.

It's beginning to feel like the early season stumble (Colts) and highway robbery (Seahawks) will make it difficult to catch the Bears for the NFC North. The Pack doesn't have any more wiggle room for losses in the back half of the season. If Chicago can split its next two, they'll be in prime position.

In 2010, the Pack suffered a pair of ugly losses--to the Skins and Fins--and then got on a roll. Those losses happened in large part because Clay Matthews was out, nursing a hamstring injury. Well what do you know? Matthews is back on the sidelines and there's no guarantee he'll be able to play either of the road games coming out of the bye. You think the Lions and Giants aren't licking their chops about gameplanning for the Pack without #52? It makes sweeping those games much more difficult.

The second half of the Pack's season, with five division games, will be defined by the return of the walking wounded. Think about it: if the Pack played this Sunday, they'd likely be without ten (!) opening day starters: Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson, Sam Shields, Nick Perry and Desmond Bishop on defense; Jordy Nelson, Greg Jennings, John Kuhn, Cedric Benson and Bryan Bulaga on offense.

That feels a whole lot more staggering than the situation the 2010 Packers faced (ultimately with 15 guys on IR).

Here's where we are: the one guy the Pack needs back immediately is Matthews. Best case scenario is he misses the Lions game and is back for the Sunday night game in New York. But the team will be extra careful that it's 100% before they allow him to play and it wouldn't surprise me if he misses up to three games.

It's beginning to sound like Bryan Bulaga's hip injury may end his season. Until last week, the one unit that had not been hammered by injuries was the offensive line. Bulaga's injury impacts two spots, as TJ Lang moves over from guard and Evan Dietrich-Smith moves in to the left guard spot (just in time for his buddy Mr. Suh next Sunday). I don't think this unit is that much worse than the starting unit, but if one more guy goes down, the team will have to move an undrafted rookie into the starting line-up.

My hope is that by week 14, the team will have a much healthier lineup for the stretch run, with home games against the Lions and Titans and the Bears and Vikes on the road. If they can go 2-1 leading up to that point, they'll be 8-4 and hopefully will have back Matthews, Woodson, Shields, Benson, Nelson, Jennings and Kuhn.

Every team deals with injuries, I get it. But the Pack is dealing with more than their share. They've proven they can play with anybody: witness their dominant efforts over the Bears and Texans. With a reasonably healthy squad (give me back Matthews, Jennings, Nelson and Woodson) the Pack will be a fearsome playoff opponent no matter where they're seeded.

I think we can all agree after witnessing the very different last two post-seasons, it doesn't matter whether the Pack is #1 or #6, just get into the post-season party reasonably healthy and this team has a chance to go all the way. The NFC is loaded, with tough defensive-minded teams like the 49ers and Bears, a proven winner in the Giants and the hot, but 0-for-January Falcons. The Pack can beat any of them, as long as their depth chart is done being stretched as thin as a slice of Zaffiro's pizza.


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