Playoffs Begin Sunday Afternoon at Lambeau

We learned on Friday what most of has surmised: that Aaron Rodgers would not return in week 14 against the Falcons. The Packers hope that seven more days will allow the broken collarbone to be sufficiently healed to allow for a return for a tough road test in Dallas.

Of course, if the Packers lose on Sunday and fall out of the playoff picture, they may decide to shelf him for the last three games. More on that later.

If the Packers, led by Matt Flynn, can't beat a 3-9 dome team at home on a cold, snowy day in December, then we shouldn't be concerned with the playoffs anyway. This was originally a Sunday night game, but the network goochies figured the rest of the nation wouldn't be waiting all day for Sunday night to watch these two struggling teams go at it.

What we expect to see is two teams that will lean heavily on the run game. Eddie Lacy should have a big game against Atlanta's 30th ranked run defense. But he's never even seen snow before, so we don't know how he'll react to the wintry conditions. The banged offensive line is also a concern. It sounds like center Evan Dietrich Smith will miss this game after injuring his ankle in practice (he was already dealing with the nee injury suffered on Thanksgiving Day). David Bakhtiari is dealing with the flu, so it remains to be seen how he'll rebound from his worst day as a pro.

The Falcons will provide a heavy dose of Steven Jackson, who's dealt with an injury-riddled season, but has looked healthy and fresh the last few weeks. Atlanta entered the season as a Super Bowl favorite, but injuries early to the offensive line and their stud wide receivers zapped them of their firepower and they're enduring a horrific season.

You never know the mindset of a 3-9 team in December, particularly one that believes it can be a Super Bowl contender again next year--where a few high draft picks could mean a world of difference to the roster. When they take the field and their snot starts to freeze, they may start fighting each other for space on the heated benches on the sideline.

The Pack on the other hand still has everything to play for. If they can win their last four, they have a realistic chance to win the North (assuming here that Rodgers returns for the last three. If he doesn't, they've got no shot, obviously). If they're going to catch the Lions though, they'll need some help from the Eagles on Sunday--the toughest game left on their schedule. If Detroit wins in Philly, they'll be a lot closer to the North title.

If the Packers lose this game, put me in the camp that Rodgers should finish the season holding a clipboard. Yes, next week's Dallas game will have playoff implications for the Cowboys, but the Packers will know their post-season hopes are gone and they'd be better served by letting that collarbone heal completely and start looking ahead to 2014. Same thing holds for Randall Cobb. There's no guarantee he'll be healthy enough to play anyway, but a loss on Sunday should shelve him for the year as well.

The Packers will have had ten days to think about the Thanksgiving Day massacre. Ten days to hear about what was the most embarrassing loss of the Mike McCarthy era. If they've got any pride at all, we'll see a focused effort from the team on both sides of the ball. Nothing we've seen in the last five weeks makes us feel really confident that that will happen. The Falcons can't sack the quarterback. That should give us hope. After all, sometimes, you just gotta believe.

Packers 20 Falcons 17

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