|Tim Heitman/US Presswire|
|Keeping Aaron Rodgers healthy for the postseason has to be a priority for the Packers right now.|
The Packers survived a thriller with the Giants on Sunday and are now 12-0 with three of their final four games at Lambeau Field. With 16-0 a very real possibility, some wonder if Green Bay should even try to pursue it. Why? Look no further than the Packers' biggest rival, Chicago, where the Bears have lost their starting quarterback and running back over the past three weeks. Should the Packers play for perfection, injury risks be damned, or throw it in cruise control once home-field advantage is locked up?
Focus on Lombardi, not perfectionI have long been of the mind that in a game as inherently violent as this, with injury risk so high, you take advantage of opportunities to rest key players. Period.
Giving Charles Woodson an extra week off and yanking Aaron Rodgers at the half a few times and rotating in many more reps for backups is just fine. It's all about the Super Bowl; the 2007 Pats, who went 18-0 but lost the biggest game of the year, can tell you that. They'd trade any number of those first 18 wins away in order to have outlasted the Giants in the final game of the season.
If I'm coach Mike McCarthy, I'm devising a system whereby key starters get 50-75 percent of normal reps in the final 2-3 weeks and playing it as smart as can be in that regard. I'm focusing on a rare enough feat -- back-to-back Lombardis. Chasing that is difficult enough.
Players want to chase 19-0There is no doubt they should play for perfection. The Packers won the Super Bowl last season and though it always looks more impressive to win two in a row, to do it in historic fashion by going unbeaten is something players will want. Ask the Colts. Players were none too happy that they didn't go for perfection a few years ago.
The risk of injury is a concern and the Packers will be playing Chicago and Detroit â- teams fighting for a playoff berth -- the final two weeks of the season. Both rivals will be doing what they can to get into postseason play, and that could require beating the Packers. That only adds to the rationale for Green Bay playing its starters. Those teams will keep the Packers sharp and give them a few more challenges to tighten up their defense.
Green Bay should rest some players that are nicked up, but keeping things on schedule the way things are now would land the Pack a bye in the first round of the playoffs when all is said and done. That's all the break they need.
Rodgers especially needs to restI don't think being undefeated in the regular season can be a goal that puts key players in harm's way. Start with Aaron Rodgers. He already gets sacked too much, 164 times in four seasons. This year, he is sacked once every 15 pass attempts. Rodgers needs to play smart to end the regular season and that means lots of fast passes from out of the shotgun.
The last month of the season would be a good time to work on the running game, and that doesn't mean letting Rodgers run. He led the Packers in rushing against the Giants. The defense has injuries at linebacker, and Charles Woodson just had a concussion. An extra week of rest, above what is required, is good advice for all the injured Packers. Remember this is a team that didn't get together at all during the lockout and exploded when the season started. The Packers already have proven they can play well with extended time off.
Packers shouldn't play scaredThe Packers need to go for the perfect season. Things never work out well when you try to play it safe. Just look at Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines in "Running Scared." Or for an example the iPad generation will understand, just look at Jason Garrett's reign as coach of the Cowboys. When you play scared, or play not to lose, bad things happen. Ask the Colts from a few years ago who tanked a chance for a perfect season and lost in the Super Bowl.
The Packers have been doing well because they keep accelerating. Injuries will always be a concern, but the Packers showed last year that having a bunch of players on the IR wonât stop them. So go for it, Packers. You don't get many chances like this, so you might as well make the most of it.
All about playoffs for PackersThe Packers should wrap up home-field advantage, then focus their energies on getting as healthy as possible heading into the playoffs. This means resting your injured starters and cutting down some of the minutes for your key veterans to make sure they are fresh and ready to go.
Now, I'm not suggesting the Packers should take final weeks of the season for granted, but they need to be smart about preserving the health of their key contributors in order to make a deep postseason run. An unbeaten regular season is great fodder for fans and media, but it only matters if you win the ring at the end.
A chance to transcend greatnessThe Packers should absolutely go after 19-0. They're playing with house money after winning the Super Bowl last year. Passing on the rare opportunity they've now played themselves into would be like going on "The Price Is Right" and not trying to win the Showcase Showdown because you already won a car. Don't get me wrong: A Lombardi Trophy is nothing to sneeze at, but 19-0 is the brass ring, the chance to transcend mere greatness and elevate this team into the conversation of the best ever.
Either way, it's a good thing for Packers fans this didn't happen.