It’s not as if there aren’t multiple games with playoff implications all over the NFL this weekend, but the one that jumps out is going to be played at Lambeau Field.
At times this year, a guy could have legitimately looked at the Giants and the Packers and said, without making anybody laugh, that “these two teams might meet in the NFC Championship.”
Now they are meeting in Week 16, each coming off a spirit-crushing defeat, needing to shake off all their illusions. The winner of this game will probably go to the playoffs. The loser probably won’t. For these two teams, the playoffs will start two weeks early.
The Giants need to rebound from a defeat many of them probably still can’t believe: Up 21 points over the Eagles with less than eight minutes left, only to lose by seven on a last-play TD punt return.
The Giants can’t afford an emotional hangover and Eli Manning, for one, is pleased to be playing a crucial game against a big-time opponent this week.
“All of a sudden, you’re back playing a big game again,” quarterback Manning said. “That’s kind of what you want. If you’re playing another team, maybe their record’s not as good, you can kind of have a little lull. I think hey, we’re playing a good team, at Green Bay, we win we’re in the playoffs. Perfect. You want to play in those games.”
The Packers found themselves in New England on Sunday, facing the white-hot Patriots without their best player and leader, QB Aaron Rodgers. Backup Matt Flynn gave a good account of himself (24-37, 251 yds., 3 TDs) but in the dying seconds, with a chance to put the winning points on the board, he panicked and the Packers fell four points short, forcing them into this win-or-go-home game against New York.
Rodgers is going to be back for this game. That’s good news for the Packers but, is it good news for Rodgers?
He’s coming back from his second concussion of the year to face a team with one of the fiercest pass rushes in the game. More than that, with a suspect running game, Rodgers is often called upon to put himself in harm’s way and take off down the field. He’s rushed for 309 yards this season. Only Michael Vick and Josh Freeman have run for more yards than Rodgers among quarterbacks.
Head trauma experts often stress the cumulative effect of multiple concussions. Each successive injury is componded by the ones that came before and while we can be assured that Rodgers has been told as much, this is the NFL and it is December.
Before last week, Rodgers had started 46 consecutive games. He has 23 touchdown passes, 10 interceptions and a quarterback rating of 98.5 this season.
ESPNWisconsin.com broke the news that Rodgers had been cleared by the Packers’ medical team.
“I’ve been cleared,” Rodgers is quoted as texting. Then the website said he added, after a pause, “It’s not that big of a story. Is it?”
In Green Bay? In December? Facing the biggest game of the year? Naaw. No big deal.
To get back on the field, even just to practice, Rodgers had to complete and pass a series of cognitive tests. Last week, he wasn’t allowed to study film or attend meetings while his head cleared.
The NFL guidelines for head injuries state that a player must be symptom-free and cleared by a team doctor and independent neurological consultant before he can play again.
The struggling Colts will have to survive without Austin Collie the rest of the way. After suffering another concussion in his first game back after missing five weeks with a previous concussion, the wide receiver has been put on injury reserve and is out for the season ... Troy Polamalu will be held out of the Steelers’ game Thursday because of an Achilles tendon strain suffered two weeks ago. The team expects their interceptions leader to be back for the playoffs .... Tom Brady missed wednesday’s practice with the Patriots because he’s suffering from the flu. ... San Francisco 49ers will start Troy Smith at QB this week in their crucial game at St. Louis. Alex Smith started the last two games for the Niners.