Aaron Rodgers’s return this Sunday is official.
In an interview with reporters Wednesday, he did all he could to back away from the savior role, painting this as any typical return from a serious injury.
Since he won’t embrace the hyperbole, allow us to do that for him: If the Packers somehow reach the playoffs, they have a real chance of making it to the Super Bowl. Here, in three parts, is how Rodgers can save not only Green Bay’s season, but alleviate what has been a difficult calendar year for the NFL:
1. He plays all three weeks: Until the Packers have a zero percent chance of making the playoffs, it absolutely makes sense for Rodgers to be on the field. He is an ace pitching on short rest. This playoff field, save for the Patriots, is unpredictable and uneven. A healthy Packers team has just as good a chance to upend this strange NFC playoff field as the Saints, Panthers or Falcons. They don’t have the luxury of punting on 2017.
2. He plays like Aaron Rodgers: We were captivated by Carson Wentz this season in part because Wentz is a bright young star. At the same time, Wentz was in a light MVP race, with analysts scratching their head to compile a field of three or four worthy quarterbacks. Rodgers raised the bar for quarterbacks throughout his career. He dazzles. He confounds. He spoils us. There is nothing that turns the critical NFL fan into a bowl of couch pudding faster than watching someone laser a one-footed ball to a toe-tapping receiver in the corner of the end zone (sans replay). Rodgers can do that in his sleep. He can take us back to the day where this was more common—when no one was questioning the entertainment value of the on-field product.
3. He gets into playoffs: The Panthers, Vikings and Lions stand in Green Bay’s way. Football Outsiders places the team’s chances at about 15 percent to get in. They would most likely need to beat all three of their remaining opponents. Should Rodgers get the Packers there, he at least gives NFL fans a chance to dream. Rodgers vs. McVay in his home state of California, Rodgers vs. Mike Zimmer’s defense in the Super Bowl host stadium. Rodgers vs. the winner of an AFC conference so underwhelming that this hypothetical is all we can talk about in mid-December.
NOW ON THE MMQB: Why Andy Benoit isn’t sold on Russell Wilson … Jenny Vrentas, author of an epic week with the Philadelphia Eagles, joins Peter King’s podcast … and more!
LATER TODAY ON THE MMQB: Jonathan Jones dives deep into Carolina’s defense … I look into the last team in NFL history to start 0-4 and make the playoffs.
1. The Giants seem to have figured out that rookie quarterbacks aren’t good. All this epic Eli Manning backtracking has led to the conclusion that Manning could easily be the team’s opening day starter in 2018.
2. The Cardinals have seen one promising offensive player after the next get shut down for the season. Adrian Peterson could be next.
3. JuJu Smith-Schuster served a one game suspension for blindsiding Vontaze Burfict in an ugly prime-time game. He does not plan on treading lightly upon his return.
5. An interesting scenario: Teddy Bridgewater could essentially pull a 2016 Tony Romo and get his reps in the preseason finale.
6. Pro Football Focus shines a light on their best offensive linemen of 2017—and the list may surprise you.
7. Nick Foles was a great quarterback under Chip Kelly at a time when the rest of the league was scrambling to figure out how to stop Kelly’s offense. The Philadelphia Inquirer wonders if Doug Pederson can “recapture that magic.”
8. Jerry Jones wanted a “War Daddy” pass rusher. He had one all along, but now he has to pay him.
9. Tom Savage is apparently getting better after his horrifying hit last week.
10. It’s tough to accessorize your color rush uniform when you feel like the official squash of fall.
Some players make a sport out of dismissing questions from reporters. But not Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota. He tried to be terse on Sunday … and then his mom stepped in to fix the problem.