Aaron Rodgers Set to Return and Other Musings From NFL’s Week 17

Courtesy of ESPN.com

Courtesy of ESPN.com

Aaron Rodgers hasn’t seen the field since early November when he suffered a collarbone injury, but he’s prepared to give it a go in the Green Bay Packers win-or-go-home matchup with the Chicago  Bears on Sunday. It seems that the Packers front office has played it conservatively with Rodgers, who was originally slated to miss four-to-six weeks with a possible early return on Thanksgiving against the Detroit Lions. The reasoning behind holding Rodgers out longer was simple. General manager Ted Thompson and Co. didn’t want to risk even longer-term injury to the Packers’ franchise quarterback.

At many points during his lengthy absence, there were rumors that Green Bay would shut Rodgers down completely. After all, a five-game winless streak pretty much ended Green Bay’s playoff hopes. By virtue of bad stretches by the Chicago Bears, and even more so, the Detroit Lions, Mike McCarthy’s decision was made easy for him this week…start Rodgers and see if the Packers can steal a division title.

It’s not without risk. Rodgers will be more than rusty in must-win game, late-December game at the historically bitter Soldier Field. There is absolutely no telling how his collarbone will be impacted by what promises to be freezing temperatures in The Windy City. 

In addition, McCarthy has struggled finding ways to use his running backs with Rodgers on the field. Often at times, the offensive-minded head coach has strayed away from an effective running game in order to put the ball into the hands of his All-Pro quarterback. Considering that Eddie Lacy is running the ball at an elite level right now, Green Bay cannot afford to do that.

Add into the equation that Chicago is yielding an average of 200 rushing yards per outing in its last 10 games and you have to believe Green Bay will continue to be more run dependent, even with Rodgers back in the fold. If not, his return may not have the impact many of you think it might have.

Courtesy of CBS Sports

Courtesy of CBS Sports

Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians and cornerback Patrick Peterson took the high road in a conference call with San Francisco media on Thursday. When posed with questions about whether they are upset that the Cardinals could miss the playoffs even with a win, which would move them to 11-5 on the season, two of Arizona’s biggest names responded like true professionals.

Peterson indicated that the Cardinals are “not going to be little girls and moan about it.” The context of this response was directly correlated to a question by a member of the 49ers beat staff about the possibility of losing out to a playoff team that finishes barely over .500. Peterson continued by indicating that the Cardinals have left some games on the field this season.

Though Arizona plans to be diplomatic about it, there are concerns in my mind over the possibility of an 8-7-1 Packers team making the playoffs over an 11-5 Cardinals team, especially considering that there is a chance that Arizona could end the regular season just one game outside of the best record in the conference and still miss the postseason.

Much like most of the media, I bring up these issues without any logical resolution to the problem. If Green Bay wins its division, is assuredly deserves a playoff spot, right? Outside of extending the playoffs to eight teams per conference, which isn’t the greatest of ideas, it appears that there isn’t much that can be done here. That’s unfortunate for a Cardinals team that is playing some of the best football in the NFL.

Still it’s important that note exactly how Peterson and Co. have taken this in stride. Some unnamed defensive back in Seattle may want to take note what it means to act the part of a man in this league.

Former Pro Bowl cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha will announce his retirement today as a member of the Oakland Raiders. The defensive back recorded three trips to Hawaii and two All-Pro honors in eight seasons with the Raiders before signing a five-year, $60 million deal with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Asomugha ended up being one of the biggest free agent busts in the modern history of the league and flamed out after two seasons in Philadelphia. He signed with San Francisco in the offseason, but was cut after just a few games when Tramaine Brock stepped up for the 49ers.

There are only three games in Week 17 that have no playoff implications. This is the way the NFL drew it up a few years back when it decided to go to all divisional matchups in the final week of the season. The interesting thing here is that five the 16 games this week are between two teams who have a lot to either win or lose when it comes to determining either a spot in the playoffs or seeding.

The late afternoon and evening action only boasts one game without playoff implications, while two games will end up deciding the winner of a specific division. As mentioned before, Green Bay travels to Chicago to take on the Bears at 4:25 ET, while the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys will decide the NFC East champion on Sunday Night Football in Big D. Way to go, NFL.

Courtesy of Dallas Morning News: Kitna goes from teaching math to being one play away from seeing action in Week 17.

Courtesy of Dallas Morning News: Kitna goes from teaching math to being one play away from seeing action in Week 17.

Speaking of the Cowboys, they will likely go into their do-or-die matchup against Philadelphia without the services of starting quarterback Tony Romo, who will have to undergo back surgery at some point in the not-so-distant future after suffering some sort of injury against the Washington Redskins last week.

While the Cowboys are keeping all options open, including the possibility that Romo starts Sunday night, all signs are pointing to backup Kyle Orton getting the nod in an ever-important divisional matchup with Philadelphia.

In order to have two quarterbacks on the field in practice this week, Dallas signed veteran Jon Kitna for the remainder of the season on Tuesday. Kitna has been out of the league since 2011 and is now a high school teacher in hit native Washington.

And for some GOOD news as it relates to football players off the field, Kitna will donate his $53,000 game check to Lincoln High School in Tacoma, where he is employed.

Always one of the good guys, Kitna could earn the school even more cash if the Cowboys come up winners on Sunday night. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, they are one injury away from having to suit up a 41-year-old quarterback who hasn’t played in two seasons. That’s the bad news.

Sixteen-year veteran linebacker London Fletcher will suit up for the last time on Sunday when the Washington Redskins take the field against the New York Giants. Fletcher, who hasn’t missed a game in his career, has been talked about as a potential candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Outside of his endurance, which dates back to the Clinton Administration, Fletcher has recorded over 2,000 career tackles.

Just to gauge how extensive of a career that Fletcher has put up, the three quarterbacks on the St. Louis Rams roster during his 1998 rookie campaign were Kurt Warner, Tony Banks and Steve Bono, the latter of whom played under Pittsburgh Steelers great Chuck Noll. Let that sink in for a second, guys.

As a majority of the teams in the NFL prepare for games with playoff implications this upcoming week, others are looking forward to what promises to be interesting offseasons. One such team is the New York Giants, who were among the biggest disappointments in the NFL this year. Veteran defensive end Justin Tuck is not planning on giving the Giants any sort of a hometown discount when he hits free agency early in the spring.

Tuck, who was coming off two down seasons in 2011 and 2012, matched his total of nine sacks from those two seasons in 2013 alone. The 30-year-old veteran promises to get a lot of play on the free agent market, but will not draw interest from teams that run the 3-4. At 269 pounds and on the wrong side of 30, no team is going to attempt to move him to outside linebacker.

This could be an indicator that the Giants will be able to retain his services.

NaVorro Bowman’s dramatic late-game interception return for a touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons on Monday night, which clinched a playoff berth for the San Francisco 49ers, has put him in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation.

While Bowman doesn’t have the sexy numbers of a Luke Kuechly or Richard Sherman, it’s clear that he has the best defender for one of the top defenses in the NFL.

Think about this for a second. By virtue of that one play on Monday Night Football, San Francisco went from possibly missing out on the playoffs altogether to having a chance for the No. 1 overall seed in the NFC. Talk about being a difference maker.

While my vote would go for Bowman, there are a ton of equally deserving candidates out there. J.J. Watt, Earl Thomas, Kuechly and Sherman all come to mind.

Pro Bowl rosters will be announced at 9 PM ET tonight. The game itself has struggled to maintain a strong following around the football community for a multitude of reasons, including the fact that players from each conference winner are precluded from playing in the game.

With that said, it still enables players to earn the respect that they deserve after a brutally long season. For teams that aren’t currently in the playoff race, it also enables them to make some sort of headlines as they prepare for the offseason.

Black Monday is just a few short days away. Among the coaches bandied about as possibly receiving pink slips are two within the NFC East. Washington Redskins coordinators have hinted privately that the end is coming in D.C. This seems to indicate that Mike Shanahan will be out of a job shortly after Washington plays the Giants on Sunday.

Meanwhile, his counterpart in that game, Tom Coughlin, may be nearing the end to what has been a successful tenure in New Jersey. While it’s nothing but conjecture on my part, there seems to be some legs to the thought that Coughlin’s time has just run out in New Jersey (article on that coming later today).

Other coaches who could be handed a pink slip on monday include: Dennis Allen (Oakland Raiders), Mike Munchak (Tennessee Titans), Rex Ryan (New York Jets), Greg Schiano (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), Jim Schwartz (Detroit Lions) and Leslie Frazier (Minnesota Vikings).

Multiple coaches will likely losing their jobs on Monday means that there will be a lot of head-coaching openings. Bill O’Brien (Penn State) and David Shaw (Stanford) are two of the hottest names in the college ranks. The former actually lowered his buyout at Penn State should he bolt for the NFL.

Don Banks over at CNNSI looked at defensive coordinators who might get a look in the offseason. His focus turned to Mike Zimmer (Cincinnati Bengals), Vic Fangio (San Francisco 49ers), Todd Bowles (Arizona Cardinals) and Sean McDermott (Carolina Panthers).

 

Vincent Frank has been covering the National Football League for three years. He started out writing for Bleacher Report and is currently the head editor at eDraft and a columnist at Pro Football Focus. Vincent co-hosts a weekly radio show called “Football Debate Central” with former NFL player Ryan Riddle and has seen his work featured on CNN, BR and Los Angeles Times, among many other outlets.

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