Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is back.
Packers head coach Mike McCarthy announced on Thursday that Rodgers is on track to start Sunday against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field in a winner-takes-all tilt for the NFC North division title, and the reward will be a home playoff game the following weekend.
"I am happy to be back in the mix with the guys," Rodgers said.
Rodgers has missed the previous seven games with a broken collarbone he suffered in Week 9 against the Bears, and the Packers have started three other quarterbacks — none of whom were on the roster at the end of training camp — since then.
After Seneca Wallace was injured and Scott Tolzein proved ineffective, the team turned to Matt Flynn, who was signed mid-November after spending time this season on the rosters of the Oakland Raiders and Buffalo Bills.
As solid as Flynn has been since earning the starting spot, Rodgers is clearly a different level of quarterback — and he immediately upgrades the Packers' chances to win not only Sunday, but beyond if they can beat the Bears. Rodgers has been practicing for a few weeks now but has not been cleared to play until this week.
"Aaron obviously is very important to our football team," McCarthy said. "History obviously has shown that."
McCarthy said he told the team on Thursday that Rodgers would be the one leading them out on the field Sunday with a chance to miraculously win the division. McCarthy hoped to announce it to the entire team on Tuesday, but the holiday schedule made that more difficult. Sunday also could see the return of wide receiver Randall Cobb, who practiced this week but has not played since Week 6 after suffering a broken leg.
This clearly will be the most anticipated game of Week 17, and NBC has to regret its decision to flex Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys into the Sunday night slot considering that Tony Romo appears to be very unlikely to play in the game.
NBC's decision not to flex in Packers-Bears might have had something to do with the QB uncertainly given the recent injuries to Rodgers and the Bears' Jay Cutler. But with both men starting Sunday, this has the earmarks of a classic showdown in one of the sport's best traditional rivalries.
"This is the first round of the playoffs for us," Rodgers said Thursday. "We have the opportunity to achieve our first goal, which is to win the division every year. That means you get to host a home playoff game.
"It's right in front of us; it's crystal clear. It's Chicago at Chicago, with a chance to win the division."
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