The 2011 Green Bay Packers are 14-1 and have clinched home-field advantage for the playoffs. The team is also dealing with numerous injury issues. It's a safe bet that many of the star players on the Packers will get little, if any at all, playing time against the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field on Sunday.
That situation will allow a number of players to take advantage of some quality playing time to impress the coaching staff and other interested parties. I will list five of the players that should get plenty of opportunity to show their abilities and talents.
The game against the Lions will also be an opportunity for LT Chad Clifton to get his first playing time since the Atlanta game back in early October. Clifton has been out with a severe hamstring injury and also some back issues. Based on his participation in practice this week, it looks like Clifton should get some very important reps in the game.
Marshall Newhouse has done okay at LT since Clifton's injury, but he has struggled against the likes of Jared Allen, Jason Pierre-Paul and Tamba Hali. If Clifton can prove that he is completely back to his old form, it would definitely be an upgrade with the playoffs right around the corner.
Matt Flynn started one game in the 2010 NFL season while Aaron Rodgers sat out due to a concussion, and he played extremely well. Flynn completed 24-of-37 passes for 251 yards and three TD passes in that start.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Flynn's 100.2 QB rating in that game was the highest by any NFL QB making his first start against a team that was 10-2 or better since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.
Flynn will be an unrestricted free agent in March and teams that are looking for a young veteran quarterback will be very interested in a QB that has shown moxie and great leadership ability, not only in the NFL, but also in college where he was the MVP of the BCS title game in 2008 when he led LSU to a National Championship.
It will be interesting to see how much playing time Flynn will get on Sunday. My guess is that he will at the very least get half of the game to show his stuff, and maybe more.
The ROLB position is basically up for grabs now. Erik Walden's production has been lacking over the past few weeks, and the defensive coaching staff is looking for someone to grab the ROLB job and run with it.
The Packers have five candidates (including Walden) to take hold of the job, but Frank Zombo is the most likely player to become the new starter. Other candidates include Walden himself, Brad Jones, plus undrafted rookies Vic So'oto and Jamari Lattimore.
At practice this week, the coaches have given most of the ROLB reps to Zombo and Jones. So'oto and Lattimore got playing time last week against the Bears, but I don't think Don Capers trusts them enough with their assignments overall.
Walden has not been the same player since he was involved in a domestic violence dispute that got him arrested. Walden was benched in the game against the Chiefs due to his lackluster play and he was also removed from the lineup in the Bears game, although he was suffering from flu-like symptoms before the game.
Bottom line, the Packers need someone to anchor the ROLB job and to be a bookend to LOLB Clay Matthews. Zombo has been a solid starter in the past and won the job in training camp this year before injuries derailed his progress.
The Packers are looking for a breakout game by one of their running backs before the postseason gets started. The team knows how important it is to have a steady running game on the road to the Super Bowl.
Last year little known rookie James Starks rushed for 315 yards and one TD in four games for the Pack. That production made the play-action pass that much more effective for Aaron Rodgers.
Recently, Starks continues to be hampered by an ankle injury, so it is most likely that he will be held out of the Lions game so he'll be ready for the playoffs. That means Ryan Grant and undrafted rookie Brandon Saine will get the bulk of the action in the game against Detroit.
Grant has shown recently that he has regained that burst he has shown in the past that gets him large chunks of yardage. That led to a long TD run vs. the Raiders and also a nice run last week vs. the Bears.
Saine can be the wild card for the running backs. In his brief appearances thus far in 2011 (10 carries for 41 yards and seven receptions for 52 yards), Saine has looked pretty solid in his assignments. Saine runs hard, plus Aaron Rodgers said Saine might have the best hands on the team catching the ball. That is quite a compliment. Saine is also solid in his blitz pick ups.
Saine should get plenty of chances on Sunday to show more of his ability.
Pat Lee was drafted in the second round of the 2008 draft. Lee was expected to be a staple in the Green Bay secondary for years to come. But that hasn't happened. Lee was dogged by injury issues early in his career.
Lee was put on Injured Reserve late in his rookie year due to a knee injury. The same thing happened in the preseason of the 2009 season. Finally in 2010, Lee was able to play an entire season and was a solid contributor on special teams. Lee also had one start at CB.
But it was Super Bowl XLV where Lee showed that he has the ability to play solidly as a defensive back. Because of injuries to both Charles Woodson (broken collarbone) and Sam Shields (shoulder), Lee received extensive playing time in the second half of the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger.
The Packers secondary, with the help of reserve players like Lee and Jarrett Bush, limited Roethlisberger to 120 yards passing in the second half.
Lee should get another chance on Sunday to show what he can do. It won't be easy though, as QB Matthew Stafford is having a great season and he has great receiving weapons with players like Calvin Johnson.
Jermichael Finley will most likely get limited playing time vs. the Lions, so the Packers should get plenty of playing time by their other tight ends, which include Tom Crabtree, D.J. Williams and Ryan Taylor.
Williams has the best receiving skills of the bunch. Williams won the John Mackey Award in college at Arkansas due to his pass receiving prowess.
Crabtree is a very solid run blocker, but has also shown nice hands when given the opportunity to make plays. Taylor is more of a special teams standout, although he does have one TD reception on his one and only catch this season. Crabtree also has a TD reception.
Together this group only has nine receptions and two TDs. Because of the Andrew Quarless knee injury that landed him on Injured Reserve after the Giants game, this group has moved up the pecking order at tight end.
Williams has the ability to stretch the seam in the secondary, much like Finley does.