With the Green Bay Packers still controlling their playoff destiny, they will not be able to count on superstar quarterback Aaron Rodgers to guide them in Week 16 at Lambeau Field against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The team's official Twitter account broke the news on Friday, Dec. 20, that Rodgers would be out for the game, still yet to fully heal from a fractured collarbone suffered in Week 9:
Final injury report: Rodgers out— Green Bay Packers (@packers) December 20, 2013
That leaves Green Bay's fate tied to backup QB Matt Flynn, who has played rather well in the opportunities he has received sine returning to the Packers. However, it did take a rather epic collapse from the Dallas Cowboys in Week 15 for the Packers to escape with a road win and keep their postseason hopes better than remote.
While Flynn throwing for four touchdowns was a big positive, perhaps more noteworthy was the form rookie running back Eddie Lacy showed in amassing 141 yards on the ground and the game-winning one-yard plunge to paydirt.
It helps that Pittsburgh is ranked 19th against the run, which should allow Lacy to find some lanes as long as Flynn can be at least a respectable complement as a passer.
Head coach Mike McCarthy elaborated on Rodgers' injury situation. The star signal-caller wanted to play, but the organization didn't feel he was ready:
MM: Lot of conversation about Rodgers. Not medically cleared. Feel as organization not ready to play.— Green Bay Packers (@packers) December 20, 2013
McCarthy expressed that Flynn prepared well and that this team could beat the Steelers sans Rodgers, who has done everything possible to get back to the gridiron:
MM: Rodgers did everything asked. Organization decision. Feel not ready to play. Flynn is ready, feel good about prep.— Green Bay Packers (@packers) December 20, 2013
MM: Rodgers understands where we are. He wants to play. We feel we can beat Pittsburgh with our football team.— Green Bay Packers (@packers) December 20, 2013
MM: Rodgers has done everything he can.— Green Bay Packers (@packers) December 20, 2013
ESPN's Chris Mortensen reports that Rodgers returning from the injury still poses a huge hazard, so it may not have been quite the dilemma that McCarthy implied:
Aaron Rodgers fractured collarbone still "extraordinary risk" per sources. No real "organizational decision" as McCarthy repeated Friday— Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) December 22, 2013
Not being at full strength at this juncture of the season with the playoffs still on the line has to be crushing on some level to Rodgers and the rest of the franchise.
However, if the Packers are able to take care of business at home in Week 16, a season-finale showdown with the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field will decide the NFC North division title. Rodgers could feasibly be ready to roll for that one.
Green Bay will have to count on Flynn to win until then.
ESPN's Adam Schefter weighed in with his own take on this matter, comparing the Pack's conservatism with Rodgers to their free-agency strategy:
So Aaron Rodgers is out. Not that there's anything wrong with it, but are Packers more conservative with Aaron Rodgers or in free agency?— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 20, 2013
General manager Ted Thompson is known for building primarily through the draft, which has been a rather successful model. A big reason for that is Rodgers, though, and without him, there is far more uncertainty in winning on a consistent basis.
Who will win the NFC North?
By the hour, there is better than a 50 percent chance that it will be snowing from the 4:25 p.m. ET kickoff, per Weather.com.
Winds are expected to be in the double digits, and the temperature is also forecast to remain in the lower 20s throughout.
Having Rodgers to navigate this terrain would have been invaluable if recent history is any indication with how he and Roethlisberger fare in cold-weather games, per the NFL on ESPN's official Twitter account:
Most wins when temperature is 32 or lower since 2008: Ben Roethlisberger 0-5 Tom Brady 9-1 Aaron Rodgers 8-3— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) December 22, 2013
Instead, it will be Flynn's inferior arm talent that will hopefully hold up amid the inclement conditions.
Flynn is in for a far bigger test than last week, when he faced Dallas' league-worst pass defense that is bad against the run too. Pittsburgh may be 6-8, but its secondary is loaded with experience and is capable of making a play at any moment that could cost Green Bay its season.
If the Packers are meant to win, look for a heavy dose of Lacy and for Flynn to make safe throws and quick reads while protecting the football at all costs.