The Green Bay Packers couldn't have looked any better heading into their Week 8 bye. At 4-3 and tied for first in the NFC North with Chicago, they will be at the healthiest they've been all year going into a crucial Week 9 showdown with 7-0 Tennessee.
Starters S Atari Bigby, CB Al Harris, WR James Jones, and DT Justin Harrell have missed most, if not all of the 2008 season.
After being previously stated as out for the season with a lacerated spleen, Harris is a key playmaker the Packers will love to have back on the field, much earlier than speculated. He's a premier shutdown corner, and with Charles Woodson playing out of his mind, they can team up to shut down almost any passing game.
The run defense it what's been the Packers' downfall through eight weeks this year. They rank 25th in the league, allowing 141.9 ypg. Much like Indianapolis misses Bob Sanders, the Packers have missed safety Atari Bigby with a hamstring injury. While backup Aaron Rouse has fulled in admirably, Bigby is the run stopper they have missed most of the season. Head coach Mike McCarthy didn't specify his role in this Sunday's game, but Bigby should see a good number of snaps.
Despite losing DE Cullen Jenkins in the loss to Tampa Bay, the Packers defensive line has really stepped it up despite being injured. Former first-round draft choice Justin Harrell has been on the physically unable to perform list (PUP list) all year after two off-season back surgeries, and is adjusting to being back in a full NFL practice. If he can get used to the speed of the game, he can relieve Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly when needed.
WR James Jones has been in and out of the lineup with a knee injury. He's been in practice all week, and looks primed to make his return to the field this week. Second-round draft pick Jordy Nelson has filled in nicely, becoming a short-yardage favorite for Aaron Rodgers. With Jones back, the Packers will be able to go back to their five-receiver sets that ate up opposing defenses a year ago.
Being healthy is key during the second half of the season for many contending NFL teams. The Packers have looked good in the two weeks leading up to the bye (wins over Seattle and Indianapolis), but have a tough stretch of games coming up (at Tennessee, at Minnesota). If the Packers can stay healthy, they're playing well enough to win the NFC North, and get the chance to improve upon their 2007 NFC Championship appearance.