Last year, the Green Bay Packers won a Super Bowl with one of the most banged-up rosters in the league. This year, the team appears to be heading into the playoffs as healthy as it’s been all season.
Head Coach Mike McCarthy said on Monday that he expects to have a fully healed roster for the first playoff game, slated for Jan. 15.
“I anticipate having everybody back,” he said.
The injured group that sat out Sunday’s regular-season finale included receiver Greg Jennings, right tackle Bryan Bulaga, receiver/returner Randall Cobb and running back James Starks. Linebacker Clay Matthews and cornerback Charles Woodson also rested, though they could have played if needed.
McCarthy said he’s hopeful everyone will be able to return to the practice field on Wednesday for the first of two workouts this week. The biggest question mark in that regard is Starks (knee/ankle) and, perhaps, rookie tight end Ryan Taylor, who injured an ankle in Sunday’s game but is expected to be ready for the playoff opener.
“It’s where you want to be,” McCarthy said of his team’s overall health. “It’s definitely better than the alternative.
“It’s going to be tough making the inactive list for the divisional playoff game. That’s never any fun. You play the full season and you have healthy guys that you have to put down for a game, but those are good problems to have.”
The team will practice on Wednesday and Thursday this week before getting the weekend off and then returning next Monday for meetings and walk-throughs. Practice then resumes next Wednesday with the usual three workouts leading up to the game.
The Packers could know their playoff opponent as soon as Saturday night if the Lions beat the Saints in the wild-card round. That would send Detroit back to Lambeau Field. If New Orleans wins on Saturday night, the Packers would get the winner of Sunday’s Falcons-Giants game.
The other key returnee will, of course, be quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who called the plays for backup Matt Flynn in the first half of the 45-41 victory over Detroit. The Packers led 24-19 at intermission with Rodgers calling the shots.
McCarthy said that last week his plan all along was to sit Rodgers. He came up with the idea early in the week of having Rodgers on the headset calling plays, and the task served its purpose.
“It was good to keep him in the rhythm of the game,” McCarthy said. “He had 24 points on the board, so I think he’s off to a good start.
“He’s got a bright future in coaching,” McCarthy added with a smile.
Rodgers’ blind-side protector in the playoffs will be veteran Chad Clifton, who returned to action against the Lions for the first time since Week 5 and played the first three series. Marshall Newhouse, Clifton’s replacement at left tackle since Week 5, then took over for the rest of the game.
McCarthy said on the game film he could see Clifton still dealing with some of the effects of the back injury that cropped up during his rehab from a hamstring tear, but he’s confident with two more weeks to prepare for the playoffs that Clifton will be ready to go.
“Marshall has done an excellent job. We’ve won a lot of games with Marshall Newhouse, but Chad Clifton is the starter,” McCarthy said. “There won’t be any gray area for that.
“But in the same breath, Chad has a little more work to do, and we’ve got the time to get it done. I’m encouraged with the progress he’s made, as long as he can stay healthy through these next couple weeks.” Additional coverage - Jan. 2