The Lions are imploding amidst a hail of inexcusable personal fouls. The Bears have temporarily misplaced their two most important offensive players in Matt Forte and Jay Cutler, and dropped a game to the woeful Chiefs on Sunday. The Chiefs themselves are in the midst of an awful 5-7 season behind essentially their third quarterback, Tyler Palko, and the Oakland Raiders allowed themselves to be trounced by the moribund Miami Dolphins last Sunday.
No, if there's a significant test in the latter half of Green Bay's schedule, the Packers just passed it. After a dramatic 38-35 win over the Giants pushed their record to 12-0, the possibility of 16-0 officially and immediately became the NFL media's biggest topic for the next month.
Every pundit and talking head out there has an opinion on whether the Packers should rest their starters in the last game or two and, in so doing, give up the chance to go 16-0. There's definitely no need for me to add mine, but that's what Patch gives me bandwidth to do, so why not. (Plus, I should be doing homework, so writing about football is a welcome distraction; due apologies to my professors.)
It's not like there's a blueprint on what to do when you're nearing the end of an undefeated season. The 2007 New England Patriots played all-out in their regular-season finale, winning a 38-35 thriller over those same New York Giants, and ended up losing to the Giants in Super Bowl XLII. Meanwhile, the 14-0 Indianapolis Colts won their first fourteen games in '09 before playing Curtis Painter at QB the rest of the way. They came to the Super Bowl 16-2 before losing to the Saints. So there's no real precedent for Mike McCarthy to follow.
The biggest, and only, argument against playing your best men in the regular-season finale (assuming the Packers win their next three) is avoiding a catastrophic injury. The Detroit Lions are coming to Lambeau Field in Week 17, and the nightmare scenario would be them planting Aaron Rodgers in the turf and giving him his second concussion in two years at their hands.
There are plenty of reasons for playing all out that people usually cite: respect for the game, giving the fans who paid for their tickets full value, fundamental integrity of football, etc, etc. I would imagine that to McCarthy, all of that is a load of bull. The only important reasons for playing, to him, have to do with what's best for the Packers when thinking about playoffs. Here's a few:
-The Packers will most likely have a first-round bye, meaning that if McCarthy rests his starters in the finale, they'll have had three weeks between games. That's a lot of time to heal up, but also a lot of time for the team to lose its rhythm and potentially get rusty.
-They're playing the Bears in Week 16 and the Lions in Week 17. Seeing the Packers intentionally playing at half-strength and losing to either team would be galling for the Packers themselves (not to mention the fans), and who wants to give your division rival credit for spoiling a perfect season?
-Last year, the Bears went all-out to knock the Packers out of postseason contention. They failed, met in the NFC Championship game and suffered a crushing defeat. If either the Bears or the Lions sneak into the playoffs on the Packers' coattails, there's a chance Green Bay could suffer the same fate. Better, in the cutthroat world of the NFL, to kick both teams while they're down (insert obligatory Ndamukong Suh wisecrack here).
-The most important reason, though, is that it's just not in Mike McCarthy's personality, nor is it in Aaron Rodgers'. There's no indulgence, softness or yielding in either of them. If the Packers are 15-0 after Week 16, I can't see McCarthy doing anything but going for the Lions' throats, even if the game is meaningless in terms of playoff positioning. I don't expect him to be stupid about it; if the Packers are up by 30 after the second quarter, there's no reason to keep Rodgers out there the rest of the way, but I fully expect McCarthy to go all out to squelch the Lions.