Packers-Panthers: Picks, how to watch and stream with Aaron Rodgers back from injury
The NFC playoff race got pretty interesting this week when Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was medically cleared to return to football. That means he’s starting for the Packers on Sunday afternoon in Carolina, the first game back for Rodgers since he suffered a broken collarbone at the hands of Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr back in Week 7.
Rodgers will get his shot at revenge next week with another Vikings matchup. Meanwhile he’ll have to focus on beating the Panthers and ensuring the Packers’ opportunity to make a playoff run stays alive.
How to watch, stream
- Kickoff: Dec. 17, 1 p.m.
- TV: FOX (Check local listings)
- Streaming: fuboTV (Try for free)
Will Rodgers look rusty when he returns?
Put a gun to my head and I would tell you that Aaron Rodgers is the most talented — not the best, just the most talented — quarterback I have ever seen play live. The things he does in terms of releasing from every single arm slot, to moving in the pocket, to creating plays on the run, to firing in tight windows … he is just the best. But Rodgers is also not entirely superhuman. He is incredible, but he is coming off a broken collarbone.
That would be less of a big deal because of 2013, when Rodgers came back from a collarbone injury and helped the Packers win in Week 17 by beating the Bears and securing the division at 8-7-1. This is a much bigger uphill battle for Green Bay — Rodgers needs to win three games, and he has to play two of the best defenses in the NFL to start that stretch.
Also: he hurt the collarbone on his throwing shoulder this time around. I know we saw a lot of Rodgers winging the ball down the field before the game against the Steelers. That’s great, it means he can throw the ball well and his bone is healing in the way you would want. But the problem here is it presupposes that Rodgers will be fine throwing on the run or that something worse will not happen if he takes a big hit.
Should Rodgers take a hit from his old friend Julius Peppers or one of the interior linemen like Kawaan Short, he could easily land on this throwing shoulder. That would be not great.
And there’s a general matter of rust. Rodgers hasn’t played in two months. He can’t just saunter out on the field and expect to hit his apex.
Should the Panthers’ injuries be concerning?
The biggest problem for Carolina, as far as I can tell, is that there are 19 (!) guys on the injury report. This is a team that should be better than the Packers on paper; worst case with Rodgers healthy, the Panthers would be able to hang with Green Bay at home and/or away. It would be a dog fight.
Now is a different scenario because Carolina has to battle these injuries. Both Trai Turner and Shaq Thompson are already ruled out. Those are problems for the Panthers off the bat, but for different reasons and on different sides of the ball.
Devin Funchess checking in as questionable is a big concern too. The Panthers can’t be without their top option at wideout if they want to win, unless they can just dominate in the running game. (That’s harder with Turner out.)
Looking up and down the injury report, though, it appears as if most of the guys who will matter in a big way — Thomas Davis, Luke Kuechly, Christian McCaffrey, Jonathan Stewart, Cam Newton — should be active after a full week of practice.
It’s worth watching to see whether any of these players are actually inactive come Sunday and just how much it impacts the Panthers once the action starts.
If Rodgers is Rodgers and the Packers’ offense gets rolling with zero hiccups, then the Packers can win this game. But if Rodgers struggles to acclimate himself, which would not be that unusual, this is a tough matchup. There’s a reason why the Panthers are still three-point favorites here — Vegas is largely unsure what to do with this game. But don’t sleep on the Panthers’ motivation. They need to win this game almost as badly as the Packers do.
My colleague Pete Prisco agrees and sees the Panthers emerging victorious.
This should be the return of Aaron Rodgers for the Packers from his missed time with a shoulder injury. How effective can he be in his first game back? The Panthers were really good on defense last week against the Vikings, and I think that will be the case in this one. Cam Newton and the Panthers win it.
It’s a pretty big litmus test for both teams. The Panthers drew a short straw by landing Rodgers instead of Brett Hundley here (the line would likely be at least Panthers -7 with no Rodgers), but they can still put their stamp on the playoff race with a big win.
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