Turns out, Aaron Rodgers is fine. So fine, in fact, that not only has he silenced those critics who thought he was done back when the Packers were 4-6, but he's spearheading the annual "Nobody wants to face this team right now" charge into the playoffs.
Rodgers has been playing so well that those midseason struggles seem like a hazy dream. What we remember clearly is the quarterback who was on full display Sunday night against the Lions on national television.
With the NFC North and a home playoff game on the line, Rodgers did Rodgers things. When it was over, he was 27 of 39 for 300 yards with four touchdowns and no turnovers, and the Packers won, 31-24.
What was at stake
Rodgers was clinical in the process, and by beating the Lions, that means they're the No. 4 seed in the NFC and will host the Giants next weekend. It also means that Detroit, now the No. 6 seed, has to travel to Seattle.
Put another way: The Lions, who three weeks ago were were 9-4 and atop the division, have now dropped three straight, and four straight is a distinct possibility. Which leads us to this ...
Lions will lose 3 straight and their grip on NFC North title but still get in playoffs. Another L next week and things could get interesting— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) January 2, 2017
Meanwhile, the Packers are exactly where they want to be. If they beat the Giants in Lambeau -- and if the Seahawks beat the Lions -- Green Bay will face the NFC's top seed, Dallas. On paper, that sounds daunting -- the Cowboys are 13-3 with a first-round bye and feature a world class offense to go along with an improving defense. But we're guessing that Jerry Jones and the Cowboys were pulling hard for the Lions on Sunday night.
In part because it would mean Dallas might be less likely to see Green Bay in the divisional round, but now, even if the Packers lose, guess who's coming to the Jerry Dome (again, assuming the Seahawks beat the Lions)? The Giants -- the same outfit that swept the Cowboys in the regular season.
Aaron Rodgers is the MVP
This might seem like an overreaction since Rodgers, along with the rest of his teammates, stumbled through the first two months of the season, but the reality is this: The man has 40 touchdowns -- two more than Matt Ryan -- and has been red hot during the Packers' six-game winning streak. He's completing 66 percent of his passes with 15 touchdowns and no interceptions. Rodgers also ranks seventh in total QB value, according to Football Outsiders' metrics, just behind Tom Brady and just ahead of Ben Roethlisberger and Matthew Stafford.
Oh, and here's Rodgers' third touchdown of the night, the one that gave the Packers a 23-14 fourth-quarter lead:
And if you're counting, Rodgers created 8.78 seconds to find Geronimo Allison in the back of the end zone. You may be thinking to yourself, "So, how does a defensive coordinator game-plan to stop that?"
Here's the short answer, courtesy of ESPN analyst and former NFL safety Matt Bowen:
There isn't a scheme or coverage that is going to limit Rodgers when he buys time like that. Scramble drill. Everything breaks down.— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) January 2, 2017
The Packers' secondary deserves a ton of credit
Sam Shields was already on injured reserve and Damarious Randall and Ladarius Gunter were questionable heading into Sunday night, then Makinton Dorleant and Quinten Rollins were injured during the game (Rollins seriously). At one point, the Packers were down to one healthy cornerback before Gunter made his way back onto the field, which forced safeties Micah Hyde and Morgan Burnett into unfamiliar coverage responsibilities.
So naturally, with the Lions driving late in the game, Stafford's pass into the end zone intended for Golden Tate was intercepted by Hyde.
Now for his next trick, defensive coordinator Dom Capers has to find a way to shut down Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard and Victor Cruz. The obvious solution: Get after Eli Manning with the front seven. Good news: The Packers' defense rank fourth in adjusted sack rate, according to Football Outsiders. Bad news: They rank 20th in pass defense, and 27th against opposing team's No. 1 receivers.
Fun (and not so fun) facts
The Detroit Lions, who have clinched a playoff berth, have trailed in the 4th quarter of 15 of 16 games this year.— Dave Hogg 📎 (@Stareagle) January 2, 2017
There was another Hail Mary in the Packers-Lions get-together, but this one, like Detroit's NFC North hopes, just wasn't enough:
If the Lions had beaten the Packers, they would've hosted the Giants in a playoff game for the first time since the 1935 NFL Championship game. Detroit won, 26-7 (via @JonMorosi)
Aaron Rodgers time to throw is 3.37; the most for any QB this week. Matthew Stafford is at 1.98; the lowest for any QB this week.— Nathan Jahnke (@PFF_NateJahnke) January 2, 2017
Most games with 3 TD/0 INT in NFL history— Michael David Smith (@MichaelDavSmith) January 2, 2017
51 Peyton Manning
51 Tom Brady
41 Drew Brees
38 Aaron Rodgers
36 Brett Favre
25 Ben Roethlisberger
We suppose it's a good thing the Redskins didn't win:
If Washington wins, why wouldn't Green Bay and Detroit take knees for 75 minutes?— Chris Wittyngham (@ChrisWittyngham) January 1, 2017
And finally, this kid is awesome: