Without a doubt, week nine of this season will go down as the strangest of the 2013 season, and maybe even longer than that. Both on the field and in the locker room there were stories no one would have anticipated.
The controversy in Miami will have the most long lasting consequences by far, but in the short term all eyes will be on Green Bay to see how they deal with the absence of Aaron Rodgers. With now a three way tie at the top of the NFC North, with the Packers be passed by without their quarterback?
As perhaps the most well-crafted roster in the NFL, the Green Bay Packers have been able to weather injury after injury this season while still staying atop the NFC North. Losses of players like Randall Cobb would have torpedoed most team's seasons. Thanks to good roster management, and of course the talent of Aaron Rodgers, the Packers have been able to keep winning games.
There are some players, though, that even the greatest NFL minds can't adequately prepare to lose. Rodgers is most certainly one of those players. Although the specifics on the injury suffered on Monday night aren't yet clear, it does appear that Green Bay is going to be without the face of their franchise for at least the next three weeks with a collar bone injury.
If Rodgers indeed only misses three to four weeks, it shouldn't be a total disaster. Their next three opponents – The Eagles, Giants, and Vikings – have a combined record of 7-18 and are far less talented than the Packers. Of the three games, the most concerning would probably be the match up with the up and down Eagles. If Green Bay were to catch Philadelphia on a day where Nick Foles and the Eagles offense is clicking, that could spell serious trouble.
Even without Rodgers, the Packers should have no problem handling the Vikings, and the game against the Giants would probably be a toss up. Inexplicably, the Giants still aren't altogether eliminated from winning their division and so they've still got plenty to play for. However, even if the Giants were able to beat Green Bay it's tough to imagine the Packers going worse than 1-2 over the next three games.
The real question would be the game in four weeks, when the Packers will travel to Detroit. That game is on a Thursday night, which would give Rodgers just three and a half weeks to recover. That's probably not adequate and it's tough to imagine him being ready to play. It's equally as difficult to imagine Green Bay being able to beat the Lions on the road with him. A 1-2 stretch wouldn't be ideal, but it's something the Packers could weather. A 1-4 stretch with another divisional loss would be far more difficult to recover from.
The biggest concern for Green Bay is the seeming lack of preparation Ted Thompson and the Packers have made for a scenario such as this. It's true that Rodgers is practically irreplaceable, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't make an effort to have a reliable back up plan in place. Green Bay spent far too long trying to groom Graham Harrell for the back up role, and drafted another long term project in BJ Coleman. Neither player would have been ready for an NFL stage in 2013, and neither one developed enough to even remain on the roster. That lack of preparation led to the Packers' being forced into trying out Vince Young and finally settling with Seneca Wallace.
Now the Packers have only two healthy options at quarterback under contract – Wallace, and Scott Tolzien, who is currently still on the practice squad for the time being. The options on the free agent market are less than appealing at this point, as well. The obvious solution would be to acquire Matt Flynn, who started his career with the Packers. Its doubtful that the organization is too high on Flynn though. Green Bay wasn't overly eager to keep him, even with his big performances in relief of Rodgers, and they didn't make an effort to sign him now that he's been bouncing around the league. Vince Young isn't likely to be a strong option either, as he didn't appear to pick up the play book effectively this summer. As unappealing as it may seem to Green Bay fans, the best option may be to just stick with the quarterbacks already in Green Bay.
While Thompson hasn't necessarily found a good back up for Rodgers, he has done the next best thing. He went into this past offseason with a renewed emphasis placed on the running game, drafting not just one, but two starting caliber running backs. Rookie Eddie Lacy was already probably the favorite to win offensive rookie of the year honors, and he's shown that he's got the talent to help carry an offense with a run first mentality.
There's no doubt that for at least the next three weeks, the running game is going to be the focal point of the Packers' offense. Will Lacy and the blockers in front of him be up to the task?