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Aaron Rodgers returns to practice: What it means for the Packers... and Lions

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He’s back... kind of.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

It has now been exactly six weeks and one day since the Green Bay Packers placed Aaron Rodgers on injured reserve following a broken collarbone suffered against the Minnesota Vikings. Since Rodgers has been out, the Packers saw their 4-1 record fall to 5-6.

On Saturday, however, Rodgers returned to practice for the first time since the injury, signaling that the Packers plan on returning him from IR. But don’t get too worried yet, Rodgers’ return is anything but imminent. Here’s a breakdown of what Rodgers’ return to practice mean.

Packers point of view

Saturday marked the earliest time Rodgers could practice accoridng to NFL rules. However, any NFL player must stay on injured reserve for at least eight weeks. This means Rodgers will remain inactive until at least Week 15, when they travel to Carolina to play the Panthers.

Considering the Packers are 5-6 right now, they’re already a bit of a longshot to make the postseason. They’re two games behind the Falcons for the final playoff spot, plus they’ve already lost to them in a head-to-head matchup. In essence, they’ll have to make up three games in five weeks. They’ll almost certainly have to win out to make the postseason.

So with just one more loss, the motivation to bring Aaron Rodgers back is severely lessened. BUUUUUUT

Here are the next two games for the Packers:

It’s perfectly reasonable to believe Brett Hundley leads the Packers to the two wins necessary to keep Green Bay’s head above water until Rodgers is eligible to come back.

In other words, I think it’s very likely we see Rodgers play again this year. Medically speaking, this is what former NFL doctor David J. Chao has been saying from the beginning. “Given Rodgers’ toughness and his importance to the team, if the Packers are in playoff contention late in the season, I would count on him giving it a go,” Chao wrote back in October.

What this means for the Lions

There’s a few ways to take this news as a Lions fan. Let me break them down into three different camps.

OH GOD NO

The Lions have a remaining game against the Packers—the season finale at home. It’s not completely unlikely that Green Bay is still playing for something in Week 17. If Hundley manages to help win the next two games, that means Rodgers is back just in time to face some serious opponents: the Panthers and Vikings. Neither will be easy wins for Green Bay, but you never know when Rodgers is behind center.

So the Packers could potentially still be in the playoff race when they travel to Detroit, and if the Lions are still in the hunt, it could be a second straight year in which Green Bay destroys the Lions’ hopes in the final week of the season.

Even if Green Bay has nothing to play for, there’s a chance Rodgers’ competitive spirit compels him to play, leaving a serious chance for the Packers to play spoiler.

Maybe he can help us?

This is the opposite end of the spectrum. The Panthers are a team the Lions need to start losing if they want to make a wild card push. With Rodgers potentially slated to come back for that game, a Green Bay win over the Panthers could actually be helpful for the Lions, provided that the Packers lose to the Vikings the following week.

There’s a chance, albeit a small one, that the Packers win the next two weeks, beat the Panthers, lose to the Vikings, then have nothing to play for in Week 17 and decide to sit Rodgers. It’s admittedly a pie-in-the-sky scenario, but it’s not entirely impossible.

The Packers are done, Rodgers won’t play Week 17

This is the closest to where I fall. Green Bay only has a five percent chance to make the playoffs, and I really don’t think they’ll win four straight, with or without Rodgers. It’s hard to know if the Packers would be mathematically eliminated if they entered Week 17 8-7 (probably not), but even that may be a bit optimistic. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Green Bay drop one of their next two games, regardless of how “easy” they look.

My biggest concern is that Rodgers will want to play regardless. I would hope that Green Bay could convince him that the conservative route is the better route, should the Packers have nothing to play for.