The Green Bay Packers had waited for a day like Dec. 26 for weeks. After the Packers barely endured eight games without Aaron Rodgers, the most important game of the season will be a different story. In fact, now that Rodgers has been cleared to face the Chicago Bears for the NFC North title on Dec. 29, it is as if Green Bay's 7-7-1 record and all its past problems do not matter.
With Rodgers declared ready to play on Dec. 26, the perception of the Bears-Packers play in game has changed -- even more severely than Tony Romo's status changed the Philadelphia Eagles-Dallas Cowboys NFC East finale. Instantly, the Packers went from underdogs to favorites in Las Vegas, while they are once again projected as Super Bowl contenders before even clinching a playoff berth.
All of a sudden, the fact the Packers went 2-5-1 without Rodgers is meaningless, and any questions of rust are being brushed off for now. If Rodgers is rusty, Green Bay's entire season may be over before any Super Bowl talk can start again. What's more, now that Chicago is the home underdog, there might not be as much pressure on it anymore.
The Bears themselves are a cautionary tale for how bringing back a star quarterback doesn't always solve everything. Even with Jay Cutler back and with a chance to win the NFC North early, the Bears were slaughtered by 54-11 against the Eagles on Dec. 22. Then again, backup Josh McCown was a lot hotter for Chicago than Matt Flynn was for Green Bay.
The Bears' struggles with Cutler is just one of the lucky breaks the Packers got to stay alive this long. Their unlikely comeback over the Dallas Cowboys on Dec. 15 also helped, as did the total collapse of the Detroit Lions this month. All these improbable breaks, as well as the weak NFC North in general, kept the Packers in play long enough for Rodgers' return to mean something.
Perhaps that means the Packers are a team of destiny after all, and will take advantage by becoming a Super Bowl threat again. However, two much stronger Green Bay teams got knocked out early in the 2011 and 2012 playoffs with a healthy Rodgers. As such, the Packers have to know that Rodgers alone won't take them back to the Super Bowl, or even the postseason first.