Aaron Rodgers: Packers' Playoff Chances Likely Depend on Him Returning by Thanksgiving
Aaron Rodgers could possibly miss the rest of the regular season with a collarbone injury, or a small fracture in his collarbone could have him out for about three weeks. That is according to Ed Werder of ESPN and Adam Schefter of ESPN, respectively. We eagerly anticipate ESPN debating those options.
Meanwhile, the loss at home after Rodgers left was huge, as we assess the likelihood of the Packers reaching the playoffs. It was a division loss, against a team that is now right in the middle of the playoff picture as well. An injury to a player like Rodgers is brutal, and the league is always worse off when the stars cannot perform. I doubt you will hear too much weeping in other cities, though, for the Packers’ chances. The last time a quarterback not named Favre or Rodgers started multiple games in a season for Green Bay was 1992. Handmade t-shirts showing the names of starting quarterbacks are not a thing in Wisconsin.
It’s hard to assess the chances of a loss like Rodgers specifically. The best we can do is ball park. Few quarterbacks of Rodgers’ caliber have missed significant time. In the last twenty years, thirty quarterbacks have (a) played at a pro bowl level, with an adjusted net yards per attempt at more than a standard deviation better than the league average, and (b) not started between 3 and 8 games that season.
The average result was a 19.7% drop in winning percentage in the games with the other quarterbacks (68.8% vs. 49.9%) and a nearly 2 yard drop in adjusted net yards per attempt.
According to Advanced NFL Stats, Green Bay had a 67% win probability against an average team (before the Chicago game). If we apply a 20% drop in win percentage, that puts them at 47% against an average team. If we go to 25%, because it is not just a pro bowl quarterback but a MVP candidate in his prime, that puts Green Bay at 42% without Rodgers. That would make the Packers roughly the 22nd best team in the league with Seneca Wallace or whoever else starts at quarterback, instead of Rodgers. Does that sound reasonable? I think it probably is close.
The playoff situation in the NFC basically breaks down to Seattle and San Francisco taking a division and one wild card, the NFC East winner taking a spot, and the remaining three spots coming down to Green Bay, Detroit, Chicago, New Orleans, and Carolina. New Orleans is the favorite in the NFC South.
With the injury to Rodgers, Detroit just became the favorite in the North, and the winner of this weekend’s Detroit-Chicago game will have a tiebreaker edge.
The positive for Green Bay is that the schedule is not overly difficult, but the chances likely depend on getting back for the Detroit game on Thanksgiving. After that, Green Bay progressively becomes an underdog to reach the postseason, even if Rodgers returns later.
Using the 67% win probability against an average team for all games Rodgers would play, and 42% for others, here is my estimate of the Packers’ win projection, compared to Detroit, Chicago and Carolina. It builds in contingencies based on which week he returns.
The likely cutoff for the playoffs comes at 10 wins in the NFC, with an outside chance of a tiebreaker at 9 wins getting in. If Rodgers is back for Detroit, then the Packers are roughly in line with Carolina and Detroit going forward (that assumes an over/under of 1.5 wins against Philadelphia, New York, and Minnesota).
If he is not back by that week, and Green Bay loses, they will be an underdog to reach the postseason. If he is out for the rest of the year, Green Bay is significantly behind the other three contenders and would need to win close games and pull out some magic to make up the difference.