OK, time to re-charge and get ready for the mythical second half of the season. For the moment, the Packers share first place in the North with the Bears at 6-3. Both teams have difficult schedules down the stretch, but the Packers are playing at a much higher level than the Bears and it appears to be Green Bay's division to lose.
The only way the Pack fails to win the North is if the early season trend of major injuries continues. We all hope they've had their share and that the current roster will stay mostly healthy down the stretch. But there are no guarantees. The Finley injury has been the toughest to recover from, followed by Mike Neal and Ryan Grant.
Here is my list of the top 10 players the Packers can least afford to lose to injury, if they are to make a deep playoff run in the NFC.
1. Aaron Rodgers: No breaking news here. The Pack's chances begin and end with #12.
2. Clay Matthews III: We've seen what happens to the defense when Matthews is on the sidelines. He's the front-runner for defensive player of the year and is in the MVP conversation. He's a one-man wrecking crew and the Pack's D will keep them in every game as long as the Claymaker and his tender hamstrings are willing.
3. Charles Woodson: He may not be having the eye-popping season he had a year ago, but he continues to make big plays and causes opposing offenses to account for where he is. He has a nose for the big moment. Imagine if he goes down: ladies and gentlemen, I bring you Jarrett Bush...or Brandon Underwood...or Pat Lee. Oy.
4. Tramon Williams: The Packers are filling the Brink's truck with gold bars to drop at his doorstep. He will get a huge new contract for a reason. He is playing at a Pro Bowl level and if he goes down, with Al Harris in Miami, well see #3.
5. Greg Jennings: With Finley, Grant and Driver missing from the offense the past few weeks, Jennings has stepped up to be the #1 WR we need him to be. James Jones has not shown the consistency needed to be a top target and Jordy Nelson is beginning to rise to the occasion, but if Jennings go down, the offense becomes epically challenged.
6. Chad Clifton: Probably the most likely to get hurt among these ten players. His gimpy knees have (knock on wood) held up and he's playing very well. Nothing like a little competition to bring out the best in a guy. With Tauscher on IR, Bulaga is needed to man the right side, so Rodgers' blind side protector needs to hold up and collect that big paycheck Ted Thompson wisely gave him.
7. Nick Collins: His knee is a concern, but he continues to get back up and seems to make at least one big play each game. Atari Bigby's return provides a little insurance, but there is little doubt there would be a significant drop-off on the field if #36 is on the sidelines.
8. B.J. Raji: He has stepped up in his second year and has played the anchor position in the 3-4, the spot that sets things up for everyone else. With guys like Jenkins, Pickett and Neal missing games around him, he's been an anchor and allowed Matthews to go crazy. Yes, Howard Green could step in, but asking him to play significant snaps would open him up to wearing down late in games. Pack need the big youngster on the field to make that 3-4 hum.
9. Cullen Jenkins: The Pack's second best pass rusher makes a very good defense even better. The Pack has lost two outside linebackers on his side for the season, in Jones and Poppinga. He provides good pass rush from the DE spot and makes big plays in big spots.
10. Bryan Bulaga: The rookie's play gave the Pack the green light to put veteran Mark Tauscher on IR with the shoulder injury. TJ Lang backs him up and we have no idea what that would like, but I don't want to find out. The Packers running game is coming together because the line is getting used to each other and becoming more cohesive each week. Bulaga had a tough time with Miami's Cameron Wake, but has held his own the past few weeks and seems to be growing up before our eyes.
Honorable mention: Brandon Jackson, Josh Sitton and AJ Hawk
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