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Packers’ recent ‘What-Ifs’: 2014 NFC Championship, Nelson & Rodgers’ injuries

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One of these what-ifs is obvious, but we also look at a pair of injuries that significantly changed the franchise’s trajectory.

NFC Championship - Green Bay Packers v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

It’s getting close to the official start of summer, and we’re almost ready for NFL teams to break for six weeks between minicamp and training camp. With that comes the first Theme Week of the year for the SB Nation NFL sites.

This week, the theme is “What If?” The Green Bay Packers have one particularly notable “What If” moment in recent years — surely everyone can think of the biggest one — but we have a pair of additional lingering questions about injuries that affected recent Packers seasons. In fact, one in particular might turn out to be a positive for the franchise in the long run, even though it caused the team’s star player some significant pain when it happened.

Here are our big “What Ifs” from the past few years.

What if Brandon Bostick blocks on the onside kick?

This is probably the biggest hanging question for the Packers in recent years. If Bostick doesn’t try to catch an onside kick attempt in the 2014 NFC Championship Game — it was his responsibility to block for Jordy Nelson, who was to try to field the ball — the Packers advance to Super Bowl XLIX against the New England Patriots. Any number of other situations could have sent the Packers to Arizona for the big game — Ha Ha Clinton-Dix’s defense on a two-point conversion, the fake field goal, Morgan Burnett falling to the turf instead of trying to return his interception — but this is the most obvious and damning of all.

Had Bostick followed his assignment and had Nelson fielded the football safely, the NFL would have received one of the best Super Bowl quarterback matchups of all time: Aaron Rodgers vs. Tom Brady. In what was one of Mike McCarthy’s all-time great coaching jobs, Rodgers out-dueled Brady in week 13 that year as the Packers won 26-21 on their way to a 12-4 record. With a good enough defense (13th in points allowed and 15th in yards) and Rodgers winning his second league MVP award, the Packers definitely could have defeated New England and earned their second Lombardi Trophy in the McCarthy-Ted Thompson-Rodgers era.

Poll

Would the Packers have beaten the Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX if they recover the onside kick in the NFCCG?

This poll is closed

  • 84%
    Yes
    (651 votes)
  • 15%
    No
    (119 votes)
770 votes total Vote Now

What if Jordy Nelson doesn’t tear his ACL during the 2015 preseason?

Coming off that loss, the Packers were still a top pick to make it to Super Bowl 50 coming into the 2015 season. And even without Nelson, the offense clicked early on, averaging well over 30 points per game in the first three contests. However, it all fell apart when teams realized that the Packers had no legitimate deep threat and started playing nothing but two-deep coverages against Rodgers, who was forced to scramble to make plays when his wideouts couldn’t get open.

The Packers’ defense was actually quite good that year, however, with the pass defense ranking sixth in the NFL by DVOA and the defense ranking ninth overall. With a competent offense, that team could have made another run at a Super Bowl, but Nelson’s injury (and subsequent injuries to Randall Cobb and Davante Adams) sapped any big-play ability that the offense had. As it was, the Packers won one playoff game, beating Washington before falling in Arizona despite Rodgers’ and Jeff Janis’ Hail Mary antics, but a deeper run would have been feasible with a healthy 87.

As for Nelson himself, his lateral agility seemed shot after returning, and although he still had a 1200-yard season in his return campaign in 2016, his yards-per-reception number dropped precipitously. Nelson had averaged over 15 YPR in each of the previous four seasons, but it fell to 13 in 2016 and declined even farther to a measly 9.1 a year ago.

If not for that injury, Nelson might still be a Packer and a significant offensive contributor.

Poll

How far do the Packers get in the 2015 playoffs if Jordy Nelson hadn’t torn his ACL?

This poll is closed

  • 12%
    Divisional Round
    (84 votes)
  • 42%
    NFC Championship
    (288 votes)
  • 18%
    Super Bowl appearance
    (125 votes)
  • 27%
    Super Bowl champions
    (186 votes)
683 votes total Vote Now

What if Aaron Rodgers didn’t break his collarbone in 2017?

This scenario looks back at what the Packers might not have done this offseason if Rodgers were around. With him starting and finishing the game last year, the Packers went 4-2; with Brett Hundley in the game, they were just 3-7. Even with a bad defense (particularly against the pass), Rodgers being on the field would likely have resulted in a few more wins and probably a playoff berth.

If that happens, would the team have brought in Joe Philbin to help rebuild the offense from the ground up? Would Mike McCarthy have fired Dom Capers, making the way for Mike Pettine and a new attitude on defense? Would Ted Thompson have still been willing to step down, allowing Brian Gutekunst to fill the GM chair and start making some un-Thompson-like free agent signings?

In addition, there’s no way that the Packers pick up an extra first-round pick in 2019 if they were holding a first-round pick in the low 20s this April instead of at 14.

We will never know the answers to the hypotheticals about the coaching staff and front office, but if the Packers are back to being a bona fide Super Bowl contender in 2018, the frustrations and struggles of last season may prove to have been the best thing for the team in the long run.

Poll

How many wins would the Packers have had last season if Aaron Rodgers hadn’t broken his collarbone?

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    7-8
    (20 votes)
  • 4%
    9
    (37 votes)
  • 24%
    10
    (205 votes)
  • 35%
    11
    (296 votes)
  • 23%
    12
    (192 votes)
  • 9%
    13+
    (81 votes)
831 votes total Vote Now

These are just a few lingering questions from the past few years, but we encourage you to propose your own in the comments.