Aaron Rodgers has never played an NFL game in which he didn't have a pass completion when he threw the football at least one time in his seven-year career.
So, the chances of him starting Sunday's regular-season finale against the Detroit Lions with six straight incomplete passes and then not throwing the ball again the rest of the game would seem to be incredibly unrealistic.
Such a rare display of inaccuracy could cost Rodgers his shot to break Peyton Manning's single-season record for passer rating.
Yet, such a possibility, as remote as it would be, speaks to the tightrope head coach Mike McCarthy is walking on this week with how best to approach the Packers' dress rehearsal for the playoffs.
Rodgers isn't expected to see the field long enough to take aim on Tom Brady's league-record 50 touchdown passes in 2007. Rodgers leads all passers this season with 45 TD throws, including a career-high five in Green Bay's 35-21 win over the Chicago Bears on Sunday night.
Another of the big milestones for quarterbacks is all but Rodgers', however. His league-leading 122.5 passer rating is more than a point better than Manning's single-season record of 121.1 in 2004.
Although Rodgers insisted Wednesday he hadn't thought about bumping Manning from the record book until the question was asked of him, his public lobbying on two separate occasions this week for backup Matt Flynn to run the offense is indicative of how the star quartrback feels about playing Sunday.
"I think if Coach does decide to limit my playing time, it would be a good opportunity for Matt to get a chance to play and play an extended amount of time," Rodgers said. "He started last year against New England and played excellent. I've said it before, I think he has a bright future in this league as an NFL starter."
The opportunity for Flynn to get experience could also benefit Rodgers. If he were to have a cameo appearance, a la the final preseason game, he could take his chances that he would exit the game with the esteemed record for passing efficiency all his. Only something as absurd as going the aforementioned 0-for-6 passing or throwing multiple interceptions for the first time in his sublime season before he potentially punches out early Sunday would knock Rodgers below Manning in the pecking order.
"I think any player would love to play and be on the field with your guys," Rodgers said. "It's not my decision, though. It's going to be Mike's decision, his final call ultimately. Whatever he decides, we'll go with."
In the aftermath of the 14-1 Packers' clinching home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs with their Christmas conquest of the Bears, McCarthy was faced with the dilemma of whether to keep things status quo or take it easy on certain players.
A rash of late-season injuries -- from Pro Bowl receiver Greg Jennings (knee sprain) to leading rusher James Starks (ankle bruise) to right tackle Bryan Bulaga (knee sprain) to the latest 1-2 punch of tight end Jermichael Finley (sore knee) and rookie receiver/kick returner Randall Cobb (groin), both of whom missed practice Wednesday -- may be the cautionary tale to sway McCarthy's thinking.
"Of course, it would be smart (to play it safe). Everybody thinks that," said Finley, who didn't consider his setback to be serious and thinks he would be able to play Sunday. "But, I ain't the head coach or the GM, so I'm going to leave that up to them.
"It's up and down, I guess, with the coaches, the trainers about playing the starters or whatever," he added. "I don't know what's going on. I don't know what to say about (guys') playing Sunday. I've got no clue."
Any talk of the Packers' needing to go full throttle and play well in Sunday's game at Lambeau Field so the team can roll into the playoffs is overstated, as Rodgers sees it. After all, Green Bay will be idle for two weeks until it plays its next game in the NFC divisional round Jan. 14 or 15.
"I don't think anybody is real worried about momentum at this point," Rodgers said. "We're the No. 1 seed. That's enough momentum.
"We're going to host a home playoff game. It's tough to play in Lambeau with the crowd going and the elements. I don't think many people are too worried about potential momentum going in, knowing that we do have a bye week the first week of the playoffs."
Nevertheless, Rodgers alluded to the "pride" factor on a number of fronts that is coursing through the locker room of the league's winningest team this season.
The Packers can become only the sixth team to finish the regular season no worse than 15-1 since the advent of the 16-game schedule in 1978. They can finish 8-0 at home in the regular season for the first time since 2002. They can win every game against their division rivals for the first time since the inception of the divisional format in 1967.
And, then there's the added incentive of winning a 21st straight game against the Lions in Wisconsin, going back to 1992, and preventing similarly postseason-bound Detroit (10-5) from garnering the No. 5 seed in the NFC bracket. The Lions would be the conference's top wild-card team if they beat the Packers or the Atlanta Falcons (9-6) lose to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers later Sunday.
If Detroit, which is treating the New Year's Day visit to Lambeau as a must-win game, winds up the fifth seed, a return trip to Green Bay for the divisional round wouldn't be out of the question.
"I think you have to have a lot of pride as a player," Rodgers said. "This is what we get paid to do. We love to play the game. I think if you're keen on history as well you realize that they haven't won here since 1991. So, you'd like to keep that streak going.
"They've obviously improved in the last couple of years and are playing really well. It's no surprise they're in the playoffs. They're playing for that fifth seed right now and the chance to go to the winner of the NFC East instead of maybe playing New Orleans or San Francisco (in the first round). I think we still have a lot of pride to play for."
SERIES HISTORY: 163rd regular-season meeting. Packers lead series, 90-65-7. Green Bay of late has dominated the league's longest-uninterrupted series. The Packers, who won 27-15 at Detroit on Thanksgiving Day last month, have won 11 of the last 12 meetings -- including a 10-1 record since the start of Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy's tenure in 2006. The Packers have won 20 straight games at home against the Lions, a streak that dates to 1992 and includes a 16-12 victory in an NFC wild-card playoffs matchup in 1994. Green Bay is 2-0 against its division rival in the postseason.
--Veteran DE Ryan Pickett acknowledged Wednesday he had been, metaphorically speaking, in a haze the previous two weeks.
As Pickett endured the unpleasant aftereffects of suffering his second concussion in less than two months -- "I had headaches and cloudiness and just not clear" -- he was alert enough to watch with dismay the horrid play of Green Bay's run defense without him on the field.
"It's hard, it's tough because that's not our style of football the past couple weeks, giving up runs like that," Pickett said. "It's been real tough to watch."
Since losing Pickett to his latest head injury in the Dec. 11 win over the Oakland Raiders, the defense allowed 139 rushing yards to Kansas City in the Chiefs' upset win over the previously unbeaten Packers and then a whopping 199 yards on the ground to Chicago in Green Bay's lopsided victory Sunday night. The Bears inflicted most of the damage with their third- and fourth-string running backs.
Suddenly, the Packers have plummeted from being the league's top-ranked run defense after Week 3 to being a season-worst No. 16 this week. Green Bay has allowed an average of 114.4 rushing yards per game, keeping the Packers entrenched in their dubious spot of No. 31 in the 32-team league for total defense the last 11 weeks.
"We've never been a defense to give up that many rushing yards. That's been killing us," Pickett said. "We've got to tighten that up. That's the main area of my concern. But, I'm a D-lineman, so that's going to be my concern, but we've got to clean that up if we're going to make a playoff run."
Pickett hopes he can be of help in trying to stop the bleeding for the run defense before the playoffs commence for the 14-1 Packers. They host the Detroit Lions in the final regular-season game Sunday.
Pickett was cleared to practice Wednesday for the first time since a knee to the head from Raiders RB Michael Bush "kind of rung my bell," Pickett said.
Head coach Mike McCarthy is leaving the door open for Pickett to play Sunday after seeing him do limited work Wednesday.
"We'll give him the full week to see if he's ready to go," McCarthy said.
Pickett also sustained a concussion in practice a few days before the Oct. 23 victory at the Minnesota Vikings but played in the game, in which he had five tackles (season-high four unassisted).
McCarthy feels Pickett has proved to be a difference-maker for the defense when he's been on the field.
"Just based on the grades and dealing with Ryan going on six years here, I feel this is probably the best football he's played," McCarthy said. "He's physically in as good or better shape than he's been in his time here. He's always had exceptional foot quickness and balance, the ability to read and react.
"Going back to the last game (against the Bears), we've talked about that in the grades, run defense isn't about talent. It's about doing the little things right, and we didn't do a very good of it in our last game."
--The Packers were rewarded for their 13-0 start to the season and having the league's best record by having seven players selected to the Pro Bowl on Tuesday.
That's the most Green Bay players voted into the all-star game since the Super Bowl II-winning team in 1967 had nine chosen.
This season's honorees include three repeat selections: cornerback Charles Woodson (fourth straight year), outside linebacker Clay Matthews (third straight year) and receiver Greg Jennings (second straight year).
Woodson and Matthews were named starters for the NFC team, along with quarterback Aaron Rodgers and fullback John Kuhn.
Rodgers, the league's top-rated passer, gained his second Pro Bowl nod after being passed over last season before he led the Packers to the Super Bowl title and earned the game's MVP award.
"It wasn't a motivator (this season)," Rodgers said. "It was one of those things where my fellow players and coaches didn't feel like I was worthy of getting in. That's their decision, and I was happy that we got the Super Bowl victory last year."
Kuhn, a fan favorite wherever the Packers play, joins center Scott Wells and nose tackle B.J. Raji as first-time Pro Bowl choices.
"It's one of those things with the position that I play, a lot of times you kind of feel like your contributions go unnoticed, but this is just confirmation that somebody out there is noticing the work I've put in and some of the plays I make, and I'm appreciative for that," Raji said.
"It just shows me that the real football minds and the people that understand the game are able to make decisions based off of the film and not necessarily just off of popularity and things like that. It's good to know that it's a balanced process."
The Packers had several players just on the outside looking in for the Pro Bowl, led by K Mason Crosby, a first alternate. The team's other alternates are LB Desmond Bishop, rookie KR Randall Cobb, TE Jermichael Finley, WR Jordy Nelson, RG Josh Sitton and CB Tramon Williams.
There was an outcry in some circles that Nelson was one of the bigger snubs in this year's Pro Bowl voting. He has 59 catches for team highs of 1,101 yards and 12 touchdowns, ranking third in the league for the latter.
Green Bay is counting on the Pro Bowl selections and the ensuing debate about who was left off the NFC team to be trivial as it tries to return to the Super Bowl, thus scrapping the trip to Hawaii for its all-stars for the Jan. 29 game.
--The Packers not only will be striving to sweep their division opponents for the first time and also go 8-0 at home Sunday, but they also will be trying to extend a few impressive streaks.
They have won 20 straight games over the Lions in Wisconsin, including a roll of 19 victories in regular-season play -- the longest home winning streak in the NFL for a team against one opponent.
Green Bay also has won its final regular-season game each of the last eight years -- the league's longest current winning streak.
Better yet, the Packers have won 13 straight regular-season finales played at home. Their last regular-season-ending loss at home came in 1967 -- 24-17 to the Pittsburgh Steelers at Lambeau Field before Green Bay went on a three-game tear in the playoffs for the Super Bowl title.
--The Packers have a New Year's Day game for only the third time in team history.
Green Bay last played on the first day of the calendar year in the 2005 season. The Packers beat the Seattle Seahawks 23-17 to finish the season 4-12 in what turned out to be Mike Sherman's final game in his six-year tenure as Green Bay's head coach.
Bart Starr passed for four touchdowns to lead the Packers to a 34-27 win at the Dallas Cowboys on Jan. 1, 1967, in the NFL Championship for the 1966 season. Green Bay rolled to a 35-10 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs two weeks later in what ultimately was considered Super Bowl I.
BY THE NUMBERS: 75 -- Points the Packers would need to score in Sunday's regular-season finale against the Detroit Lions to shatter the 2007 New England Patriots' single-season league record of 589. Green Bay, which has a league-record-tying five games with at least 42 points, needs to score 42 to surpass the 1998 Minnesota Vikings' second-ranked total of 556.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Those guys have been the underappreciated guys in our offense for a while. Scotty has played as consistent as we could ask for the last three years. John, this just adds to his cult following and his legend in Green Bay. (I'm) so excited for them." -- QB Aaron Rodgers, on the first-time Pro Bowl selections for C Scott Wells and FB John Kuhn.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Head coach Mike McCarthy is interested in playing veteran left tackle Chad Clifton in the final regular-season game Sunday against the Detroit Lions, but that doesn't mean Clifton will jump back into the starting lineup.
The 35-year-old Clifton has been sidelined the last 10 games after sustaining a torn hamstring in the Oct. 9 win at the Atlanta Falcons and then in the course of his rehab work injuring his back. He resumed practicing on a limited basis last week and was on the same schedule as the players reconvened Wednesday, though Clifton took team reps with both the starting group and the scout team.
"Chad hasn't gone through a padded practice yet," McCarthy cautioned after Wednesday's workout. "We're going to be in pads tomorrow, so that will be a threshold day for him to get over. So, we'll take the full week and make some decisions.
"Just talking to the strength and conditioning staff, even his position coach (James Campen), his conditioning is probably the best part of where he is right now," McCarthy added. "He's done a very good job in that area. It's just that he needs to do the football conditioning, the padded work, torquing and getting his hands inside and things like that, but we feel good about his overall conditioning. It's just can he do the in-line is really the last thing we need to get answered."
As much as McCarthy and Campen are curious to see whether Clifton can knock off the rust and be of use to the team in the playoffs, Marshall Newhouse may be the safer choice to keep in the lineup going forward. Newhouse has been up and down with his play as Clifton's replacement, but he is coming off a solid performance against All-Pro defensive end Julius Peppers in the Packers' 35-21 win over the Chicago Bears on Sunday night.
--WR Greg Jennings, as expected, will end the regular season out of uniform for the third straight game. The team's leading pass-catcher, who has a sprained left knee, is limited to rehab workouts this week as he attempts to get healthy in time for the team's first game in the playoffs the weekend of Jan. 14-15.
--LG T.J. Lang could wind up making a second straight start at right tackle. Bryan Bulaga, who missed the last game because of a left knee sprain, is questionable to get back on the field by the end of the week and play in Sunday's contest against the Detroit Lions.
--C/G Evan Dietrich-Smith would be in line to make another start at left guard if LG T.J. Lang is needed to move from his customary spot and fill in at right tackle. That would set up an interior battle of Dietrich-Smith against Lions DT Ndamukong Suh, who was ejected from Green Bay's win at Detroit on Thanksgiving for stomping on the arm of the Packers' second-year player.
--OLB Vic So'oto is a prime candidate to get unusual late-season exposure Sunday if the coaches decide to rest some players on the defensive side. So'oto, an undrafted rookie made the team with a strong preseason but was beset by injuries early in the season, had his first extended playing time in the second half of the Sunday night win over the Chicago Bears as a replacement for right-side starter Erik Walden.
--K Mason Crosby needs 11 points in Sunday's game to break his single-season team record of 141 in 2007, when he was a rookie. Crosby has four games with at least 11 points this season.
--RB James Starks, the team's leading rusher, will be iffy to play in Sunday's regular-season finale against the Detroit Lions after sustaining a game-ending bruised right ankle last time out. Starks has been riddled by knee and ankle injuries the last several weeks. Without Starks, who didn't practice Wednesday, the Packers will count on a combination of starter Ryan Grant, Pro Bowl fullback John Kuhn and rookie Brandon Saine to carry the football against the Lions.
--RT Bryan Bulaga is being held out until possibly Friday, putting his status in doubt for Sunday's game. Bulaga hasn't returned since suffering a left knee sprain in the Dec. 18 loss at the Kansas City Chiefs. Normal left guard T.J. Lang might be needed to make a second straight start if Bulaga isn't cleared this weekend, leaving Evan Dietrich-Smith to potentially start again at left guard.
--DE Ryan Pickett was cleared by the medical staff this week and practiced Wednesday on a limited basis for the first time since he suffered his second concussion of the season in the Dec. 11 win over the Oakland Raiders. The veteran starter is hoping to play Sunday.
--TE Jermichael Finley is a conspicuous addition to the injury report this week. Finley didn't practice Wednesday and said afterward he woke up in the morning with residual soreness in his left knee. It's not the same knee in which Finley suffered severe ligament damage early in October 2010 that kept him out the rest of the season. Finley, who has 48 catches for 703 yards and seven touchdowns, believes he will be able to play Sunday with some extra rest this week.
--WR Randall Cobb also landed on the injury list this week, emerging from Sunday night's win over the Chicago Bears with a groin injury. Cobb will be reevaluated Friday, when a decision will be made whether the rookie can practice that day and possibly play against Detroit. Cobb has been contributing on offense as a slot receiver and also handles the kickoff and punt returns.
--LT Chad Clifton is in the team's plans to play Sunday after the 12th-year veteran missed the last 10 games because of a torn hamstring and a back injury. He is practicing for the second straight week. If Clifton is given the green light for the game, it's uncertain whether he would supplant young prospect Marshall Newhouse in the starting lineup.
GAME PLAN: What is fairly certain for this regular-season finale on the first day of 2012 is the Lions will be going all-in to try to get to 11-5 and clinch the No. 5 seed in the NFC playoffs, not to mention end their astounding 20-game losing streak to the Packers in Wisconsin. Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy, on the other hand, has been hard to read about what his true intentions are for his 14-1 team with home-field advantage throughout the NFC bracket in his back pocket.
The Packers can only deactivate seven of their 53 players, and they still have some lingering injuries, so a number of key veterans will have to suit up. QB Aaron Rodgers should start the game, but the presumptive league MVP could be tagged out by backup Matt Flynn before halftime. Whether it's Rodgers, Flynn or possibly third-stringer Graham Harrell by game's end, McCarthy won't deviate from the season-long approach of staying up-tempo and flinging the football around with the deep receiving corps, which will be without Greg Jennings (knee) for the third straight game.
What's more, the Packers, as they have most of the season, struggled to run the football in the Thanksgiving win at Detroit. Green Bay's 31st-rated defense, meanwhile, can do little right other than come up with a timely takeaway or two. An inability to stop the run has been a thorn in the Packers' side late in the season. The Lions have a prolific passing attack with Matthew Stafford at the controls and the nearly unstoppable Calvin Johnson running and leaping down the field and probably will look to attack what could be a patchwork defense if rest for some of Green Bay's starters is in order.
Stafford has played mistake-free football through the air during Detroit's three-game winning streak with zero interceptions and nine touchdowns, but he's also been sacked 10 times in that stretch. Then again, that latter number may not be in danger of going up if the Packers can't rectify their pass-rushing woes in their tune-up for the playoffs.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Packers CBs Tramon Williams and Charles Woodson vs. Lions WR Calvin Johnson -- There's no telling whether Woodson, tied for the league lead with seven interceptions and newly selected to the Pro Bowl for the fourth straight year, will play much or not at all in a mostly meaningless game from Green Bay's perspective. That would leave Williams to do the bulk of the shadowing of Johnson. Williams, and to a lesser extent, Woodson held Johnson to just four catches for 49 yards and a garbage-time touchdown in the Thanksgiving meeting.
The 6-foot-5, 236-pound Johnson has been a beast of late, however, with 13 receptions for 316 yards and three TDs the last two times out. Also working in Johnson's favor is he flourishes at Lambeau Field; he's had two touchdown catches in each of his previous two road games against the Packers and a total of 19 receptions for 242 yards and four TDs in three appearances at the hallowed stadium.
Packers RT Bryan Bulaga or T.J. Lang vs. Lions DE Cliff Avril -- Also uncertain for Green Bay is who will play and how the playing time will be divvied up along an offensive line that has been in flux in recent weeks. Bulaga is iffy to return to action after missing the last game because of a sprained knee. Lang, the regular starter at left guard, switched sides and positions to spell Bulaga and could wind up there again Sunday. With veteran LT Chad Clifton likely back in the fold after being sidelined since early October, there's also the possibility of kicking replacement Marshall Newhouse to the right side.
Whoever winds up playing there has his work cut out for him matched up against the highly productive Avril. The fourth-year player may be just heating up again in his breakout season, which includes 11 sacks, a league-high-tying six forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. Avril has five sacks in his last five games, a stretch that started with a sack and another hit of Aaron Rodgers that resulted in a fumble at the expense of Bulaga in the teams' first meeting.
Packers LG Lang or Evan Dietrich-Smith vs. Lions DT Ndamukong Suh -- Figure Suh to have a chip on his burly shoulders for this game after he was ejected in the third quarter of the Thanksgiving contest for the infamous foot stomp on the arm of a prone Dietrich-Smith, who had replaced an injured Josh Sitton at right guard. Dietrich-Smith started at left guard in Green Bay's last game with Lang over at right tackle. The 6-4, 307-pound Suh, who has been back for two games after serving a two-game suspension for the incident, is having an underwhelming "sophomore" season with only 35 tackles and three sacks -- down from his monster rookie production of 66 tackles and 10 sacks.