LaFleur Plans to Play Green Bay Packers Starters, but Should He?

Oct 3, 2021; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur talks with quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) during warmups prior to the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 3, 2021; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur talks with quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) during warmups prior to the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports /

The Green Bay Packers clinched the NFC’s top seed with their win over Minnesota, rendering their Week 18 matchup with Detroit meaningless when it comes playoff seeding.

So now the big question that faces Matt LaFleur is, does he play his starters against the Lions, and if so, for how long?

LaFleur has already told reporters that the plan as of now, is for the Green Bay Packers starters to play—although this could certainly change.

"“Right now, the mindset is going into this that we’re going to play our guys and we’re going to approach it like every other game,” LaFleur said Monday via Packers Wire.“I just think the reason behind that is I’m not comfortable having essentially a three-week layoff for our guys.”"

Three weeks is certainly a long time off without any live-action reps, and rust would be a very real concern. This is already a Green Bay Packers offense that has regularly gotten off to slow starts this season, ranking 26th in first-quarter scoring. Falling behind quickly to Tampa Bay, Dallas, or Los Angeles could be a recipe for disaster.

And although the Packers are 2-0 coming off byes in the playoffs under LaFleur, we have seen them struggle coming off regular-season byes in 2019 and 2020, losing to San Francisco and Tampa Bay by a combined score of 75 to 18–in which Green Bay looked incredibly sluggish.

Both Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams have already expressed that they want to play against Detroit — and that will carry a lot of weight with LaFleur — with Rodgers telling ESPN’s Rob Demovsky after the Minnesota game that Sunday was the first game he made it through without any issues for his toe.

"“This is a first game that my toe got through the game without any issues,” Rodgers said via ESPN. “No pregame painkiller shot. I’m feeling good. I’m happy about it. There was definitely a time a few weeks ago when I started to project out and think if we can get the 1-seed, it could be two-plus weeks of rest. I’m going to play next week, and I expect Davante to play and our guys to play. So, we’re looking forward to finishing off the season on a high note and then getting the bye.”"

There’s also the hope that Green Bay could possibly get David Bakhtiari — who is expected to return to practice this week — Jaire Alexander, and Randall Cobb some live reps before the playoffs begin, and having them reacclimated with the starting offense and defense would make the most sense.

Following the Vikings game, Adams would also discuss the importance of Green Bay keeping their foot on the gas, even with the one-seed locked up.

"“Definitely doesn’t mean we’re letting our foot off the gas heading into next week,” Adams said of getting the No. 1 seed via The Leap.“I think that there’s a lot of good in it. Having two weeks off —to each his own— but I wouldn’t want to do that, so I would want to play next week at least some … I’m definitely going to prepare to go out there.”"

However, there are plenty of reasons that resting their key players makes plenty of sense as well. For starters, it may only take one incident of Rodgers’ toe getting stepped on before he has a setback, whereas if he rests, it could be completely healed by the time the NFC Divisional round arrives.

Sitting the starters also removes the risk of injury to any other key players–something that we’ve already seen way too much of this season, and it would also give the Green Bay Packers another long look at Jordan Love.

On one hand, rust is a very real thing, and the NFL playoffs are all about who is playing their best football in January. On the other hand, are you truly a Super Bowl-caliber team if a week off and homefield advantage doesn’t give you the upper hand?

At this point, you’re probably expecting me to pick a side in the rust vs. injury debate, so if I must, while three weeks off is a long time without any game action, I tend to lean towards the conservative end of resting your key players. I just find it hard to believe playing two quarters of football against Detroit is going to help shake any potential rust—so to me, it’s not worth the risk.

Now, with that said, there are few coaches out there who have their finger on the pulse of their football team quite like LaFleur does with the Packers, so whatever he decides is best, I will have no issues either way.

As LaFleur has already mentioned, there really is no right answer to this question, and regardless of whether or not he decides to start Rodgers and Co., he is likely to be ridiculed either way.

"“I know that you can look at it a million different ways and there’s never a right answer unless it works out,” LaFleur said via SI. “If somebody goes in there and gets injured then, ‘Well, why’d you play your guys?’ But if you go out there in that first playoff game and you lay an egg, ‘Well, why’d you rest your guys?’ So, there’s not a right answer. Bottom line is whatever we do we’ve got to go out and perform and we know that and that’s just the way we’re going to go about it.”"