The Green Bay Packers’ chances of making the National Football League playoffs improved by 32 percent with quarterback Aaron Rodgers cleared by doctors to return after recovering from a broken collarbone.
Oddsmakers waited to set a betting line on the Packers’ regular-season finale at the Chicago Bears on Dec. 29, a game that will determine which team makes the postseason as the National Football Conference North division champion.
Within minutes of Packers coach Mike McCarthy announcing that the NFL’s 2011 Most Valuable Player would return after missing the past seven games, the Las Vegas Hotel’s SuperBook listed Green Bay as a 3-point favorite. The Packers would have been about 7-point underdogs without Rodgers, said RJ Bell, the founder of Las Vegas-based handicapping information website Pregame.com. Rodgers’s return also had a demonstrable effect on Super Bowl futures, with the Packers’ odds of winning the NFL title lowered to 12-1 from 30-1 at LVH SuperBook.
“It’s exciting to be able to play after a long layoff,” Rodgers said yesterday. “It was a tough period, but I’m excited to be back in the mix with the guys, with a chance.”
The odds suggest the Packers’ chances of making the playoffs jumped to 58 percent from 26 percent with Rodgers in the lineup, Bell said. Green Bay went 2-4-1 without him, while scoring an average of seven points fewer per game.
Since 2000, the Packers are 11-2 during Week 17, tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers for the best record in the NFL.
“One of the tenets of leadership is impact and without a doubt Aaron has an impact on the skill-position players on that team,” said Louis Riddick, a former NFL safety and director of pro personnel for the Philadelphia Eagles who’s now an ESPN analyst. “It’s great timing for the Packers.”
The Bears beat the Packers 27-20 in the teams’ previous meeting on Nov. 4, when Rodgers broke the collarbone above his non-throwing shoulder in the first quarter.
The impact of having Rodgers return was evident at SportsbookAG, which said 40 of its first 41 bets placed on the Packers-Bears game yesterday were on Green Bay.
Packers receiver James Jones was effusive about Rodgers’ return, saying he “makes this team 1,000 times better.”
Oddsmakers this week have also closely monitored the health status of quarterback Tony Romo, whose Dallas Cowboys host the Philadelphia Eagles to determine which team makes the postseason as the NFC East champion. The Cowboys, who opened as 1-point favorites, are now 6 1/2-point underdogs with reports from ESPN and other media outlets that Romo will miss the NFL season’s final regular-season game because of a back injury.
Without Romo, the Cowboys would start Kyle Orton, who has thrown passes in two games over the past two years. He’s attempted a total of five passes this season after making 69 NFL starts from 2005 through 2011 with the Bears, Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs.
“I fall back on my experience,” Orton told reporters. “I’ve played a lot of games in this league and I’ve had some success. Just excited. The group of guys I’ve got around me, I don’t really feel like I’ve got to go out there and do too much -– get the ball to the playmakers.”
Romo, 33, has received treatment for a back injury since leading the Cowboys to a 24-23 comeback win against the Washington Redskins on Dec. 22. Romo, visibly suffering from pain in the Washington game, threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to DeMarco Murray on fourth-and-goal with 68 seconds remaining.
This is the third straight year the Cowboys enter the final week of the season with a chance to win the NFC East title in a game against a division opponent.