1 big thing each returning Packers player can add to Super Bowl run

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  • Jaire Alexander
    Jaire Alexander
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  • David Bakhtiari
    David Bakhtiari
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  • Randall Cobb
    Randall Cobb
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  • Billy Turner
    Billy Turner
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  • Josh Myers
    Josh Myers
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The top-seeded Green Bay Packers are getting major reinforcements for the start of the postseason. Not only did David Bakhtiari and Josh Myers come back in Week 18, but Jaire Alexander, Za’Darius Smith, Randall Cobb, Billy Turner and Whitney Mercilius could all be back and contributing in one shape or another when the Packers open the playoffs in the NFC Divisional Round next week.

Here’s one big thing each of the Packers’ returning players could add to the Super Bowl run:

LT David Bakhtiari

(AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps, File)

Injury: Torn ACL (missed 16 games to start 2021)

One big thing: Had Bakhtiari been available in last year’s NFC title game, the Packers probably win the game and go on to play in the Super Bowl. The Buccaneers ransacked the Packers passing game with pressure off the edges. With Bakhtiari back, the Packers now have a five-time All-Pro who – even after coming off a significant injury – can better matchup against the elite pass-rushers littering the path to the Super Bowl. It’s fair to wonder if the Packers could become a tad more explosive and even more efficient in the passing game with one of the game’s best pass-blockers back at left tackle.

CB Jaire Alexander

Green Bay Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander.

Injury: Shoulder (out since Week 4)

One big thing: Rookie Eric Stokes and midseason pickup Rasul Douglas have been mostly excellent at cornerback without Alexander on the field. But quarterbacks in the playoffs are often the best of the best at finding weak spots and exploiting them. Tom Brady found matchups against Kevin King and Chandon Sullivan over and over again last January. If Alexander joins Stokes and Douglas, will there be an obvious weakness at cornerback? The Packers would have a terrific trio to face off against the deep passing games of teams like the Cowboys, Buccaneers, Rams and Cardinals.

OLB Za'Darius Smith

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Injury: Back surgery (Out since Week 1)

One big thing: Teams don’t get through the playoff gauntlet without being able to consistently disrupt the quarterback in the pocket. If Smith returns, even in a limited or rotational role, the Packers will be loaded with disruptors. Rashan Gary (81 pressures) and Preston Smith (62 pressures) combined for 143 total pressures in 2021. There would be opportunities in obvious passing situations to get Gary and both Smiths on the field together, especially considering how effective Za’Darius has been when moved inside over the past two seasons. The difference in games between great teams can often be one or two high-leverage situations, like a third-down play in the red zone or late in the game. Having Za’Darius on the field greatly increases Green Bay’s ability to disrupt the quarterback and get a stop.

WR Randall Cobb

Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

Injury: Core surgery (Out since Week 12)

One big thing: Trust, and where it manifests most for Aaron Rodgers in Cobb – on third down and in the red zone. Rodgers always trusts him to find a pocket of space and be where he needs to be, especially in the middle of the field and in the scoring area. He might not put up huge numbers, but don’t be surprised if Cobb makes one or two important plays in a postseason game this month. And remember, the last time Cobb was on the field and healthy, he created 95 yards and a score in one half of play against the Rams, a potential divisional-round opponent.

C Josh Myers

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) and center Josh Myers (71).

Injury: Knee (missed 10 games)

One big thing: Myers is a rookie with five games of NFL experience, but he’s bigger and more effective than Lucas Patrick in the run game from the center position, and his return allows the Packers to use Patrick at right guard over inconsistent rookie Royce Newman. Myers at center and Patrick at right guard is certainly an upgrade over Patrick at center and Newman at right guard, especially in pass protection.

RT Billy Turner

(AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)

Injury: Knee (missed final 4 regular season games)

One big thing: If Turner returns, the Packers will have four of their five preferred starters along the offensive line available to start the playoffs. Not having Elgton Jenkins is a blow, but Jon Runyan Jr. has played well at left guard. When healthy, Bakhtiari and Turner give the Packers a legitimate starting duo at offensive tackle – much better than Turner and Rick Wagner during last season’s playoff run.

OLB Whitney Mercilus

(AP Photo/Darryl Webb)

Injury: Biceps (Out since Week 10)

One big thing: If nothing else, the depth for the Packers at edge rusher is now much better. Mercilus, in four games in Green Bay before his injury, produced 10 pressures and a sack, so there’s still gas left in the tank. If there’s an injury at outside linebacker or the Packers need another rusher on the field in a big spot, would you feel better about Mercilus or inconsistent second-year linebacker Jonathan Garvin?

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