By Simon Evans
(Reuters) - Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy has a big decision to make ahead of the defending Super Bowl champions' final game of the regular season: should he stick with a winning combination or rest his key players ahead of the playoffs?
The Packers (14-1) have already secured home field advantage throughout the playoffs after clinching the NFC's top seed with a 35-21 win over the Chicago Bears on Sunday.
But having lost their chance of a 'perfect season' with last week's defeat to Kansas City, Green Bay now have nothing at stake for their last game, against divisional rivals Detroit, who have also qualified.
On the surface it appears an easy decision. Give some of the second-string players their chance to shine while keeping the top players away from the risk of injury, ensuring quarterback Aaron Rodgers is healthy and has his full supporting cast available to him when it really counts.
"There is something to be said about trying to finish the season well though...and it would be nice to finish out the season, the way we started with a strong showing in a home game," said Rodgers, the favorite to win this season's Most Valuable Player award.
"That being said I think you have to take into account the health of your football team, we have some guys banged up and we will see what Mike says this week."
It is a dilemma that National Football League (NFL) coaches have had to grapple with every year. By resting key players, the rhythm of the season can be disrupted and the positive vibes of winning can be disturbed.
In the case of the Packers, with a bye in the first week of the playoffs already guaranteed, the next real game is nearly three weeks away.
After throwing five touchdown passes against the Bears on Sunday, Rodgers dropped a heavy hint he wouldn't object to being told to sit and watch his understudy Matt Flynn against the Lions.
"I think as a close friend of Matt, I wouldn't mind seeing him get an opportunity to play a little bit, but I'll definitely do whatever Mike says," said Rodgers.
Flynn took over from Rodgers with 7:54 left in Sunday's game, allowing McCarthy to get his back-up play caller some on-field time in case the unthinkable happens to Rodgers in the playoffs.
There are also several defensive players nursing bruises and sprain that could benefit from a rest.
"We do need to get healthy as a team," McCarthy said on Sunday. "Every team in the league is probably saying that today. We'll look at all our options," he said.
(Editing by Julian Linden)