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Packers have legitimate playoff hopes with Aaron Rodgers' recovery

Brett Hundley kept the Packers in playoff contention, but it will be Aaron Rodgers who leads the team down the stretch. Mike De Sisti /Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via USA TODAY Sports

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Five years ago, the Wisconsin State Legislature declared 12/12/12 as Aaron Rodgers Day.

This time, Dec. 12 was again celebratory for the Green Bay Packers quarterback -- and most of the state for that matter -- even if it took until the day's final hours for that to be official. No. 12 himself announced late Tuesday night that he has been medically cleared to return from his broken collarbone.

Who knows how much lobbying Rodgers had to do to get cleared by Dr. Pat McKenzie, the Packers' team physician? Regardless, however, the Packers now have legitimate hopes for the playoffs.

Yes, they probably have to run the table (where have you heard that before?) but that seems far more likely with Rodgers at the controls than with Brett Hundley. In seven starts, Hundley won three times. He beat the Bears, Buccaneers and Browns. Those three teams have a combined record of 8-31. The Packers' next three opponents -- the Panthers, Vikings and Lions -- have a combined 26-13 record and all three of them are over .500.

Hundley did his job, keeping the Packers alive in the playoff race. But it would have been a monumental ask for him to win three more games to get the Packers to 10-6, which is where they'll need to be in order to have any chance for a postseason.

Despite some rough patches, Hundley managed to even his touchdown-to-interception numbers at eight apiece thanks to his three-touchdown game Sunday against the Browns. But that wouldn't have cut it down the stretch.

Rodgers was playing some of the best football of his career in the first five weeks of the season, throwing 13 touchdowns and just three interceptions before Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr's hit early in the Week 6 game at Minnesota caused him to break his right clavicle.

It's the second time in his career that Rodgers has returned during the season from a broken collarbone. In 2013, he returned after a seven-game absence (he did not have surgery for his broken left clavicle) for the regular-season finale at Chicago. He won that game to give the Packers the NFC North title at 8-7-1, but the Packers lost in the playoff opener to 49ers at home.

This time, Rodgers underwent surgery to stabilize his broken right clavicle and will be asked to win three straight just to get into playoff consideration.

ESPN's Football Power Index says the Packers have an 89 percent chance to make the playoffs if they win out. Yet FPI gave the Packers just a 6.6 percent chance of making it.

With Hundley, that number might have seemed high.

With Rodgers, it looks awfully low.