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Aaron Rodgers to start Sunday in Packers-Bears, per Mike McCarthy

The Green Bay Packers announced Aaron Rodgers will return. We break down what that means for the NFC North race, as well as potential playoff implications for the 49ers. New to Niners Nation? Sign up here and join the discussion!

Stephen Dunn

The NFC playoff picture remains a bit of a jumbled mess, but the race for postseason spots is getting a little more interesting. Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy announced that Aaron Rodgers will return to his starting quarterback role this Sunday against the Chicago Bears. Rodgers has been rehabbing his collarbone injury, and handled all the first team work at Thursday's practice.

The return of Rodgers makes for a huge showdown on Sunday. The Packers have been scuffling along, but they've done just enough to stay alive in the playoff race. Along with Rodgers returning, there is a good chance wide receiver Randall Cobb could return as well. Getting those two back will be a huge boon, particularly with Eddie Lacy's status up in the air due to an ankle injury.

The winner of Sunday's Packers-Bears matchup claims the NFC North, and either the 3 or 4 seed depending on how a few other things shake out. A Packers win means Green Bay would be the No. 4 seed no matter what else happens. A Bears win would get Chicago the No. 4 seed if Philadelphia beats Dallas, and the No. 3 seed if Dallas beats Philadelphia.

For the 49ers this impacts their potential wild card round opponent. The 49ers can still claim the division and a bye with a win and a Seahawks loss, but the odds are more in favor of the 49ers claiming the 5 or 6 seed. If the 49ers lose to Arizona, they claim the 6 seed if the Saints win, and the 5 seed if the Saints lose. If the 49ers beat Arizona, they lock in at least the 5 seed.

Given all that, let's break down the scenarios for the 49ers. If they win and the Seahawks lose, the 49ers claim the 2 seed. If the 49ers win, the Seahawks lose, and the Panthers lose, the 49ers claim the 1 seed. The remaining scenarios below assume the Seahawks (worth noting Matt Maiocco broke this down earlier today in a playoff specific post).

49ers win and (regardless of Saints result)...

Bears/Cowboys win: No. No. 5 49ers @ No. 4 Cowboys

Bears/Eagles win: No. 5 49ers @ No. 4 Bears

Packers/Cowboys win: No. 5 49ers @ No. 4 Packers

Packers/Eagles win: No. 5 49ers @ No. 4 Packers

49ers lose, Saints win and...

Bears/Cowboys win: No. No. 6 49ers @ No. 3 Bears

Bears/Eagles win: No. 6 49ers @ No. 3 Eagles

Packers/Cowboys win: No. 6 49ers @ No. 3 Cowboys

Packers/Eagles win: No. 6 49ers @ No. 3 Eagles