Projected Record: 10-6
NFC North Rank: 1st
The Packers have won the NFC North the last two seasons behind one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Last year, Green Bay had a 5-1 NFC North record en route to finishing the season off 11-5, but they eventually succumbed to the 49ers in the Divisional Round in a high scoring bout, 45-31. Their record will take a small hit as a result of some losses of veteran players, but they ended up doing very well in April’s draft, which gives them a bright future. They’ll most probably clinch a playoff berth sometime in Week 16 or even Week 17, but only that late because of their difficult schedule. 10 of the 16 games their slated to play this season, have teams that owned a winning record a season ago.
Aaron Rodgers has been among the league’s best quarterbacks for the last three years and has the accolades to back it up. He won the 2011 MVP award, the Lombardi Trophy the same year and snagged the Super Bowl MVP too. Essentially, the triple crown for football. Although he hasn’t lost any luster, his receiving corps suffered a blow following the departure of WR Greg Jennings to the Minnesota Vikings. Jennings was injured for a large part of last season, but when healthy was a dominant presence. He has topped the 1,000 yard receiving mark three of the last five seasons and has hauled in 12 TD receptions two times in his career. WR James Jones and WR Jordy Nelson will have to make up for the significant loss of production, which they have proven they can do. Jones filled in very nicely for Jennings last year grabbing 14 touchdown passes.
Rodgers has been known for getting sacked frequently throughout his career. In fact, last year, the Packers offensive line gave up 51 sacks, which is the second highest total in the NFL, behind the Cardinals. To make matters worse, they lost their best offensive lineman in Bryan Bulaga, who is out for the season with a torn ACL and lost C Jeff Saturday, who decided to retire. Although Rodgers is an above-averager scrambler when under pressure, he’ll have to do much better this upcoming year to make up for the key losses. Bulaga was a left tackle, which means Rodgers is going to be vulnerable on his blind side. As a result, he has to be cognizant about his numbers in the fumble department throughout the season. However, it’s a good thing GM Ted Thompson selected two offensive lineman, OL David Bakhtiari and OL JC Tretter in this year’s draft. They’ll prove to be helpful in providing good blocking for the rushing attack but I can’t say with certainty whether they’ll aid in providing Rodgers more time in the pocket. Only time will tell their immediate impact.
This April, Green Bay drafted two halfbacks, RB Eddie Lacy and RB Johnathan Franklin, who can bolster a previously mediocre rushing attack. Even though this has the potential to be a dynamic combo in the backfield, the more talented and athletic Lacy will take most of the rushes this year. Hopefully, with some young legs, Rodgers and the aerial attack don’t need to take on a massive chunk of the offensive burden this year, something they’ve gotten accustomed to in the past few seasons. Last year, the rushing game had 1,702 yards throughout the season, while the passing game was responsible for 4,049 yards. Although it is common for a team’s passing attack to outperform its rushing game in terms of yards, the disparity between the two with Green Bay is one of the greatest in the NFL. If the rushing game has good production in the first few weeks, that bodes well for the team and Rodgers for the rest of the season, since he’ll be more of a threat with a degree of uncertainty.
The Packers defensive unit has been one of the league’s best in recent times. They sacked an opposing quarterback 47 times last season, which ranked them 4th in the NFL. Their secondary was tremendous as well, ranking inside the top 10 for both yards allowed and points allowed. Charles Woodson was a pivotal element on the Packers for seven seasons, attaining 38 interceptions during that time. He got elected to the Pro Bowl four times as a Packer and was considered amongst the league’s best safeties just a couple seasons ago. Although his departure to the Oakland Raiders is disappointing, the aging Woodson, 36 was injured for half of last season and probably would’ve become more injury prone in future years. The team’s D still remains excellent with linebacker Clay Matthews as the centerpiece. To round out their linebacker crew is rookie first round selection Nick Perry, LILB AJ Hawk, and MLB Brad Jones. This four man group is set to be a top 5 linebacker unit in the NFL next season. Their defensive line has also excelled, which is led by DT BJ Raji and DT Ryan Pickett, both Pro Bowl caliber players. The only concern on this defensive unit seems to be the secondary. They haven’t done enough to replace Woodson and his production. The Pack didn’t acquire a safety during this offseason. Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers seems to simply be starting MD Jennings at strong safety and Morgan Burnett at free safety, both of whom lack starting experience. Yet, nobody can argue against the potent cornerback duo of Tramon Williams and Sam Shields. So, this defensive will NOT inevitably fail without the veteran Charles Woodson leading the secondary.
Clearly, GM Ted Thompson has addressed many concerns on the offensive end with this year’s draft and much of the defense remains intact despite a few alterations. The Green Bay Packers, a fixture in the postseason, are a formidable threat to any opposing team on their schedule, but will not be able to advance past the Divisional Round again this season due to a highly competitive NFC. However, Green Bay will remain NFC North Champions, because nobody in their division has enough versatility on both sides of the ball to dethrone them.