The early expectations of the 2014 Green Bay Packers appear to be sky high.
Many Packers fans across the country view this team as a possible Super Bowl contender, as long as the one word that plagued the team in the 2013 season stays away: INJURIES.
Green Bay has been unable to get past the divisional round of the playoffs since their championship campaign in 2010. In 2011, the 15-1 regular season came to a screeching halt in the divisional round loss to the New York Giants. The last two seasons have ended in the divisional round as well, to the likes of our nemesis from the west – the San Francisco 49ers.
However, during the last three seasons the Packers have managed to bring home the NFC North crown. One should begin to reason that without a doubt at 8-8 last season that was a gift that came freshly wrapped from our three north rivals.
In the 2013 season the Packers had to endure half of it without the “engine” to the machine when Aaron Rodgers went down with a collarbone injury early in the season. Add to the list Clay Matthews, Casey Hayward, Randall Cobb and many other components and the record will reflect the injury report.
The main concern of the Packers being able to repeat the success of the 2010 postseason squad is to duplicate the play of the defense. In 2013 the Packers team defense ranked 24th in opponents passing yards (247.3 per game) and 25th in opponents rushing yards (125 per game). Clearly not close to championship caliber numbers.
There is plenty of reason for optimism for the 2014 season. Reason number one is simply what a completely healthy Packers team could do over the duration of the season. There have also been some key components added to the mix that could greatly influence elements of the game that were a continuous struggle for the Packers the last few seasons.
The off-season saw Ted Thompson make somewhat of an out of character move and make a splash in free agency to bring in pass rusher Julius Peppers. At 34 years old hopefully Peppers still has 1-3 productive seasons left in the tank.
During the draft Thompson also added Carl Bradford a college defensive end from Arizona State. Bradford will likely make the transition to inside linebacker in Green Bay. Brian Gutekunst the director of college scouting for the Packers has been quoted as saying things about Bradford such as, “He’s got a lot of twitch and relentless play”. Those are traits that could be paired well with the current core of linebackers.
The sinking boat that was the Packers knack for giving up big plays has hopefully found a plug as well. First round pick Ha Ha Clinton-Dix should bring consistent tackling and great cover skills to the safety position. Thompson has done well in the past dipping into Nick Saban’s talent pool he keeps stocked in Tuscaloosa.
Special teams have also been less-than-exceptional for the Packers over the last three seasons. There has not been a return man with a home run threat when the ball is kicked his way. Jared Abbrederis, wide receiver from the University of Wisconsin hopefully brings just that to the return game. A player capable of at any moment taking one to the house and keeping key personnel such as Randall Cobb off of the field on special teams.
As for the offense, it pretty much speaks for itself. With a healthy Aaron Rodgers and a loaded backfield led by Eddie Lacy for his sophomore campaign, it could be one of the premiere offenses in the league for the 2014 season. Not to mention a group of pass catchers such as Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Jarrett Boykin, Davante Adams and Colt Lyerla.
I don’t think any of the Packers’ NFC North foes did anything to get substantially better in the off-season. The Bears should have a good offense but it will be hard to completely turn a dismal defense around in just one offseason. Teddy Bridgewater could possibly be getting broken in early with the Vikings gauntlet to start the season.
This leaves the Detroit “potential.” A team that has been hyped season after season as capable of breaking out. No doubt loaded with talent, yet they have never been able to click on all cylinders. With the addition of two Notre Dame alumni wide receivers in Golden Tate and T.J. Jones they have added credible pieces to go with Calvin Johnson. The Lions also drafted tight end Eric Ebron from the University of North Carolina. Ebron will be under heavy pressure as a top 15 pick to have caught only 112 balls along with 8 touchdowns in his three years on the football field at Chapel Hill.
The 2014 schedule is not an easy one by any stretch. With road games at Seattle and New Orleans while facing New England and Carolina at home. The Packers could very well sweep the North with the two toughest games in the division ultimately being at Chicago and at Detroit.
I have the Packers at no worse than 11-5. This should put them in really good shape to capture their fourth NFC North division crown in a row.
One thing is for sure – we will have a good measuring stick come week one as the Packers open up against Super Bowl champion Seattle and the 12th man.