Can the Green Bay Packers be dethroned in the NFC North?

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Dec 8, 2014; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) throws a pass to wide receiver

Jordy Nelson

(87) during the first quarter against the Atlanta Falcons at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Green Bay Packers

Yet again, the Green Bay Packers will be the team to beat in the NFC North in 2015.

Led by 2014 MVP Aaron Rodgers, this is a team that should once again be Super Bowl contenders. 

Dec 21, 2014; Tampa, FL, USA; Green Bay Packers wide receiver

Randall Cobb

(18) runs with the ball against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. Green Bay Packers defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20-3. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Packers finished the 2014 season with a 12-4 record and secured a first-round bye in the playoffs. They would go on to defeat the Dallas Cowboys in the divisional round and then, well, that game in Seattle happened.

This is a team that will looking for another great season as they search for their fifth consecutive NFC North crown.

Key Decisions

Packers general manager Ted Thompson has a lot to think about right now. Pending free agent Randall Cobb is coming off the back of a career best 1,287 yard, 12 touchdown season, and he needs to be paid.

Another free agent is right tackle Bryan Bulaga. Bulaga is a major piece to the offensive puzzle, and the Packers will want some continuity on the offensive line – by far the best line in the Aaron Rodgers era.

Veterans on the defensive side of the ball whose contracts will be expiring include cornerback Tramon Williams and nose tackle B.J. Raji.

Thompson historically has kept his young stars like Cobb and Bulaga, while letting the more experienced players leave, such as Tramon Williams.

Team Outlook

This is a championship-calibre roster. The Packers boast arguably the best offense in the NFL on a unit filled with star names: quarterback Aaron Rodgers, receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb and powerful running back Eddie Lacy

In 2014, the trio of Nelson, Cobb and Lacy all exceeded 1,000 yards, while Aaron Rodgers picked up his second AP NFL MVP Award.

Defensively, the team improved in 2014.

Thompson was able to turn the secondary, a weakness in 2013, into a strength in 2014.

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, selected in the first-round of last year’s draft, was a solid partner to Morgan Burnett at safety, and a healthy Casey Hayward joining Sam Shields and Tramon Williams added important depth at corner.

The Packers struggled to stop the run early in the season, but defensive coordinator Dom Capers moved outside linebacker Clay Matthews inside, which made a dramatic improvement.

Adding quality at inside linebacker has to be the number one priority in the draft, allowing Matthews to join Julius Peppers back at outside linebacker, where the pair wreaked havoc on opposing offenses.

Special teams was a major disappointment for the Packers in 2014. From Mason Crosby’s three blocked field goals to Brandon Bostick’s failure to recover the onside kick in the NFC title game – this unit was poor.

Shawn Slocum lost his job because of it, and they will need to improve in 2015.

How can they win the NFC North?

Right now, the most important thing for the Packers is to maintain the core of the team that was so successful in 2014. Re-signing Randall Cobb and Bryan Bulaga are priorities in free agency, and by doing so the impressive offensive unit will remain largely intact. 

With the 2014 MVP leading the offense and with an ever-improving defense, it is hard to look beyond the Packers to once again win the division in 2015.

The defense is far from the dominant unit in Detroit, and it will need to continue its development under Dom Capers. Re-signing the right players and adding the necessary pieces through free agency and the draft will be critical to the unit’s success next campaign.

With a healthy Aaron Rodgers, the Packers will remain favorites to win the division. If the Packers keep Cobb, the passing game should still be one of the best in the NFL, with continued development from the likes of Davante Adams, Richard Rodgers and the debut of Jared Abbrederis

Dec 22, 2013; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers kicker Mason Crosby (2) during the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Lambeau Field. Pittsburgh won 38-31. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Special teams needs to improve, and this begins by improving the field goal protection.

T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton’s injuries kept them off the unit for much of last year, and we can expect them to return to special teams, which will undoubtedly help the blocking up front.

The Packers have been reportedly making changes to the coaching staff, but have the system in place. With the 2014 MVP leading the offense and with an ever-improving defense, it is hard to look beyond the Packers to once again win the division in 2015.

The offseason moves made between all four teams from now to September will go along way to discovering who will be hosting a home game in the playoffs next year.

This is a strong division and could well feature two playoff teams again in 2015, but for now I’m picking the Packers to win their fifth straight.

Next: How much tinkering with his staff will Mike McCarthy do?