When the Packers won the Super Bowl during the 2010 season, they were basically a young team with a few key, select veterans such as Charles Woodson and Donald Driver.
The core players on that Super Bowl-winning team were players Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews and Jordy Nelson, guys who are now entering the prime of their careers.
They, along with a group of other veterans, are looking to bring the Packers back to the top of the mountain this season. And coming off a season in which they went 15-1, whatever their faults, Green Bay should be one of the favorites to bring the Lombardi Trophy back to Titletown this season.
Any list of starters who are most vital to the Packers’ success has to start—and probably end—with quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Coming off a season in which he was named the league’s MVP and broke the record for single-season passer rating (122.5), it’s clear Rodgers is one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL, which also makes him one of the top players regardless of position.
What makes Rodgers so important is his efficiency. He completes a high percentage of his passes, many of which convert first downs and result in touchdowns. Just as importantly, he protects the ball, perhaps, better than any other professional football player, throwing few interceptions and rarely fumbling.
In a game where there’s a high correlation between winning the turnover battle and winning the game, Rodgers’ value to the Packers is enhanced two-fold.
And that’s not to mention the other qualities and intangibles Rodgers brings to the game: his arm strength, his leadership and his ability to make plays with his legs.
The Packers’ success is probably directly tied to Rodgers. If he were to miss any significant time, the chances the Packers are successful without him are not good.
There was a time when Charles Woodson was probably the most important player on the Packers defense, but that time may have passed.
Without a doubt, Woodson is still a key cog in the Packers’ defensive mechanism, but Matthews probably has a bigger effect on the outcome of any individual game at this point in his career.
Matthews is one of the elite pass-rushers in the NFL, but he’s really starting to become a well-rounded player. When not rushing the quarterback, he’s fantastic at dropping into pass coverage as far as 3-4 outside linebackers go. His career-high three interceptions last season are starting to become a testament to those skills.
From a statistical standpoint, Matthews' three forced fumbles also were evidence of his big-play ability in 2012.
If Matthews can just find a way to get back to the sack production he had in 2010 when he had 13.5, he’ll be one of the best all-around defensive players in the NFL. The Packers hope additions such as Nick Perry, Jerel Worthy and Anthony Hargrove can help take some pressure off Matthews and get him back on track.
The Charles Woodson of 2012 is not the Charles Woodson of 2009 when he won the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year Award.
That doesn’t mean Woodson isn’t or can’t be a valuable and contributing member of the Packers defense. His league-leading seven interceptions just last season showed he can still have a big-time impact.
Now that Woodson will be playing safety more than at any point in his professional career, his ability to make that transition will help determine how well the Packers defense performs in 2012.
The move is reminiscent to that made by another Woodson—former Steelers defensive back Rod Woodson, who made the move from elite cornerback to top-flight safety in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Charles Woodson will continue to play the slot cornerback position with a high level of frequency, in addition to his new-found duties at safety, just like he’s done throughout his career with the Packers. As a result, there are many ways for Woodson to impact the Packers defense this season.
As a new addition to the Packers’ offensive line, it’s important for Jeff Saturday to seamlessly merge into the offense, so there’s as little drop-off as possible from Scott Wells.
With Wells, the Packers found a center who played at a high level the past three seasons and actually made his first career Pro Bowl a season ago.
When Wells departed in free agency, the Packers turned to Saturday, one of the best NFL centers for much of the past decade. The concern, however, is whether Saturday is past his prime.
At 37 years old, Saturday is no spring chicken. But, he does bring a wealth of experience to his new team. He’s a leader, a good locker-room presence and has plenty of experience directing a no-huddle, up-tempo offense with the Colts.
As long as the Packers can squeeze one more effective season out of Saturday, they’ll be more than happy. And if that season ends in Super Bowl glory, it's all the better.
The Packers offense would be high-powered and explosive with or without Jermichael Finley in 2012. But if the talented, young tight end can take his game to another level, the offense could really be dangerous.
Finley has had two good, productive seasons in the NFL in 2009 and 2012. Both years, he had 55 receptions for over 600 yards and at least five touchdowns, but he’s capable of so much more.
The potential is there for Finley to become one of the best tight ends in the game, joining the likes of Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots. Finley could be Antonio Gates at the peak of his career.
But, Finley has also been maddeningly inconsistent. The drops, for one, have been particularly troubling.
If Finley can eliminate the drops from his game, he’s good enough to be productive in his own right, while at the same time taking attention away from the other good receiving threats on the team. And if that can happen in 2012, the Packers offense can explode.
Greg Jennings has been good for some time. He’s a two-time Pro Bowler who clearly has the capability of being invited to several more.
He might not be Calvin Johnson, but Jennings is a dangerous receiver in his own right.
Jennings also enters 2012 in a contract season, and history says that players in the final year of their contract tend to play at a high level.
There’s every possibility Jennings could sign an extension before the current season begins and avoid the uncertainty of free agency next offseason, but there’s no guarantee of that happening.
In the meantime, Jennings will be same receiving threat he’s always been, and the Packers offense will be better off with him than without him.
Despite having over 1,200 yards and 15 touchdowns last season, Nelson is still flying a little bit under the radar from a national perspective.
By no means is Nelson unknown, but he has yet to find the notoriety of other big-time receivers in the NFL.
Maybe that will change in 2012. If he’s able to put up back-to-back seasons while eclipsing the 1,000-yard benchmark and get double-digit touchdowns, no one can argue that last season was a fluke.
The undeniable truth is that Nelson is developing into a top target in professional football. He’s able to play in the slot and the perimeter and has a knack for turning run-of-the-mill receptions into big gainers.
The more threats at Aaron Rodgers’ disposal, the better the Packers offense will be.
Tramon Williams was a big part of the reason the Packers won the Super Bowl in 2010.
In the midst of the best season of his career, Williams had a combined nine interceptions between the regular season and playoffs. He also wasn’t afraid to mix it up with receivers at the line of scrimmage or in his tackling.
That all changed in 2011 when Williams suffered an early-season injury that caused nerve damage in his shoulder. Keeping that in mind, it doesn’t come as a surprise that the Packers defense regressed in 2011, giving up the most passing yards in the history of the NFL and gaining the reputation as a poor tackling team.
The quicker Williams regains his strength, the better the odds of the Packers defense turning things around in 2012.