Enjoying an NFL season often depends on setting the right expectations for your team before the regular season kicks off.
This mindset is typically built on personal observations of practices and preseason games as well as media coverage and analysis.
A common problem with the equation is that the latter group may have a natural tendency to shade toward optimism in their coverage. Sports is a pastime for most people—it's an escape from the required duties in life.
Media, whether locally or nationally-focused, is sensitive to this fact and therefore tends to focus on the positives for any given team as opposed to the negatives.
Let's face it, a sobering view of a team's prospects doesn't usually create a frenzy for the publication.
Having said that, presenting a team realistically isn't always a losing proposition. Pleasant surprise is probably one of the more undervalued commodities in the sports world—especially as compared to severe disappointment.
A great example of this situation may be the Green Bay Packers 2013 season. Recently, one of the well-known NFL experts from ESPN.com, Ron "Jaws" Jaworski, predicted a Super Bowl appearance for the Packers in this year’s playoffs, as reported by Rob Demovsky at ESPN.com.
Although Jaws has the difficult task of following and ranking all 32 NFL teams, one has to wonder if he didn't receive some inaccurate intelligence on which he based his public expectations for the team.
Surely, the Packers have had success recently. In 2010 they cruised through the playoffs as the lowest-seeded team in the NFC and swiped the Lombardi Trophy out of the Steelers' grasp. They followed up that season with an astounding 15-1 run in the regular season only to be unceremoniously ushered out of the 2011 playoffs by the New York Giants.
These two seasons gave Packer fans an extremely vivid example of effective expectation-setting—most people experienced bliss in 2010, followed by bitter disappointment in 2011. A good bulk of that can be attributed to the Packers relative obscurity on the playoff map in 2010 versus their favored designation in 2011.
It's from this perspective that I offer up a more sobering look at the team before they kick off play in 2013.
My goal is to help frame the Packers' legitimate chances this year to avoid any unnecessary disappointment once the season is underway.
Inexperienced Offensive Line
As of right now, the top concern for the team still appears to be the offensive line. In the offseason, the team tweaked the line by flipping their veteran personnel from one side to the other. Had Bryan Bulaga not been injured, it's conceivable this change might have been incredibly effective.
Unfortunately, and possibly overlooked by fans and the media alike, Bulaga's injury has had a devastating impact on the Packers' chances in 2013.
With his absence, the Packers are not only missing the anchor of their line, but also the depth necessary to compete during a long, arduous NFL season.
The team is now faced with starting a rookie, David Bakhtiari, at left tackle. While this factor alone may not keep the Packers from operating efficiently on offense, there are other limitations to consider beyond just Bakhtiari.
For starters, their first-round pick from 2011, offensive lineman Derek Sherrod, is still unavailable due to injury. Next, Sherrod’s apparent replacement, Marshall Newhouse, didn’t distinguish himself in 2012 and is on the bubble as a starter in 2013.
The net result for the Packers is that they will likely be starting two very inexperienced players at left and right tackle to begin the year. The projected right tackle, Don Barclay, is actually a second-year player, but has seen extremely limited regular season action in his career so far.
The New England Patriots won the Super Bowl during the 2000 season with the rookie Matt Light at left tackle. The Green Bay Packers won the 2010 Super Bowl with rookie Bryan Bulaga starting at right tackle.
However, finding examples in history where a rookie left tackle and a very inexperienced second-year right tackle combining successfully to bring home the Lombardi Trophy is next to impossible. I certainly couldn't find any evidence of this ever occurring.
Are the Packers a legitimate contender with two inexperienced starting tackles?
Could the Packers be the first team in history to do so? Sure. Is it likely? That’s another question altogether.
Based on these facts, it's my guess that the Packers' personnel department has been hard at work identifying free agents they could add to fortify this unit. Especially given the hypothetical situation in which another player on the line is injured.
It's my expectation that the team will sign a veteran presence to the offensive line in the near future. This could come in the form of a player castoff during the league-wide trim down to 53 men per roster. It also could come in the form of an existing free agent, though that is less likely.
Behind the Offensive Line
If that is the case, that also means that of the six offensive positions most involved in the running game (five lineman, one running back), a full 50% of the Packers' personnel in that department, will effectively be rookies in 2013—two tackles and the starting running back.
To expect an undeveloped group like this will go out and dominate in terms of running or pass defense seems like the same suspension-of-disbelief required of most movies coming out of Hollywood these days.
With a healthy Bulaga and Harris the team may have been able to justify a stable transition for their offense from 2012 to 2013. However, the current configuration suggests a sizable learning curve for the Packers throughout the upcoming season.
Expecting some bumps and bruises for this group in the early goings seems like a more logical starting point than penciling this particular team into the Super Bowl.
It's probably not an easy notion for most fans to stomach, but tempering expectations now may save a lot of pain and frustration down the road.
Based on the aforementioned injuries, I believe the team will regress from their 2012 season. I think the best case scenario is that they improve as the season goes on and surge after the halfway mark to claim a wild card.
That type of scenario is a lot more believable than closing one's eyes and blindly believing that two inexperienced tackles will lead a team with a suspect defense all the way in 2013.