Brighter Days on the Horizon for '09 Packers

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Brighter Days on the Horizon for '09 Packers
(Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

The 2008 season for the Green Bay Packers was one wrought with disappointment, full of many close calls and what-ifs.

After a 13-3 2007 season that ended with a trip to the NFC Championship game, not too many people, players included, expected a 6-10 debacle in 2008. But if the NFL would give out a trophy for almost-wins and bad breaks, the '08 Packers would have won it outright.

Coming off of the '08 campaign and a free agency period that General Manager Ted Thompson may as well have slept through, there is reason to believe the Packers are not far away from another trip to the postseason.

For the first time in four offseasons, the Packers left the final game knowing who their starting quarterback will be in 2009. There is no real way of knowing how Brett Favre's retirement contemplation each of those years affected the teams offseason moves, but it is a safe bet that Aaron Rodgers is the guy for the foreseeable future.

The summer of 2008 was filled with drama over the possible return of Favre and while players and coaches did their best to downplay the distraction, there is no doubt it had some effect on them. This offseason has been drama-free so far, and barring something unforeseen, should remain that way. That gives the '09 Packers a substantial edge over the '08 team.
Going into the 2008 season, the big question was how well Rodgers would perform?
That question was answered as Rodgers put up great numbers for a first-time starter and was rewarded with a contract extension. With a year under his belt, Rodgers should continue to progress and improve. One area of weakness for him in '08 was leading the team to a game-tying, or winning, score in the last few minutes of the game. With a full season of maturity and experience behind him, he should begin to improve on that area this year.
Arguably the biggest area of weakness on last year's team was the defense. That area was addressed this offseason, starting with the firing of the entire defensive staff, except assistant head coach/inside linebackers coach Winston Moss. Dom Capers was hired to take over defensive coordinator duties. Under Capers, the Packers will switch from a 4-3 defense to the 3-4.
While many people agree that the 3-4 defense is harder for offenses to game-plan against, this has to be the biggest question mark heading into the '09 season.
The change isn't going to happen overnight and the defense is most certainly going to experience some growing pains, especially early in the season. The switch to the 3-4 also will require the team's best defensive end, Aaron Kampman to move to linebacker. Kampman is very athletic and intelligent and the coaches insist he'll be just fine, but there is no way of knowing for sure until the season starts.
The Packers also heavily addressed the defense in April's draft, taking Boston College nose tackle B.J. Raji with the number nine overall pick. Then in a shocking and uncharacteristic move Thompson traded up to acquire a second first-round pick and selected USC linebacker Clay Matthews Jr.
The 2008 Packers were only a few bad breaks away from an NFC North title and a playoff berth. With the improvements made during the off-season and the lack of drama and mystery that surrounded the quarterback position last year, the 2009 season looks very optimistic.
The Packers will also have an easier strength of schedule this year, coming off their third place finish in the division. The NFC North may be a bit tougher this year, due to the addition of Jay Cutler to the Bears and the possibility of Favre coming out of retirement a second time to play for the Vikings.
All in all, it appears the Packers are on the right path to get back to the postseason. They have plenty of play-makers on both sides of the ball, and should be heading into the season fully confident in their quarterback after his productive first year.
Look for Rodgers to get his first postseason start this season.
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