Now, normally I hate making out and out predictions and telling people to ‘take it to the bank.’ It is a rarity that I feel something that much of a sure thing. Right now though, is one of those rare moments where I tell you to ‘take it to the bank’:
The 2009 Green Bay Packers are going to the playoffs.
I’m not going to go and assign them a record or predict how far they go in the playoffs. Let’s wait for the team to make it first. However, I think it is a near certainty that the Packers make the postseason this year.
Why such confidence? First, the team lost seven games by four points or fewer in 2008. To go 0-for-7 in close games like that is a rarity in the NFL and one has to think because of the law of averages, the Packers have to fare better in 2009.
Speaking of those close losses, one of the big reasons for those was that the defense couldn’t maintain a lead to save their lives. With new defensive coordinator Dom Capers bringing his aggressive 3-4 scheme to town, and judging by the unit’s performance in the preseason, one has to believe that the inability to maintain a lead will not be as severe an issue this season.
Aaron Kampman made a much quicker and smoother transition to linebacker and with the addition of big man B.J. Raji, the Packers should have no trouble generating turnovers, as has been evident throughout the preseason.
The inability to close out close games also falls on the lap of QB Aaron Rodgers. Despite an outstanding season statistically in 2008 as a first year starter, the most common critique of Rodgers last season was that he could not win games in the closing minutes.
Now to be fair, Rodgers himself has publicly taken the blame for those close losses, even though the defense deserved its share of the blame as well. You know Mike McCarthy and Rodgers worked intensely on the two minute drill in the team’s off-season ‘quarterback school’ as well as into mini-camp and training camp. Rodgers should be much better in this area in 2009.
Another reason why the Packers have such a great chance of making the playoffs ironically comes from what was likely their greatest distraction from last season: former QB Brett Favre.
When McCarthy and Rodgers say that the two Viking games this year will be like any other game, they are lying. This team will be fired up on October 5 and November 1. In making his return to the NFL with the Vikings, Favre is intent on sticking it to Ted Thompson and showing that he made the wrong decision in trading him to the Jets, even with Favre publicly denying that is reason he came back.
Favre thinks the Packers can’t survive without him, and he is likely to learn that no man is above the team even when the head coach bends over backwards to accommodate you (I’m looking at you, Brad Childress). Sweeping the Vikings would go a long way towards the Packers’ playoff hopes, and this year the pressure is squarely on Favre, not the Packers.
Advantage: Green Bay.
The Packers have a very favorable early schedule. Should they need to work out any last minute kinks in the new defense, the Packers face some fairly weak opponents (Chicago aside) in the first seven games of the season. Jumping out to a 5-2 or a 6-1 start will benefit the Packers greatly as the schedule gets tougher down the stretch.
Also, despite an unusually early bye in Week Five, the Packers get what basically amounts to a second bye week between weeks 12 and 13 thanks to playing on Thanksgiving in Detroit on November 26 and then not having another game until December 7 at home against Baltimore.
This allows the team to break the season down into stretches of four, seven and five games each. While it’s not the same as breaking the season down into four quarters, it will still help the trainers with any injuries the team will face during the 2009 campaign.
Again, while there are no guarantees in the NFL season, the Packers have shown enough this season that even the worst betting man on the planet would place strong odds on the Packers making a return to the postseason this year and still hit pay dirt. Don’t do that though. Unless you are in Delaware.