Strong Preseason Makes Green Bay Look Like a Contender
Only one thing is certain when it comes to predicting how the NFL season: no one, not even the "experts," have a clue. There will always be the team that is the popular sleeper pick that goes nowhere, (e.g., last year's Browns or the Dolphins of two years ago, who were picked by Sports Illustrated to go to the Super Bowl just before embarking on their 1-15 campaign), and that team that was expect to go 4-12 that ends up winning their division or even making the Super Bowl.
Nevertheless, I have been asked to make a few predictions for Green Bay's year, and being the obliging gentleman that I am, I will do so.
First, we must take a look at some facts:
1. Green Bay's defense forced 13 turnovers in their first three preseason games, and the first team only allowed 10 points in that span.
2. Green Bay's first team offense scored 38 points in the first half against Arizona's first team defense.
3. Aaron Rodgers was top five in yardage and touchdown passes year, top 10 in completion percentage, and had better than a two to one touchdown to interception ratio.
4. Ryan Grant ran for over 1,200 yards in 2008, despite having a "down" year by most accounts.
5. Both Greg Jennings and Donald Driver caught over 70 passes for over 1,000 yards last season.
6. Dom Capers, the new defensive coordinator, has had a top 10 defense in his first year with every new team he's coached for in recent memory.
Taking all these factors into account, it is hard not to be optimistic about this year. Next, you have to look at the schedule.
First, the divisional games:
Brett looked good in his game against Houston, but he didn't do the one thing I think he needed to: complete a long pass down the field. He threw two passes that qualified; the first was the pass to the corner of the end zone that seemed to be alligator-armed by the receiver, the second he overthrew his man by a good five yards.
It's obvious that the focal point of Minnesota's offense will be Adrian Peterson, and when teams start moving the secondary up to play the run, they will risk giving up the deep pass.
Brett's long range accuracy has been slowly deteriorating over the past few years, and if he can't make teams pay when they stack the box, Minnesota will struggle to have a good year, even with their quality defense and running game. Since I believe that will be the case, I think that the Packers will likely split their two games with Minnesota.
Chicago also has a new quarterback in Jay Cutler, who ironically was called "the next Brett Favre" when he was drafted. Many people, including Peter King of Sports Illustrated, think that the Bears are a playoff team this year.
While I agree that Cutler, when combined with last year's rookie sensation Matt Forte, make Chicago's offense far more formidable, the facts remain that a) their first string wide out is a kick returner who had only three touchdowns and about 650 yards last year, neither of which I find overwhelming. And b) that their defense is getting older by the year, with Lance Briggs being the only member that doesn't seem to be affected. I predict a minimum of one win against Chicago, probably two.
The Lions didn't win a game last year, and while I don't expect a repeat performance, the modest improvement they are likely to see will not be enough. Two wins on the board.
In addition, the Packers play the entirety of two divisions.
First, the NFC West. The Cardinals are the only team with a winning record from the division at 9-7, but they did make it all the way to Super Bowl XLIII from there. Since Green Bay plays them on the road, I'm going to count that game as a loss.
The Seahawks are a threat with Hasselbeck at the helm, but even if he's healthy, I have trouble envisioning them coming into Lambeau in late December in likely poor conditions and winning a game with either Julius Jones or Edgerrin James at half back, Jim Mora Jr. at head coach instead of Mike Holmgren, and Julian Peterson, their best defensive player last year, in Detroit. Count the win.
Apart from Stephen Jackson, the Rams are a complete mess, and Rodgers isn't the dome-a-phobe that Favre was. Put it on the board.
I love Mike Singletary as a coach, but it is tough to win in this league without a quality quarterback, and Shaun Hill has only proved that he's better than quarter-bust extraordinaire Alex Smith. Add that it's a home game, and I'm counting it as a W.
The AFC North looks a little different from the NFC West. True, like the NFC West, the AFC North has a team that was in the Super Bowl last year, and that again Green Bay plays that team on the road, and again I'm going to count the game as a loss. But that's about where the similarities end.
The Ravens looked solid on defense and, for the first time in a while, adequate on offense under rookie signal-caller Joe Flacco last year. True, it's a home December game, which normally means Green Bay has the advantage. But I think that between their defense and the three-headed monster of Ray Rice, Willis McGahee, and Le'Ron McClain running the football, Baltimore can win in the Frozen Tundra. Count it as an L.
The Browns won 10 games two seasons ago, but that seems far away now. A new coach, an undecided quarterback situation, an aging Jamal Lewis at half back, Kellen Winslow in Tampa, and stone-handed Braylon Edwards at wide-out won't add up to much this season. I predict yet another win.
To say that the Bengals can be very dangerous if Carson Palmer's healthy is the same as saying, "The Bengals can be very dangerous if you don't take into account reality." Green Bay gets Cincinnati in Week Two, so he may still be playing, but even so, I believe the Packers' defense will get more stops than Cincinnati's. Another W on the board.
Finally, Green Bay plays the two teams in their conference in the divisions they are not playing the entirety of who finished in the same position in their respective divisions as the Packers did (I wish there was a simpler way to explain that. Suffice it to say, since Green Bay finished third in the NFC North last year, they play the two teams that finished third in the NFC South and the NFC East last year, since they are playing the entirety of the NFC West).
The NFC South team is Tampa Bay, whom we play on the road. However, given how that team has looked in the preseason, I think that a win is likely.
If the Packers were going into Dallas, I don't think they would come out with a win. However, this game is at home, so while I believe it to be a close matchup, I will give the nod to Green Bay again.
All told, if Green Bay plays to expectations, they should win 11 or 12 games this year. That being said, I don't think I've ever seen them play to expectations (they're usually a few games over or under), so that number must, as with all preseason predictions, be taken with a grain of salt.
One thing I'm fairly certain of: for the first time the NFC North looks like it has three teams that can make the playoffs, and it'll be very interesting to find out how many of them do.
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