The Packers are back in the Playoffs and set to face Arizona again this week, and while they've played very well the last half of the season, a last-second touchdown away from winning eight in a row, there are some factors that could play into a Packers exit sooner than they'd hope.
First is experience.
Its no secret that for a few years now the Packers have had one of the youngest teams in the league. Twenty-one players on the active roster have no previous playoff experience, and many others don't have any significant postseason playing time. Barely twenty percent of the team has more than five years of experience, and while this may sometimes be blown out of proportion, it would be a shame if the team reacted to the big stage like a deer in the headlights and came out flat. This is a spot where the team might miss Al Harris and Aaron Kampman the most, but also where Ahman Green could be the most valuable.
The second factor would be leadership.
While this goes along with experience, this probably could be a bigger problem for the Packers. Many of the players that went to the 2007 NFC Championship Game are still with the team, but, in case you hadn't heard, Brett Favre is not. Now, regardless of how you feel about Aaron Rodgers abilities at quarterback, you cannot say that he is as much of a figurehead as Favre was/is. And that is something that the Packers really lack, the definite leader that most teams in the playoffs have. Just look around at the rest of the NFC, you have guys like Favre, Brees, McNabb, Romo, Warner, and I'm just not sure if you can put Rodgers in that league of leadership quite yet. Even on the defensive side of the ball, Woodson seems to be the only one guys can really turn to. Nick Barnett seems receptive to the idea, but I don't know if that's something he's earned yet. Maybe somebody will step up, but hopefully no toes get stepped on in the process.
One more thing that could drag the Packers down in the playoffs is something that has plagued them all year, which is penalties and stupid plays.
The Packers were the most penalized team in the NFL this year, and that is something that could be a huge problem in the postseason. But the thing that worries me the most is a boneheaded mistake, something that has hurt them at very inopportune times during the year. And while I wouldn't want to single anybody out, there are a few people I think might be prone to screwing up in an inexcusable fashion.
1. Jermichael Finley
Had a case of the drops this year and at times seems a bit spacey. But with his freakish athletic ability, the Pack definitely needs him to contribute.
2. Johnny Jolly
Got into fights at horrible times that hurt the team significantly (anyone recall his personal foul in the second Vikings game?).
3. Nickel and Dime DB's
Jarrett Bush has played better lately, but he was toasted routinely earlier in the year. Josh Bell has been playing well, but his lack of time with the team makes me nervous. Brandon Underwood and Trevor Ford are young and haven't shown much. This group needs to play well for the Packers to have a shot, especially against a good receiving group like that of the Cardinals.
If the Packers can build on the experience they have, find a crunch time leader to turn to, and limit their mental mistakes, they should be able to do well. And while that might be a lot to ask, it takes a lot to succeed in the playoffs.