As the Minnesota Vikings look to begin their quest towards Miami this Sunday, the Packers are left wondering what went wrong. Last weekend, we witnessed the NFL’s number two ranked defense get torn apart by Kurt Warner and the Arizona Cardinals. The Packers had no answer for Warner’s passing attack and they still don’t.
Cullen Jenkins, one of the Packers’ better defensive players, said “it was a shock” that the defense couldn’t turn it around. “It just, kind of, blew us away,” Jenkins said.
However, there is still much to be optimistic about in Packer Nation. After getting off to a slow 4–4 start, the Packers caught fire in the second half of the season, finishing 7-1 over their last eight games. With the second youngest roster in the NFL this past season, there is no reason to believe the Packers can’t duplicate or better their 2009 record of 11-5.
Good NFL teams all have one thing in common. Good quarterbacks. And the Packers have one of the best in Aaron Rodgers. When Brett Favre left the Packers after the 2007 season, many questioned whether the oft-injured Rodgers would be able to withstand starting an entire NFL season. Over the next two years, Rodgers proved his doubters wrong, starting 32 consecutive games while passing for 8,472 yards and 58 touchdowns. Aaron is already achieving things Favre never did in his illustrious 16-year career in Green Bay. However, next season, Rodgers will do something Favre did accomplish. Win an MVP.
No matter how good your quarterback is, it doesn’t hurt to have a good set of receivers and tight ends.
Coming into the 2009 season, Packer fans knew they had two great receivers in Donald Driver and Greg Jennings. They knew they had a decent target in tight end Donald Lee, who displayed flashes of brilliance during the Packers' 2007 run to the NFC Championship. And they knew they had two dependable slot receivers in James Jones and Jordy Nelson. What they didn’t know was that they had a one of the most versatile tight ends in the league in 6’5” second-year pro Jermichael Finley.
Finley’s incredible size and speed makes him a matchup nightmare for every team in the league. He’s too fast to be contained by linebackers and too big to be covered by defensive backs. By the end of the season, he truly looked unstoppable. In the Packers playoff game against the Cardinals, Finley gave possibly his best performance of the season. His 159 yards rank second-most for a tight end in a playoff game behind Kellen Winslow’s 171 yards for the San Diego Chargers in 1981. Keep in mind, Finley is only 22 years old and should have been catching passes from Colt McCoy this season as a senior at Texas.
With the combination of Driver, Jennings, Lee, Nelson, Jones, and the emergence of a future superstar in Jermichael Finley, the Packers boast possibly the most potent group of pass-catchers in the NFL. Add in 1,200 yard rusher Ryan Grant and an offensive line that is finally playing up to its potential, and the Packers offense could very well end up as the best in the NFL next year.
On defense, the Packers have reason for optimism as well. Green Bay went from being one of the doormats of the NFL in 2008 to the second-ranked overall defense in the league in 2009. Much of that success can be attributed to the hiring of Dom Capers and the implementation of his 3-4 scheme. History shows that Capers’ scheme has always had a tendency to make bad defenses look like good ones very quickly. He’s done it almost everywhere he’s gone. That fact, combined with the Packers’ defensive collapses against Minnesota (twice), Pittsburgh, and Arizona, leave some wondering whether the Packers’ defense was really as good as its number two ranking.
But the fact is that the Packers defense has some really good talent.
On the line, the Packers have three first round picks in Ryan Pickett, Justin Harrell, and BJ Raji. Also in the mix are Cullen Jenkins and Johnny Jolly, who both played at a very high level in 2009. At linebacker, the Packers have three first-rounders in Clay Matthews, AJ Hawk, and Nick Barnett, and a Pro Bowl talent in Aaron Kampman. In case you can’t do the math, that’s six first round draft picks in the Packers’ defensive front seven.
The Packers led the NFL with a plus-24 turnover margin due in large part to their ball-hawking secondary.
Mel Kiper Jr. claimed the Packers drafted Nick Collins too high when they picked him in the second round of the 2005 NFL draft. He couldn’t have been more wrong. Over the past two seasons, Collins has earned consecutive Pro Bowl invitations, cementing his place among the best safeties in the NFL. Along side him is the hard-hitting Atari Bigby, who returned to form in 2009 after a disappointing 2008 season. Then there’s the 2009 NFL Defensive MVP, Charles Woodson. Perhaps the most versatile defender in the league, Woodson is capable of terrorizing opposing offenses from any position.
With talented personnel at every position and another year in Capers’ scheme, the Packers’ defense will be a force once again in 2010. In addition to the current roster, look for the Packers to spend a first or second round pick on a cornerback to eventually replace the 35-year-old Al Harris.
With Favre’s future in Minnesota as uncertain as Favre’s future has been every year for the past decade, the only real competition for the Packers could very well be no competition at all. Without Brett at the helm, I fully expect the Packers to sweep the Vikings next year en route to a division title. Even if Brett returns for an encore in the Twin Cities next season, the Packers will be a different team than the one the Vikings beat up twice in 2009.
With Aaron Rodgers and Charles Woodson leading a cast of talented, young players finally reaching their potential, the Green Bay Packers will win the NFC North in 2010.
Here are my 2010 NFC North Predictions: