Now that the season is officially over for all NFL teams and the congratulations due to “Who Dat Nation” have been extended, the time has come to look ahead. As history says, “The King is Dead, long Live the King” and a new coronation process begins, or the Pope dies and the new conclave begins...you get the picture.
I will present five negatives of the Packers 2009 season and the league 2010 season that make them more dangerous for 2010, in no particular order. I will also primarily compare them to the rest of the upper echelon of the NFC.
First is the injury situation. As one compares the six NFC Playoff teams from 2009, Vikings had one player on IR, Cowboys had two on IR, Eagles had five, and the Cards and Saints eight while the Packers had 10. At season end, this may seem insignificant, except for the fact that it allows teams to carry an extra player on contract for each player on the IR.
Whom the players are and the odds of them rebounding to form is another matter and one which could spark a whole realm of debate. The fact is, going into Free Agency, the Packers simply have an extra few players. For teams already in the playoffs this could be a small advantage.
Second is the CBA expiring, part A. This affects the final eight teams in the playoffs...here really was a silver lining in the black cloud loss in Arizona! The top eight teams, four in each conference cannot sign Free Agents from other teams until they lose Free Agents of their own.
Even then there is the “greater value” rider which just makes it a lot easier for the Packers and Eagles to proceed in Free Agency than the four teams in the conference semis. Big advantage, but we have Thompson whom has rarely made big splashes in that pool. Maybe just a modest advantage but an advantage nonetheless.
Third is the CBA expiring, part B. This affects the Free Agent time on the roster, and the “Tags” teams have to apply. With the years in the league now required for UFA to be six, up from four, the Packers' true Free Agents list stands at four Clifton, Tauscher, Pickett, and Kampman.
Cowboys, Vikings, and Eagles each only have one, but the most significant of those is the Vikings Chester Taylor. A very valuable piece to lose, but not worth the salary cost of a “Tag.” Cowboys and Eagles were benefited nearly as much as the Packers.
Saints and Cardinals are the ones whom are the most negatively affected. Saints have five unrestricteds, Miller, Clancy, Fujita, Sharper and Hartley. Four were significant contributors, and none still retain adequate value to use a tag on.
The team most hurt has to be the Cardinals. Six unrestricted include Gandy, Okefor, Dansby, Berry, Brown and Rackers. With Warner retiring this team also looks like it could also lose a huge portion of their Defense. They are clearly the hardest hit. The Packers have the ability should the requirement arise to Tag Pickett, the biggest potential loss to any of these teams.
Cardinals and Saints will very likely lose significant parts they cannot replace until they have players actually signed by another team. Big advantage Eagles and Packers.
Fourth is system instability. All the other five NFC playoff teams maintained pretty much the systems and coaching staffs from the previous season. The Packers had a complete makeover on the Defensive side of the ball, from coaching staff, to the conversion to a 3-4 system, to a significant number of starting players.
Even amidst this transition the Defense improved from the previous version. A year of stability should move them up the pecking order of the already upper echelon.
The fifth and really the most important disadvantage turned advantage is team age. The most significant part of the team age is at the most critical position. While all of these teams will have a few old guys looking to go out in retirement, most have transition players in place, or will have the ability to go after youth. Only one of the playoff teams had a young QB in 2009.
Arizona and Minnesota had QB at 39 and 40, with many years starting and clearly not looking to have any chance of improvement for 2010, if either even returns.
Philly has McNabb, at 33 with more than 10 years in the league it is hard to see any further improvement and a high probability of regression. Dallas has Romo whom at 30 and five years starting should be about as good as it gets. Begs the question, will he ever be good enough? The Saints have Brees 31, seven-year starter, fourth with this team, and the heart and soul of his team.
As good as it gets (sorry Dallas). The Saints are the only team whom can hardly hope for more from their QB position, and an expected repeat would leave them in an enviable position. This leaves the Packers, who started the youngest least experienced QB. Rodgers held the ball too long on occasion and took too many sacks.
His maturation over this season, even including his first trip to the Pro Bowl and to the playoffs only adds valuable experience and confidence.
Entering his third season as a starter in 2010, surrounded by arguably the youngest and deepest offense to surround him, this is the only NFC playoff team with a high probability of IMPROVED QB play.
With all the other advantages, however modest, the one advantage shared by this year’s Champion Saints and next year’s Champion Packers is having an ELITE QB near the pinnacle of their career. I can see the Saints and Packers as 2010 Co-Favorites at this early stage.
The little advantages from one to four are why I can see the Packers gaining on the Saints. How many NFC team repeat Super Bowl trips were there in the decade? Advantage Packers.
I have perhaps an unfounded faith in Thompson to find the few missing parts from the 2009 version. I believe the overall maturity of the team on Defense and Special Teams will lead to less breakdowns.
I see a regression in the only team in the division whom could prevent the type of record that gains a home-field advantage for 2010 playoffs. Call me a crazy homer, but you now have my first projection for 2010...Packers find a way to beat Who Dat and go to the big one next year.