Green Bay Packers: 10 Bold Predictions for the 2011 NFL Season
Unlike last year, where they were believed to be a good, but not great, team entering the season, the Pack are going to get the best shots of every team they run into. They will be the biggest shark in the pool of NFL teams.
Luckily, all of the players who got injured over the course of last season (Ryan Grant, Jermichael Finley, Nick Barnett, etc.) are coming back healthy, which should improve a team that won a championship without some of their best players on the field.
With all of the talent at their disposal, this team has a chance to be one of the best in Green Bay history. With that, here are 10 bold (some very, others maybe not so much) predictions to watch for once the season gets underway.
The First Regular Season Game Will Not Be on September 8
The Packers are tentatively scheduled to get the regular season started on Thursday, September 8th against the New Orleans Saints at Lambeau Field. The key word is tentatively.
I'm not going to get into the details of the NFL Lockout that's been at the forefront of the news for the past couple months simply because I'm sick of it. However, the fact is there hasn't been much movement from the NFLPA and the owners in terms of their wants for the new collective bargaining agreement.
While I do feel a deal will eventually get done due to there being so much money on the table, there's no guarantee the season will actually start on time. Don't be surprised if the season ultimately gets pushed back a couple weeks.
Clay Matthews Will Take a Step Back
Getting my other negative prediction out of the way, Clay Matthews was an absolute monster last season. He recorded 60 tackles, 13.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and returned his only interception for a touchdown. He ended up finishing second in the Defensive Player of the Year voting to Troy Polomalu.
While I still believe this scary man will be a dominant force, I don't think his numbers will show it. I expect almost all teams to focus their entire pass protection on him, and probably double team him.
With the other outside linebackers position encompassing the unproven, but solid trio of Frank Zombo, Brad Jones and Erik Walden, opponents will force those guys to beat them from the outside.
Considering those three combined to record seven sacks last season, they're going to need to step up their game in order for teams to not double team the Trojan God every time he rushes the QB.
James Starks Will Be the Starting Running Back
Before the season started, no one knew who James Starks was, except for a few diehard Buffalo Bulls fans.
By the time the regular season ended, he had become noticed after getting some playing time in the final weeks of the season.
Once the postseason was over, Starks had become the team's top rusher, totaling 315 yards in the playoffs along with a touchdown.
Now, the team's starting running back for the past few seasons, Ryan Grant, will be healthy after suffering a season-ending injury in week 1 of the regular season. Grant surpassed 1,200 yards in 2008 and 2009.
However, the NFL has always been a league with the mantra of "what have you done for me lately," and Starks was the guy in the backfield who helped the Packers win the championship.
I think Grant will definitely get carries and become the reliable second running back most teams are now using, but Starks will start. Should the new guy falter or get injured, then having a guy who recorded back-to-back 1,200 yard seasons as the replacement would be something most teams would kill to possess.
Jermichael Finley Will Score at Least 10 Touchdowns
Easily the most dynamic receiver the Packers have on their roster, Jermichael Finley was a matchup nightmare for opponents last season before he got injured in week 5. Being 6-foot-5, 250 pounds and faster than most linebackers will do that.
Now healthy, Finley should again be a fixture in the Packers' dominant passing game.
In the red zone, look for GB to look for Finley matched up against a smaller defender and to simply throw a jump ball to him. With his height, he'll win most of those battles. Regardless of how they use him, look for Finley to be the first option inside the red zone when Rodgers drops back.
Jordy Nelson Will Have over 1,000 Receiving Yards
Jordy Nelson has gradually become more of a focal point in the passing game ever since he was drafted by the team in 2008. Last year, he recorded career highs in receptions (45) and yards (582).
In the Super Bowl, he was the leading receiver, as he exploded for nine receptions, 140 yards and a touchdown.
As you can see from the title, I expect his role to become even larger this season. My main reason for this is that Donald Driver is now 36-years-old and is in the last few years of his career, and I don't expect the Packers to bring back James Jones.
That opens the door for Nelson to entrench himself as the No. 2 wideout opposite Greg Jennings. We all know that Aaron Rodgers likes to distribute the ball to many receivers, but I expect Nelson to become his go-to-guy on third down situations, similar to the relationship Tom Brady and Wes Welker have, but probably not as potent.
Nelson proved he could be a star on the big stage, now it's time for him to do it every week.
Bryan Bulaga Will Be an All-Pro Tackle
The first-round pick last year certainly lived up to the hype in his rookie season. Filling in for both Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher, Bulaga helped stabilize the offensive line through those injuries and kept Aaron Rodgers upright.
With both Clifton and Tauscher getting up there in age (34 and 33, respectively), Bulaga should start at one of the tackle positions.
Because so much focus will be on the Packers, and specifically, Aaron Rodgers, Bulaga will have numerous opportunities to showcase to the world his ability to stop linebackers and defensive ends from getting to the quarterback.
If Rodgers has the kind of year he's capable of (more on this next slide), much of the credit will fall on the offensive line, and specifically, the tackles.
I will admit that I doubt Bulaga will make the All-Pro team—these are called bold predictions for a reason.
Aaron Rodgers Will Win the MVP
Perfect transition, I know. No need for applause.
For better or worse, the MVP award typically goes to a signal caller. In the last 10 seasons, a quarterback has won the award eight times.
This season, Rodgers arguably has the best supporting cast of any quarterback in the league, which means he could put up some scary numbers. The tandem of Ryan Grant and James Starks may slightly diminish his numbers as it would be idiotic to not give those two the ball regularly, but Rodgers is without question THE guy.
He'll have one of the deepest receiving units in the league, along with a matchup nightmare at tight end. The offensive line should also be solid, especially with the addition of first round pick Derek Sherrod to provide depth.
As the defending Super Bowl MVP, winning the regular season version the year after would be fitting.
Green Bay Will Win 13 Games
Now we move on to team predictions. Last season, the Packers won 10 games in the regular season and 11 the year before.
As I've already mentioned, this team should be one of the more talented squads in team history.
Nothing against the NFC North, but I don't see them losing more than a game in their division, though Detroit scares me a little, and the defenses in Chicago and Minnesota are solid. I just don't think the quarterbacks for those three teams are good enough to put up enough points.
At worst, I see the Pack splitting those four tough non-divisional games and then losing a game in their division. That leaves them with 13 wins on the season, with the potential for 14 victories if lady luck is on their side.
The Packers Will Go Undefeated at Home
Lambeau Field is one of the more storied buildings in all of sports, let alone just the NFL. It's up there with Fenway Park, Wrigley Field and Madison Square Garden in the pantheon of sporting venues.
What better way to celebrate a fourth Super Bowl than for the Packers to not lose a game at home. It's something that's definitely realistic.
Of those teams, New Orleans is the only one that scares me at all, simply because it will be the first game, and they're a high-quality opponent. If the Packers are able to get by them, it should be smooth sailing the rest of the way.
Green Bay Will Win the NFC North
The only thing that would've made last season better is if the Packers had won the NFC North in the process, instead of having to make it into the playoffs via the Wild Card. Granted, there's no reason to complain, considering how the season ultimately concluded.
The Packers are clearly the most talented team in the division, particularly offensively. The trio of opposing quarterbacks in Matthew Stafford, Jay Cutler and either Tarvaris Jackson or Christian Ponder does not exactly strike fear in the hearts of defenses the way Aaron Rodgers does.
Sure, the Bears have a stout defense, the Vikings have Adrian Peterson and the Lions have a young, up-and-coming team, but neither is as well-rounded as the Packers. Because of this, and my thought that they'll win 13 games, the Packers have no reason not to win the division, barring numerous injuries.
So, if you're looking for my final result of the season, I have them winning 13 games and their division, meaning they're pretty much guaranteed a top two seed.
I've always viewed the playoffs as a crap-shoot once they start, so I refuse to predict who comes out of the NFC, but I will say that I expect the Packers to be the favorite once they get started.