Coming off a victory in Super Bowl XLV, the Green Bay Packers will have an interesting road ahead of them in their quest to repeat in 2011. With an offense that has gained plenty of weapons through the draft, to a defense that has lost some veteran players through free agency, the 2011 Packers are a different team, and will be taking a different path to get back to the big game. Here are 10 predictions for how the 2011 season will go for the Packers.
The Thursday Night Opener will probably be one of the most intriguing games for the Packers' 2011 season. Like the Packers, New Orleans is touted for having an explosive offense, with Drew Brees at the helm. However, the Saints defense, although greatly improved from 3 years ago, has been susceptible to giving up big plays.
I predict that although the Saints will put up points, the Packers defense will find a way to shut down the Saints at the most important time, and the Packers will win in a close one, 24-21.
The Packers meet the Bears again on Week 3 of the season, and the Bears will be responsible for delivering the first blow to Green Bay. The Bears have been known for playing the Packers tough, and the Packers offense sometimes struggles against the stout Bears defense. It will be another close battle, but the Bears, wanting vengeance on losing the NFC Championship game to Green Bay, will take down the Packers on Week 3.
Although WIll Blackmon returned a few punts for a touchdown back in the day, it has been 10 years since the Packers have returned a kickoff for a touchdown. However, this year, the streak will finally end. In Atlanta on Sunday night, new return specialist Randall Cobb will return a kickoff for a touchdown.
Even if it doesn't happen in Atlanta, I do think this will happen at some point in the season. Cobb is a versatile player and a gifted return man, and with the Packers making an effort to improve their special teams in the offseason, this could be the year the Packers finally have a reliable special teams, with a reliable kick returner.
In his time with the Packers, Mason Crosby has not had many opportunities to make the big-time, game-winning field goal, and everytime he's had the chance, it hasn't worked out. Two years ago in Chicago, his kick was blocked, and last year, in Washington, the ball bounced off the goal post.
This year, however, Crosby will prove that he was worth the salary that the Packers paid him, and not only will he have a great season, but he will make a game-winning field goal, in Week 9 against the San Diego Chargers.
Although in 2009 the Vikings swept the Packers, the Packers have played very well against the Vikings under Mike McCarthy. Even in the games in which the Vikings have won, the Packers were very close behind, and had a chance to win.
Last year, the Vikings were swept by the Packers, but much of this was due to a disastrous season the Vikings had in 2010. However, last season hinted at some larger problems the Vikings may be beginning to face.
The Vikings are an aging team, especially in their defensive line, and their window to a championship is quickly closing. Their offense is not as prolific as it was in 2009, with the losses of Sidney Rice and Brett Favre. I think although the Vikings will play better in 2011, the Packers are the better team, and the Vikings will be swept by the Packers again in 2011.
This will be another hard one to swallow for Packers fans, who lost to the Lions 7-3 last year. Unlike the Vikings, the Lions are an improving team, particularly on their defensive side of the ball, and in 2011, they will contend with the Packers and the Bears for the division.
On Thanksgiving, the Packers will be visiting the Lions, and while in recent history, the Packers have gotten the best of the Lions on Thanksgiving, the Lions will get a Thanksgiving Day win, their first in a long time.
For the last two years, the Packers have played their best football at the end of the season, and it will be no different here. After the Lions loss, the Packers will go on a 5-game winning streak to close out the season. They will beat the Giants, Raiders, Chiefs, Bears, and Lions to close out the season.
All these games in my opinion are very winnable for the Packers; the Giants are a team that struggles at the end of the season, and the Packers got the best of them last year, 45-17, and the Raiders and Chiefs are both teams that may be improving, but the Packers could easily beat, especially if they are riding high on momentum.
And while the Packers may lose on Thanksgiving, they will not lose on Christmas against the Bears. With them closing out the season with 2 games in Lambeau Field, I see them closing out the season with two wins at home like last season.
With a 12-4 record (with losses to the Bears, Falcons, Buccaneers, and Lions), the Packers will win the NFC North division easily. After a solid season last year, the Bears will fall to a 9-7 record, while the still improving Lions will make it to 8-8. The Vikings will improve but struggle to 8-8, as well.
The Packers will earn the Number 2 seed in the NFC, with the Number 1 seed going to Philadelphia, and will be bound for another playoff run.
One question many Packers fans may have is the health of Aaron Rodgers after getting two concussions last year. However, with the combination of a new helmet, and simply being more careful on the field, Rodgers will avoid getting any concussions in 2011, and will start all 16 games of the Packers, proving skeptics on his injury proneness wrong.
The Packers are not a team that chokes in the playoffs; they proved that last year with an incredible 4-game run to the Super Bowl. However, it is difficult for any team to make a repeat run to the Super Bowl, as there are many other teams in the NFC that could get hot like the Packers did the year before and make a run, as well.
I predict the Packers will make a very strong run next year, and will at least return to the NFC title game, proving that they can overcome the "Super Bowl hangover" that sometimes plagues other teams.