The Green Bay Packers can feel the bull's eye on their back.
The preseason is in full swing and the Packers are gearing up to defend their title as Super Bowl champions. Every team on the Packers schedule has the game against Green Bay circled. There is almost no doubt that Green Bay will have 16 tough games during the regular season. I'm ranking the five most important Packers players that the team needs to repeat as Super Bowl champs.
These players just missed the list:
S Nick Collins
DT B.J. Raji
WR Greg Jennings
This spot was a tough call between S Nick Collins and Clifton.
Clifton is the Packers' aging left tackle. Responsible for protecting quarterback Aaron Rodgers blind side, Clifton plays one of the most important positions on the team. His play is still solid, even with his creaky knees. However, those knees won't hold up forever, and the Packers are taking somewhat of a risk relying on him this season.
If Clifton goes down long term, the depth behind him is questionable. There would likely be some shuffling around along the entire offensive line, with one or more players playing unnatural positions.
Clifton's health and performance is critical to ensure that the passing game stays top notch.
Some may argue that Finley is not all that crucial to the Packers considering they won the Super Bowl last year without him. While this is true, Finley's importance to the Packers offense cannot be overstated.
Although the offense did well in the playoffs, there were times during the regular season when the offense was bogged down and ineffective. Finley's absence was a huge blow to the passing game. Fortunately, adjustments were made and the offense got back on track in time.
The mismatches that Finley creates gives the Packers offense a whole new dimension. The offense changes dramatically when he is on the field. He will be Rodgers' go-to target this season as long as he stays healthy. If the Packers wish to repeat, Finley will need to be in good form.
The 2010 season was a breakout for Tramon Williams. The former undrafted cornerback came on in a big way for the Packers, coming up with six interceptions and often times covering the opposing team's best wide receiver.
Williams has overtaken Charles Woodson as the team's best cover corner. Woodson has lost a step and will turn 35 this season. If Williams was to go down with injury, it would be tough to ask Woodson to step back into the No. 1 cornerback role at this point in his career. In addition, the unique ways in which the Packers use Woodson in the defensive scheme would be altered greatly, as he would be moved to the outside.
Without Tramon Williams, the Packers secondary and defense would suffer as a whole.
The "Claymaker," as he is called in Green Bay, is an invaluable player for the Packers. His impact on the game is enormous, and the Packers defense is vastly different with him in the lineup. Matthews' relentless style of play is contagious, and he makes the players around him better.
Matthews' pass-rushing skills create havoc for offensive lines and quarterbacks. If Matthews were to go down, the Packers could not replace the pressure he creates on the outside. Without Matthews in the lineup, the Packers defense is taken a notch or two.
No surprise here. Although Matt Flynn showed last season that he is capable of being more than just a typical backup, he is not ready to lead a team to the Super Bowl.
If Rodgers were to go down with a season-ending injury, the Packers are still a playoff team. But I doubt they would reach the Super Bowl. Rodgers is the heart of the offense and a leader in the locker room. Without the Super Bowl MVP, the Packers would be hard-pressed to repeat as champions.
Rodgers is easily the Packers' most valuable player.