The Green Bay Packers were predicted to be one of the true Super Bowl contenders and were considered to be a strong candidate to repeat. All this despite the fact that the Packers—and Rodgers specifically—were criticized for not holding offseason workouts.
It was clear on Thursday, the Packers didn't need the extra practice. This Packers team may go down as one of the most explosive offenses of all time. Even better than the record-setting 2007 New England Patriots that were led by Tom Brady.
The Green Bay Packers are one of two teams (the Pittsburgh Steelers being the other) that played up until the last week of the season.
There is always the risk of a team not getting enough rest with playing that extra month of football.
Combine that with the intensity with which playoff football is played, and it would seem that teams would fare better with some time off.
The offseason lockout may have been the best thing for a team like the Packers.
They got a complete break from football to recharge their batteries.
That being said, the 2007 Patriots lost to the Indianapolis Colts in the Conference Championship in 2006. They proceeded to have a full offseason with OTAs and two-a-days and then go 16-0. So that might pop a hole in that theory.
I would take my chances on the well-rested team.
That about sums up the Patriots running game in 2007.
The Patriots went to running back by committee earlier than most teams.
They started Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk or Maroney at different times during the season. No one broke out, but in New England, the decision for who starts seems to be fairly arbitrary.
While Maroney at least had a respectable season, it certainly was not the season you would expect from a lead running back.
The Packers are throwing out two running backs—James Starks and Ryan Grant.
Grant is still coming back from last season's injury. James Starks was a breakout star from the Super Bowl. Both should see equal time.
While the Packers certainly did not pound it on the ground last week, they certainly made the most of their carries. Grant and Starks both averaged more than four yards per carry.
All three Patriots backs averaged 4.5 yards per carry or worse—and that was after playing some of the scrub teams.
The Packers have already faced one of their toughest opponents in the Saints, and they proved they could get it done on the ground with either Starks or Grant.
Look for that continued balanced attack this season.
This might be the hardest sell, so here we go.
The Patriots had three Pro Bowl defenders on their roster and two All-Pros. The Packers have similar stars on the defensive side of the ball.
The Patriots team was never meant to shut teams out—it was geared toward outscoring opponents such as the high-scoring Indianapolis Colts, who were one season removed from Peyton Manning's 49-touchdown season.
The Patriots never allowed more than 400 yards total defense, and in only six instances did a team rush for more than 100 yards.
The Patriots still had four games decided by four points or less, though, meaning they allowed it to stay close.
The Packers were picked apart by Drew Brees. He lit them up for 419 yards. He did so on 49 attempts, though, and on 32 completions.
So, while the yardage looks impressive, the Saints spent the entire time playing catch-up. The easiest way to do that in the NFL, is through the air.
The Packers only gave up 81 yards total on the ground. That trend will continue.
That is even better news considering how great the Saints' rushing game was supposed to be with Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles. Only Thomas was truly effective.
Expect a defense led by Clay Matthews, B.J. Raji, Charles Woodson, Nick Collins and Tramon Williams to get better as the season rolls on.
To be clear, the Packers do not have a 23-touchdown receiver on the roster.
Greg Jennings, the Packers top receiver, is no Randy Moss. Then again, the Packers do not need him to be.
The Patriots had Randy Moss and Wes Welker, and then a significant drop in talent. Their third-best receiver was Donte Stallworth, followed by Jabar Gaffney.
The Packers are much deeper than that team.
Greg Jennings is the top receiver on the Packers and one of the top 10 receivers in the NFL, arguably.
He is nowhere near the level of Randy Moss, but the Packers have better depth at two through five.
Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson. Randall Cobb and James Jones combined are a better unit than Wes Welker, Jabar Gaffney and Donte Stallworth.
The Patriots were so reliant on their top two receivers that if either would have been injured, it would have been detrimental to the season. Not so with the Packers.
The Packers can run any type of formation and run it well.
They can go spread with five receivers or have two tight end packages that work. The flexibility in the offense, because of the depth at receiver, is something that makes this offense very dangerous.
At this point it is basically speculative, since Jermichael Finley has been injured most of his career, but the Packers seem to have the Patriots beat here, too.
The Patriots started Ben Watson at tight end.
While having a solid career, he is by no means a top-flight tight end.
Finley, however, is a top tight end. He has shown great hands and the ability to get open—two attributes critical to a tight end in the passing game.
Watson and Kyle Brady combined for 459 yards and six touchdowns in 2007. Through five games last season, Finley had 300 yards and a touchdown.
In 13 games in 2009, Finley had almost 700 yards and five touchdowns.
By himself, Finely outproduced the Patriots tight ends.
With 53 yards in the season opener, Finley should easily get to 800 yards. With Aaron Rodgers at the helm, there is no way some of those end-zone celebrations are not done by Finley.
In terms of overall talent, both were fairly equal.
The Patriots had eight Pro Bowlers selected, including Tom Brady, Randy Moss, Matt Light, Logan Mankins, Dan Koppen, Vince Wilfork, Mike Vrabel and Asante Samuel.
Of those selected, four were selected to the All-Pro team. Brady, Moss, Vrabel and Samuel all received that honor.
It is easy to point to the talent on the Packers.
While four All-Pro's may be a lofty goal, it certainly is not unreachable. The Packers have Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers, Greg Jennings, Jermichael Finley, Ryan Grant, Chad Clifton and Brian Bulaga all on the offensive side of the ball who could make the Pro Bowl (even I agree that Grant making the Pro Bowl is a stretch, but it could happen).
The defense is even more talented.
The Packers have three legitimate studs in Clay Matthews, B.J. Raji and Charles Woodson. On top of that, A.J. Hawk, Ryan Pickett, Tramon Williams and Nick Collins are all candidates for the Pro Bowl.
Randall Cobb showed tremendous explosiveness in his first game, as well. Mason Crosby is a top-flight kicker, too.
Rodgers and Matthews are locks for consideration on the Pro Bowl team. Woodson will likely receive the same as long as he plays at a similar level to the past few seasons.
Green Bay may have faced their best opponent all season in the New Orleans Saints.
The Packers match up against the NFC South and AFC West this season, and since they finished second in their division, they face St. Louis and the New York Giants.
Not exactly murderers' row.
The Packers let the Saints hang close and left it up to the last second before having the game in hand, but they looked in control of the game for the most part.
The Patriots, on the other hand, lived on the edge. New England had four games decided by four points or fewer.
Against the Colts and Ravens, the Patriots seemed to struggle. Tom Brady had a "pedestrian" line of 21/32 for 255 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions against Indianapolis. Joseph Addai tore up the Patriots with 114 yards and a touchdown.
Mr. Bundchen may have been outperformed by Kyle Boller against Baltimore. Brady went 18 for 38 with 257 yards and had two touchdowns and one interception. Boller, on the other hand, went 15 for 23 with 210 yards and two touchdowns and one interception.
Willis McGahee added in 138 yards rushing.
It is unlikely that the Packers allow that many close games with a far less intimidating schedule.
In the first game of the season, Brady and Rodgers had nearly identical days.
Rodgers threw for 312 yards on 27 completions. Brady threw for 297 on 22 completions. Both had three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Brady ended the season with five games with over 350 yards passing but none over 400. He generally did it against his better competition, too.
Brady also hit some lows, though.
He had his worst game of the season against the lowly New York Jets. He only managed 140 yards and no touchdowns.
Rodgers struggled last season against the Chicago Bears, a division rival and playoff team, and against a much-improved New York Jets team.
Outside of those three games—and not counting the Detroit game that he was knocked out of and the game he missed against the Patriots—Rodgers was magnificent.
Rodgers could have similar games all season to the one he put up against the Saints.
If 300 yards and three touchdowns are the average, Rodgers is on pace to throw for 4,800 yards and 48 touchdowns (that would also mean Cam Newton throws for 6,700 yards).
Rodgers has the ability and the team to get to those numbers. He just needs to stay consistent and injury-free—something that is easier said than done in the NFL.
Is16-0 in reach? It is—but it isn't likely.
It isn't even probable. It is possible, though.
The Packers are one of the most loaded teams to enter a season as Super Bowl champions in some time. Things need to fall in place for it to happen. Most of that rests on Aaron Rodgers' arm.
Rodgers is one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL, and with Peyton Manning out this season, he is definitely in the top three at his position.
It is unlikely that he breaks Tom Brady's touchdown record or sets the single-season passing yardage record, but he can get there.
The Packers are far more balanced than the 2007 New England Patriots. It will be exciting to see if that balance leads to the promise that those Patriots could not fulfill—an undefeated season.