When you're one of the most storied franchises in the NFL and possess one of the elite quarterbacks in the game, the expectations are always going to be high going into a season. However, this year they seem a little bit higher for the Green Bay Packers.
Maybe this is because they finally drafted a major position of need in the first round with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. It could also be that their offense is the most balanced it's been in years.
While it's easy to get carried away with how good this team could potentially become, it's also important to keep honest expectations in mind. There's nothing worse than setting lofty goals that are simply too difficult to reach.
So, instead of simply saying the Packers might be good or bad, we've decided to give an in-depth look at what the ceiling and floor realistically are for the Packers. We'll look at the overall roster to determine just how great and how terrible Green Bay could be in 2014.
Since it's no fun to deal with injuries, we'll conclude that all key players stay healthy for all 16 games.
Let's just get this out of the way: The Packers really do have a legitimate chance at winning the Super Bowl this year. That's their ultimate ceiling.
Of course, that's a legitimate ceiling any year when you're rolling Aaron Rodgers out onto the field as a quarterback. However, this year feels different for Rodgers and the offense.
For starters, Rodgers has more help in the backfield than he's ever had. Second-year running back Eddie Lacy is coming off a stellar rookie season that saw him rush for over 1,100 yards to go along with 11 touchdowns. Lacy's joined by a deep group of backup running backs who are led by James Starks.
What the ground game will ultimately do is take pressure off Rodgers and keep opposing defenses honest. That's great news for Rodgers, who potentially has his most talented group of receivers to work with.
It all starts with Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. They are two of the most dangerous receivers in the game with the ball in their hands, and both should see plenty of opportunities this year. The players behind Cobb and Nelson on the depth chart also bring great potential and youth. They're led by Jarrett Boykin and rookie Davante Adams.
Then there are the tight ends who'll be another receiving option for Rodgers. While no clear starter has been separated from the pack, a player might have emerged as the leader during OTAs and minicamp. That player is rookie Richard Rodgers. This is what ESPN's Rob Demovsky had to say about the possibility of Rodgers starting:
If organized team activities and minicamp are any indication -- and considering they are practices in shorts and helmets, they may not be -- it would appear rookie Richard Rodgers might have the inside track. His size (6-foot-4, 257 pounds) and athleticism stood out during the offseason practices. At least once a practice, he made an eye-catching play in the passing game, and coach Mike McCarthy said of Rodgers at the conclusion of minicamp this week that 'if there was one thing that jumped off for a rookie in the offseason program, I would say he was very productive.'
If Rodgers can continue to impress and develop quickly, he'll be just another weapon for one of the best quarterbacks in the game.
Defensively, the Packers have to feel good overall about the way they improved their defense. It all started on draft night with the selection of Clinton-Dix. He was one of the premier safety prospects available in this year's draft and should be able to help from day one.
However, the Packers aren't simply going to hand over the job to Clinton-Dix without him earning it:
The fact that Hyde is starting over the rookie shouldn't be read too deeply into, however. Green Bay has said all offseason long that it wants Hyde to see the field more, so this is just getting him more reps at a new position.
Another reason the Packers can be optimistic about their defense is due to the signing of Julius Peppers. While he had a down year last season for the Chicago Bears, he should still be able to make an impact in Green Bay, even if it's just by taking some pressure off All-Pro outside linebacker Clay Matthews.
As long as the defense can improve from last year, there's no reason for the Packers not to be one of the best teams in the league week-in, week-out. With a potent offense leading the way, don't be surprised if Green Bay wins 12-plus games, wins the NFC North and brings the Lombardi Trophy home to its rightful owner.
Predicting what the floor is for the Packers is a little trickier than predicting the ceiling. Since we are assuming everyone remains healthy, it's hard to see the floor being really low for this team.
However, there are some issues on both sides of the ball that need to get figured out. The biggest one starts with the defense. Last year, the defense was one of the worst in the NFL. Just take a look at the grades below from Pro Football Focus (subscription required):
|Packers Defensive Grades|
|Defensive Category||Grade||NFL Rank|
|Source: Pro Football Focus|
The Packers defense ranked near the bottom of the league in every facet of defense. Two new players will have a hard time improving a defense that was so bad last year.
There's also the potential for problems at center with J.C. Tretter, the expected starter, who never played a snap at that position in his entire football career. Tretter was a tight end in high school before playing offensive tackle in college. With that said, the Packers still feel confident Tretter is ready to start, according to Tom Oates of the Wisconsin State Journal.
So, if Tretter struggles due to inexperience and the defense doesn't improve, we could see the Packers have difficulties winning close games.
A look at the schedule shows that games against the Seattle Seahawks, New Orleans Saints, Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots all look like potential loss games. Throw in the improvements in the NFC North as a whole, and it's not hard to see the Packers only winning eight or nine games this year.
While there's definitely a chance the Packers hit their floor this year, there's no doubt they are closer to their ceiling right now than their floor.
They should be the favorites to win their division again due to their explosive offense and improving defense. The toughest part about reaching their ceiling will be making it through the playoffs due to the incredible talent and depth in the NFC this year, specifically in the NFC West.
However, Green Bay has definitely closed the gap on talent with the best teams in the NFC, so seeing the Packers go all the way to the Super Bowl isn't too hard to imagine at all.