2012 NFC North Preview: Green Bay Packers
Projected 2012 Finish: 1st NFC North
Projected 2012 Record: 13-3
2011 Record: 15-1
For Packer fans holding their breath expecting another 15 win season, you better exhale. Winning games in the NFL is hard and the odds of going 15-1 are pretty long. But the odds of going 15-1 during the regular season with a defense that gives up the most yards, are astronomical. Don't expect the Packers offense to put up 2011 numbers. The offense will surely rely on field position and defense some games in 2012 and the front office did not do anything outstanding to show me their defense has dramatically changed from a season ago.
All that being said, the offense has a lot of weapons and it doesn't hurt that the reigning MVP is under center. As long as the defense holds its ground more times than not, Green Bay is in for a repeat division title.
The 2011 MVP is at the beginning of his prime. That's a scary thought for defensive coordinators around the league. Aaron Rodgers set franchise records for TDs and passing YDs in a single season. He also had posted a QBR of 122.5, FOR THE ENTIRE SEASON! And if he wasn't held out of the week 17 aerial display against Detroit he would have significantly added to his 45 TDs and 4,643 YDs passing. Look for Rodgers to have another MVP caliber year, especially with the receiving corps he has to work with.
The lack of a running game should scare Green Bay coaches and fans alike. I am not sure Cedric Benson is the answer, but head coach Mike McCarthy might be his own enemy when it comes to the lack of a ground game. Teams in the NFL may not need a sound running game anymore, but at least some semblance of the run is necessary in order to pass effectively. Being one dimensional is one thing, but completely disposing of that aspect of the game when defenses already know the Packers don't care to run will only get Rodgers killed.
The two question marks on one of the better offensive lines in the division are at LT and C. Does Jeff Saturday have one or two more seasons left in the tank? When offensive linemen fall, they fall hard. And can Marshall Newhouse effectively replace Chad Clifton for an entire season? I am concerned about at least one of these two question marks.
6,585. That's the amount of yards the defense gave up last year; good for last in the NFL. That's over 2,200 more than 1st place Pittsburgh, who gave up 4,348 YDs. The attitude last season was: "Bend but don't break"; give up the yards, but not the points. Green Bay gave up 22.4 PTs/G, good for 19th in the NFL. That type of cavalier attitude led to an early exit from the playoffs last season as the Giants put 37 on the board and Green Bay's offense couldn't get it going.
In response to the defensive shortcomings, Green Bay drafted 6 defensive players out of their 8 picks. They focused their first two picks trying to bolster a lackluster pass rush a season ago and slid CB Charles Woodson over to safety. Who knows if the added rookies will spark a revival in a championship quality defense that finished 5th overall just two seasons ago, en route to helping secure a Super Bowl trophy for a well balanced Packer team.
The key to their pass rush will be freeing up Clay Mathews from double and sometimes triple teams. If others on the defensive front can command attention from opposing teams, it will give Matthews more opportunities to do what he does best; wreak havoc behind the line of scrimmage. The trickle effect of a pass rush will also take pressure off the secondary having to cover WRs so long; a big problem a season ago.
With the high powered offense the Packers will be putting out on the field each game, most NFL experts believe the defense need only be mediocre at best for this team to make a return to the Super Bowl. First, they will need to win a very tough NFC North, which I think they will do, in 2012.