Sportsnet is breaking down everything you need to know about each of the 32 teams—including why you should or shouldn’t be rooting for them this season—in the month leading up to NFL kickoff on Sept. 4. Today, the Green Bay Packers.
Last year’s record: 8-7-1
Coach: Mike McCarthy
2014 is about… Staying healthy. The Packers roster is deep and talented, especially on offence—but when your All-Pro quarterback goes down, and so does his top receiver, and so does his second-best receiver, and so does your best pass rusher…well, you get the idea.
Core players: Aaron Rodgers (QB), Clay Matthews (LB), Jordy Nelson (WR), Eddie Lacy (RB)
But they lost... Likely Jermichael Finley, the Packers long-time tight end who is still dealing with a serious spinal injury and is also a free agent. Even if he gets medical clearance, the team may not want to take the risk. The Packers also said goodbye to James Jones (WR), who found a payday in Oakland after years as a reliable third receiver who filled in admirably when injuries struck in front of him. Sadly, Johnathan Franklin (RB) was forced to retire after suffering a nasty neck injury in his rookie year. He wasn't high on the Packers depth chart, but they had high hopes for his future.
Yeah, but they got... The big name, of course, is Julius Peppers (LB/DE) who brings tremendous pass-rushing pressure to pair with Matthews—but at this point in his career, it remains to be seen what else he can contribute. Green Bay added two tight ends—Richard Rodgers (in the third round) and Colt Lyerla (as an undrafted free agent)—to potentially replace Finley. Both rookies come with question marks on or off the field, but each has the pass catching skill to contribute on offence. On defence, first-round pick Ha Ha Clinton-Dix should be given every chance to lock down the starting free safety spot, giving the Pack the kind of safety combo (along with Morgan Burnett) they haven't had since Charles Woodson left town. It's not necessarily an "addition," but securing Jordy Nelson's services on a long-term deal has to have Cheeseheads sighing with relief. When both Nelson and Rodgers were healthy last season, they were connecting at a rate that would have placed Nelson behind only such all-world pass catchers as Calvin Johnson, Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant and Brandon Marshall. Rookie receiver Davante Adams is raw but talented and is looked at as the future next to Nelson if Randall Cobb can't be re-signed.
Growing from within: Jarrett Boykin (WR) was inserted into the lineup last year when both Nelson and Cobb were hurt and showed enough that McCarthy will likely try to find snaps for him in the offence, especially if fewer passes are thrown to the tight end. Meanwhile, Eddie Lacy should be ready for a more complex role in the offence in year two.
Why this team? A healthy Aaron Rodgers, throwing to Nelson and Cobb (and even Boykin), with Eddie Lacy pounding the ball, might easily be the best offence in the NFC. They'll have to get lucky on the injury front—but then, every Super Bowl team has to get lucky on the injury front. The bottom line is that Rodgers might be the best quarterback not named Peyton and he has some deadly weapons around him—it could be a very entertaining season.
Why not? It might have to be a very entertaining offensive season, because not a lot is settled on the defensive end. Clinton-Dix and Peppers will add elements to Dom Capers' defence, but perhaps not where they're truly needed—that would be in the middle, where veterans Brad Jones and A.J. Hawk looked old and overmatched at times last season, and the Packers added nobody of note to compete with them. This is a team that finished 2013 in the NFL's bottom 10 in both yards and points allowed. In order to get to the playoffs they'll have to stop the potent offences of the Bears and Lions—and should they reach the post-season, their defence will have to go play-for-play with San Francisco or Seattle. That's not an appetizing prospect for anyone in Wisconsin.
Perfect for fans of... The Pittsburgh Penguins. A slick offence that can be beautiful to watch when everything is working. A top-heavy cast that must avoid injuries to contend. A back end that's always in danger of getting exposed. Annual trips to the playoffs that often end with a loss in a high-scoring affair when the team just can't get a much-needed stop.
How much hope? 7/10. The Pack can put up 40-plus points on any given Sunday. With that kind of offence, there is always hope. The rest of the division isn't exactly stocked with lockdown 'Ds, either.
Will you be mocked for front-running? Maybe a little. But the Packers have been trending steadily down since they won the Lombardi trophy in 2010—it's not like you're hopping a bandwagon that's humming along a freeway or anything.
A Meme To Remember: If you don't include Aaron Rodgers in your photo of the team captains, you will still include Aaron Rodgers in your photo of the team captains. You just won't realize it until later.