As we get set to embark on the 2016 season, let’s take stock on where things stand. The Packers are a popular Super Bowl pick, the favorite in Vegas right now. And for now they’re projected to be favored in all 16 of their games.
Yet there are a lot of questions that need to be answered. Most of those answers will come on the field. It doesn’t appear we’ll get an answer on the Josh Sitton decision as Thompson and McCarthy have been typically tight-lipped. It feels like something must be going on behind the scenes here. What looked like the team’s biggest strength heading into the season–the stability of the line–is now one of those questions, with a 40% turnover in personnel.
Lane Taylor gets the first shot to fill Sitton’s large shoes. Worst case scenario: Tretter can slide over when Linsley gets healthy, if Taylor proves to be a liability in pass protection.
Most of the other questions facing the Pack are also on the offensive side of the ball. Will Jordy Nelson look like the pre-2014 Jordy Nelson? Will Nelson’s return serve as a spring board for the passing offense? Will Eddie Lacy bounce back? Will Jared Cook be a missing link for Aaron Rodgers and have a Finley-like impact?
That’s a lot of questions for a Super Bowl favorite. It goes to show that many football experts believe most of those answers will fall the Packers’ way. And as you know, there are a few questions on the other side of the ball. Are the Packers too thin on the defensive line? Is Blake Martinez up to the challenge of wearing the helmet with the headset? Will Clay Matthews return to his roots with his move back outside? Will the young corners take a big step?
If that’s not enough, there are questions on special teams as well. Is Jacob Schum an upgrade over Tim Masthay at punter? Will he cause Mason Crosby any issues as the new holder? Who will emerge as this year’s return guys?
Lots of questions for the 2016 Packers, a Super Bowl favorite that also happens to be the youngest team in Packers history at an average of 25 years of age. 40% of the roster were sixth or seventh rounders or were undrafted. Think about that for a second. Five underrated guys made this year’s first 53 man roster. On one hand, it’s a testament to the scouting department. On the other hand, you sometimes wonder whether a Super Bowl favorite might be better served by adding a seasoned veteran here and there to try to put them over the top.
All of that said, this feels like a 12-win team if they can dodge any major injuries. I made the prediction on “In the Zone” at the State Fair. I’ve got the Pack knocking off Arizona and Cincinnati over Pittsburgh with the Pack hoisting the Lombardi with a win over the Bengals. It just feels like an ‘Aaron has a chip on his shoulder’ season.
It begins Sunday in Jacksonville. Last year, the Jags opened at home against Carolina–that worked out pretty well for the Panthers. Let’s see if history can repeat.
The Jaguars are a chic, trendy pick to make a big leap this season, but I think the Pack lucks out by getting them in the opener. The defense has had a makeover, with a couple of big free agent signings and a rookie infusion (last year’s top three pick Dante Fowler, who missed the season and this year’s stud corner Jalen Ramsey along with linebacker Myles Jack). Are the youngster ready for Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy? I’m guessing ‘no.’
I see McCarthy throwing all kinds of exotic looks at this young, new look defense. Come November, these guys might be completely different players. In week one, Rodgers should dice them up, provided the line does its job.
It will be hot and humid on Sunday, with temperatures approaching the low 90s. It will be a main storyline, with Jacksonville wearing their whites and the Pack forced to wear the home green jerseys. I expect the temperatures might limit Nelson and Lacy’s reps a bit and might cause the Pack to be selective when it chooses to go no huddle.
The Jaguars are media darlings this year in large part due to their offensive weapons. Quarterback Blake Bortles emerged last season in a pass happy offense that featured a great young pair of receivers in Allen Robinson and Alan Hurns. Former Bronco Julius Thomas was a disappointment at tight end, but he is expected to make a much larger impact this season. I think Quentin Rollins will have the task of keeping Thomas in check–I think Bortles will look his way early and often.
The Jags brought in Chris Ivory to complement their second year back TJ Yeldon. Ivory is a lot like Lacy: a good, hard-nosed back who’s tough to wrap up. The Pack’s young inside backers will be tested right out of the gate. But Jacksonville has its own issues up front, with three different starters from a year ago. And Bortles tended to turn the ball over at the most inopportune times last season. Look for the Pack to pick him off a couple of times.
I see the first half being tight, with the Pack possibly trailing. But the second half will be a different story and Green Bay rolls in the opener.
Packers 30 Jaguars 20
A couple of final things: “Packer Preview” returns for a 21st season this Sunday at 7am on KFAN radio in the Twin Cities and on iHeart Radio. If you want to sleep in, you can find it when you wake up at kfan.com. Click on Fan on Demand.
Also, Monday, the 19th is the eighth annual Border Battle golf tournament at Stoneridge Golf Club in Stillwater. Packer foursomes against Vikings foursomes. It’s always a lot of fun and this year it falls on the day after the Packers-Vikings game. For more information, go to www.stoneridgegc.com.