Packers XLV

A Super Season Hinges on a Speedy Start

Posted September 10th, 2015 @ 08:09pm

There's lots of optimism surrounding the '15 Packers--they're a popular Super Bowl pick by many of the national talking heads and it's easy to understand why. But if the Pack is to remain a viable Super Bowl contender, they need to prove it early.

After dismal 1-2 starts the past three years, the team cannot afford another one if they want the NFC playoffs to roll through Lambeau. The schedule is set up in their favor, with four of the first six at home. The two road games are against teams that are favored to be selecting in the top five of next spring's draft. In my opinion, they can afford nothing less than a 5-1 start to remain on track. They'll be favored in all six, so it's not an unreasonable goal.

The next six games feature four road games, two against playoff hopefuls Denver and Carolina, and two against the other divisional playoff hopefuls: Minnesota and Detroit. Win the two home games and split the four road games and the Pack is 9-3 at the three quarter pole.

The cold weather final quarter features warm weather road games in Oakland and Arizona, bookended by home games against the Cowboys and Vikings. Again, win the home games and split the road games and the Pack finishes at 12-4, likely good enough for the #1 seed in the NFC.

So what needs to happen for all of this to come to pass? Other than health to most if not all of the key guys? Let's start on defense. I think the back end will be improved with the strong starts for the young corners and a second year step for Clinton Dix. The D-line should be better with the return of Raji and with Mike Daniels out to prove he's worth big bucks in his new deal. The questions remain at inside linebacker, where Sam Barrington needs to prove he's an upgrade over Hawk, and not another liability in the passing game.

Maybe Jake Ryan shows enough to earn more playing time and he becomes an upgrade in the middle. For now Clay Matthews will work inside in the base, which should help the run defense, which will be tested mightily early--playing without the suspended Guion and trying to stop Forte, Lynch and Charles while he's gone. If Mike Pennel can step in and do a good job, it will be a very good sign for this defense.

To get to 12-4 the Pack will also need to get much improved play on special teams. Outside of Crosby, these units were a disaster last year, resulting in a change at the top (enter Ron Zook) and a mass change in personnel. Ty Montgomery could give the return game some juice, but the coverage units need to get buttoned up. I'm already worried about Tyler Lockett, the Seahawks' explosive rookie who looks like he might be what Percy Harvin tried to tell us he was.

Offensively, all 11 starters returned from last season until Nelson went down. The unit loses its explosiveness and the natural chemistry that he and Rodgers had, but #12 will spread it around in his absence and Adams and Rodgers are poised to jump on the opportunity that awaits them. Having James Jones as a security blanket on third downs and in the red zone will also take away some of the sting of losing Nelson.

When Mike McCarthy decided to hand the play calling duties to Tom Clement, he believed he could have an impact on the other two units, during weekly preparation and on game day. It's the most significant change for this team from 2014 to 2015 and I believe it will pay dividends. The offense will continue to hum and the defense and special teams will benefit from his attention to what they're doing.

Here are my playoff picks:

NFC Division Winners: Packers, Eagles, Seahawks and Falcons

NFC Wildcards: Cardinals, Cowboys

AFC Division Winners: Bengals, Dolphins, Chiefs, Colts

AFC Wildcards: Ravens, Patriots

NFC Title Game: Packers over Seahawks

AFC Title Game: Colts over Ravens

Super Bowl L: Packers over Colts

Now, on to opening week. The Pack opens in Chicago for the first time in 34 years and the recent dominance over their oldest rivals should continue. Rodgers is 12-3 over the Bears, with one of those losses coming thanks to the broken collarbone. He owns the Bears and given the state of the Minnows of the Midway these days, he will continue to own them this season.

John Fox takes over a team in transition, one that wishes it could move on from Jay Cutler, and one whose defense is not built to play the way he wants to play and needs a complete overhaul. Jared Allen moves from defensive end to outside linebacker and it should be interesting to see how he's adapting. Cutler has yet to practice with new #1 receiver Alshon Jeffery, who's been limited in practice this week but  might try to play. Free agent addition Eddie Royal is also less than 100%.

The defense will focus on trying to stop Matt Forte on the ground and tight end Marcellus Bennett through the air. With the suspensions on the Pack's defensive line and the suspect play of Barrington, the Bears will see if they can move the chains, extend drives and Keep Rodgers and the Packers' offense off the field. The only Packer not practicing this week is Morgan Burnett, who's nursing a calf strain. Sean Richardson may need to be much more than a special teams ace in week one.

The Pack should be able to move the ball effortlessly against a below average defense, with Eddie Lacy getting lots of work. We'll be keeping an eye on Randall Cobb's shoulder. Signs point to him playing, but I wouldn't mind seeing him take one more week to get healthy and get ready for the Seahawks next week. The Pack can get past Chicago without him.

Meeting #191 in the series goes the Pack's way:

Packers 31 Bears 17

Reminder: "Packer Preview" returns for a 20th season this Sunday, 7am-8am on the home of the Vikings, KFAN. Listen at 100.3 the Fan, one of our network affiliates, or on iHeartRadio. Feel free to sleep in and podcast it at "Fan on Demand" at kfan.com or on iTunes.

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Comments (5):

Another season lets GO PACK GO !! Davy..I as a long time Packer fan I am not quite as optimisic as you are...at least initially. In the macro sense this is still a team that will have to outscore the opposition to win. At least from what I observed in the preseason and studying the roster ...I do not see the defense even improved over last year. The defensive line and lb's are still suspect and former no 1 draft picks Perry and Jones need to be much improved for the defense to stop people. The D backs look fine with the addition of the two top rookies. Now...lets look at some of the micro in the form of breaking down some stats. Last year Aaron Rodgers passed for nearly 4,400 hundred yards. Of those yards 2 guys accounted for 64 per cent of that yardage...Nelson with 1500 yards and Cobb with 1300 yards. Losing ...Nelson the guy with 1,500 yards is tough to replace. Can it be done by commitee....Jones, Adams, Janus et all remains to be seen. Can Eddie Lacy run for more than the 1139 rushing yards of last year and catch more than the 427 receiving yards? A lot of guys will need to step up. They do have the best guy at his position to distribute the ball to them in Rodgers, Please find a reliable pass catching tight end. In talking stats here is a "HUGE" claring one that needs big time improvement. Last year the Pack gave up 1600 yards in kick returns on punts and kickoffs while only gaining 880 yards themselves. So big improvement in both areas is needed. Maybe ...the rookie Montgomery can help in the retturn game. IN total we will need a NFL most valuable player performance from Rodgers to warrant those Vegas odds on the Pack. MY summary prediction on the regular season...11-5. GO PACK GO !!

on September 10th, 2015 at 07:12pm

You don't have the defense to win the North let alone the Super Bowl. Your D will be significantly worse than last year (which was already bad). Just be lucky you're opening the year against a team that will be picking in the top 3 next draft. 24-12 Pack.

on September 11th, 2015 at 09:57am

Really Dave, you mention Lockett and don't even mention he is who I wanted . do you even read the our post? I have written about him 3 times. I guess you just give love to the other guys on the site, but then you let rubes like john from mpls ramble on on the radio,and makes no sense half the time. he is an idiot. not a word about me picking Ripkowski. if you would have done that we would be reminded every other week. your blog, just a little disappointed. Packers go 11-5

on September 11th, 2015 at 10:49am

Larry .... get a life

on September 12th, 2015 at 09:34pm

It would be most fitting that the Packers, the first team to win a Super Bowl, should be in and win the 50th. The Jordy Nelson loss is big but as long as Aaron Rodgers, Eddie Lacy, Randall Cobb and the offensive line remain the offense will be fine. To be sure it's step up time for Davante Adams, Richard Rodgers, Jeff Janis and Andrew Quarless. The return of James Jones and the addition of Ty Montgomery should also do some compensating. As usual the Pack goes into a season with questions about their defense and special teams. Those haven't been and again won't be enough to deny Green Bay its club record 5th consecutive division title and 7th consecutive playoff season. The Packers should move to 8-3 in season openers vs "Da Bears" and with a season sweep again will tie the all-time series in pro football's oldest rivalry.

on September 13th, 2015 at 06:42am

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