The Green Bay Packers enter this training camp coming off of an 11-5 season that saw them lose in the divisional round of the playoffs to the eventual NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers. Everything starts with Aaron Rodgers, who just signed a 5-year, $110 Million contract extension which will keep him with the team until 2019. He is looking to build on a year where he threw for 4,295 yards with a completion rate of 67.2% with 39 touchdowns and only 8 interceptions.
Offensively, the Packers lost their “number one” receiver Greg Jennings to free agency. However, this should not set the Packers back because the trio of receivers still under contract (Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, and James Jones) all had similar if not better production than Jennings did last year. The amount of money that Jennings commanded from the Vikings was far too high and the Packers were smart not to match, especially with the wide receiver corps they bring back this year. The Packers also re-signed TE Jermichael Finley this offseason, bringing back one of Aaron Rodgers favorite targets. Last season Finley, drafted by Green Bay in 2008 out of Texas, caught 61 balls for 667 yards and 2 TDs, with the loss of Jennings, Finley’s role should be larger this season.
The Packers suffered a huge loss on the offensive line during training camp when left tackle Brian Bulaga tore his ACL which will force him to miss the entire season after having surgery. This will have a massive effect on the Packers offensive line play and Rodgers will need to use his quick release and excellent footwork to help avoid the pressure that is sure to come his way. The problems upfront with the o-line will not help a struggling run game that averaged only 106.4 yards per game last season and was 20th in the league. The Packers will look to establish a running game this year according to head coach Mike McCarthy and he hopes that 2013 draft pick Eddie Lacy (2nd round-Alabama) will provide a much needed spark.
The Packers defense struggled down the stretch last season and gave up 579 yards in the postseason loss to the 49ers. San Francisco was able to gash the Packers up the middle to the tune of 323 yards on the groudn and for some reason the Packers never adjusted.
Green Bay will depend heavily on a solid front seven that features B.J. Raji (in a contract year) and the return of Johnny Jolly who hasn’t played in a game since way back in 2009, but has been quite a surprise during the preseason. Obviously the linebacking core is going to be a strong point again this season with AJ Hawk and Clay Matthews and the team must feel quite comfortable with Brad Jones at middle linebacker because they released Desmond Bishop who had 115 tackles in 2011 and missed all last year with a ruptured hamstring.
Many pundits and analysts believe that the secondary is a soft spot but the stats were skewed because the Packers were ahead a great deal during the season and their opponents were throwing on them constantly. The loss of Charles Woodson may hurt a little bit but he was also getting up in age and his ability to cover had to have been slipping. The team will depend on second-year cornerback Casey Hayward to make up for the loss of Woodson on the field, but it will be very difficult to replace his leadership.
The Packers, who have been one of the league’s best over the last few years, will contend for the NFC North title and should (barring a Rodgers injury) make the playoffs and be a contender for a Super Bowl title. The Packers offense can hang with the best of them, but the team will go through stretches this season where they will need to outscore their opponents because the defense will have trouble stopping the opposition.