When MVP Aaron Rodgers and an offense that finished second in NFL history in scoring sputtered in the NFC divisional playoff game against the Giants last season, the 15-win Packers were sunk. The offense should be just as explosive this season, and there’s even room for improvement.
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Rodgers is arguably the best player in the game, and his receiver corps is ridiculously deep, led by Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson, who combined for 24 touchdowns in 2011. The growth could come at left tackle, where Marshall Newhouse was inconsistent when thrown into the lineup for injured Chad Clifton, and tight end Jermichael Finley, who had a drop-filled season.
Green Bay’s hopes of winning a second Super Bowl in three years will boil down to the defense, which gave up a league-record yardage total in 2011.
The offseason was about the defense, in general, and pass rush, specifically. Anthony Hargrove (suspended for eight games for his role in the Saints’ bounty scandal) was signed in free agency, and Nick Perry (first round), Jerel Worthy (second) and Mike Daniels (fourth) were added in the draft.
One question mark is at safety, where three-time Pro Bowler Nick Collins was released because of last year’s neck injury. On offense, the Packers lost center Scott Wells in free agency but replaced him with Jeff Saturday. With Saturday, look for the no-huddle to be a bigger part of the attack.
Clay Matthews will look to improve upon his sack total from last season.
Perry joins former USC teammate Clay Matthews at outside linebacker. Perry had 9.5 sacks as a Trojan in 2011; Erik Walden had three in 15 starts for the Packers. Worthy might start at defensive end in the base, but he’ll be counted on to provide an interior rush in the nickel. If the other second-rounder, cornerback Casey Hayward, is a hit, he’ll allow Charles Woodson to move to safety, where he’d replace Nick Collins.
The Packers face the second-easiest schedule, with a combined winning percentage of .469 (120-136). That, however, is deceiving. Green Bay will play seven games against teams that won at least nine games. Only Philadelphia and Jacksonville (eight apiece) have more. The strength of schedule is weighed down by two games against Minnesota (three wins) and matchups against Indianapolis (two wins), St. Louis (two wins) and Jacksonville (five wins).
The first four games are key. The season kicks off at home against San Francisco (13-3), which added some firepower on offense to pair with its juggernaut defense. Week 2 is at home against Chicago, which will be improved with a healthy Jay Cutler, a re-signed Matt Forte and the addition of receiver Brandon Marshall. In Week 3, it’s a trip to Seattle (7-9), which finished seventh in points allowed and signed former Packers backup quarterback Matt Flynn. In Week 4, it’s a home game against high-flying New Orleans (13-3).
BEST OFFENSIVE PLAYER
Aaron Rodgers, quarterback. With 45 touchdowns to six interceptions, Rodgers threw a league-best 7.50 touchdowns per interception in 2011. Tom Brady was a distant second at 3.27.
BEST DEFENSIVE PLAYER
Clay Matthews, outside linebacker. With no supporting cast on the front seven, Matthews had just six sacks last season. When he had help in 2010, he had 13.5 sacks.
WILL WIN DIVISION IF ...
Perry gives the Packers a pass rush on par with 2010, when they finished second in the NFL in sacks.