Welcome back to FY’s 2016 NFL team previews! Don’t care for Aaron Rodgers and the Packers? (You can admit if you’re just bitter.) Jump to Arizona; Atlanta; Baltimore; Buffalo; Carolina; Chicago; Cincinnati; Cleveland; Dallas; Denver; Detroit.
Where They’re Coming From
An unsuccessfully successful season.
I have a hard time following that too.
But here’s what I do know: for the first time since 2010, the Packers did not win the NFC North. The 2015 season also marked the first time the Packer offense was outside of the top-ten in points scored with Aaron Rodgers at the helm. It was also outside of the top-ten in yards gained for just the second time in the Rodgers era.
In spite of all that, Green Bay was ever-so-close to returning to the conference championship game for the second consecutive season.
Where They’re Going
Back where they belong.
Barring another Jordy Nelson blown knee, or a sidelined Aaron Rodgers, the Packers will reclaim their spot atop the NFC North, and will be serious contenders for the Super Bowl.
Although not much has changed from last season, when you have the best quarterback in the game, the rest tends to fall in place.
Key Offseason Moves
Additions: TE Jared Cook, DT Kenny Clark (drafted), OT Jason Spriggs (drafted)
Losses: CB Casey Hayward, NT B.J. Raji (retired), MLB Nate Palmer; also does half of Eddie Lacy count?
What to Watch For
The offensive line.
Prior to last year, the offensive line had been the subject of a lot of scrutiny. That honor was taken away last season by the receiving corps and its inability to, not only beat press coverage, but just get open against man coverage. However, Jordy Nelson’s return will shift the attention back to the offensive line, and whether they can sufficiently protect their quarterback.
Now Green Bay fans will at least have a name to call for if David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga aren’t pulling their weight: second-round pick Jason Spriggs. The Packers traded up to draft the tackle out of Indiana, and he is set to serve as a swing tackle in his rookie season. But, if Rodgers’ jersey is getting a little dirtier than head coach Mike McCarthy would prefer, don’t be surprised to see him thrown into more regular action.
Who to Watch For
Eddie Lacy, RB
Although 2015 was disappointing for him, Lacy has shed a ton of weight in the offseason and no longer looks like the Pillsbury Doughboy with dreads.
Not having to carry around the extra weight will undoubtedly make Lacy much quicker to the hole and faster in the open field. Not only do I foresee Lacy having a better season on the ground, but he’ll be an effective option in the passing game, too.
No other running back will face as many light boxes as Lacy this season, and he’s primed to make a major impact in 2016.
What Could Go Wrong
The Packers defense bled yards on the ground last year, giving up just under 120 yards per game, and have now lost their best gap-stuffer, B.J. Raji. If teams are able to neutralize Aaron Rodgers and the rest of the offense by simply keeping them off the field, then the Packers may go a second-straight season without hosting a playoff game.
A lot of opponents will also be targeting last year’s first-round draft pick, Damarious Randall, who will be assuming a starting corner spot with the loss of Casey Hayward.
They may have the firepower to do it, but I doubt the Packers want to find themselves in too many shootouts this season.
Where They’ll End Up
Contending for the top seed in the NFC.
Aaron Rodgers has his favorite target back, and Eddie Lacy is ready to breakout. The Packers offense will be a top-five unit, and their defense just needs to be average – something they are definitely capable of.
Also, thanks to finishing second in the division last year and their crossover with the NFC East, the Packers have the luxury of dodging Carolina and Arizona in the regular season. Home-field advantage for the playoffs is absolutely attainable.