The Green Bay Packers have posted 10 or more wins in the regular season four straight years and have won the NFC North the past two. Unfortunately for Packer fans, they also have watched their team exit in the Divisional Round of the NFC playoffs in each of the past two postseasons.
Last season Aaron Rodgers and company ran into the buzz saw that was San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who torched the Packers defense with both his arms and legs (NFL-record 181 yards rushing) as the 49ers rolled up 579 yards of offense in the 45-31 victory.
The offseason saw the departure of both wide receiver Greg Jennings and defensive back Charles Woodson via free agency, while the draft brought in much-needed reinforcements for the running game and defense. As long as Rodgers is in there, the Packers should be a contender in the NFC North. He can't be expected to carry this team alone, however, as the offensive line needs to do a better job protecting him (sacked an NFL-high 51 times in 2012) and the running game needs to provide more support.
The defense also needs to do its part, especially along the line, if this Packers team wants to do more than just win a third straight NFC North title only to make yet another early postseason exit.
What will the Packers' record be at the end of the 2013 regular season? Athlon’s panel of experts debates:
Green Bay Packers' 2013 Game-by-Game Predictions
at San Francisco
at New York Giants
at Detroit (Thurs.)
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
As long as No. 12 is under center, this team will likely be the frontrunner to win the NFC North. However, this team isn't nearly as talented or healthy as the 15-1 team from two years ago. The schedule is nasty with huge NFC tests with almost every other playoff contender as well as the toughest division from the AFC (North). The running game should be better and the front seven should be deeper but with injuries piling up already in the preseason, in particular along the offensive line, this team looks more like a three- or four-seed rather than a first-round bye.
Bill Huber (@PackerReport), PackerReport.com
This is a challenging schedule but the Packers should be a better all-around team than they were in 2012, when they finished 11-5. In their first five games, the Packers face four playoff teams — including both Super Bowl participants. In fact, there really isn't a soft spot on the schedule. Of the 16 games, only Cleveland failed to post at least a .500 record in either 2011 or '12, and 11 of the 16 games will be against teams that reached the playoffs in one of those two seasons — a list that doesn’t include two matchups against Chicago, which won 10 games last year. An improved running game should lend to a better passing game, as well, thanks to better protection and the return of play action. A defense that finished fourth in sacks last season used a first-round pick on Datone Jones and will benefit from the return of last year’s first-round pick, Nick Perry, who missed the final 10 games. Over the last four seasons, the Packers have 17 more interceptions than any team in the league, so an improved pass rush should only accentuate that strength.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
It’s been a relatively quiet offseason in Green Bay. The Packers weren’t active in free agency and continue to build through the draft, while keeping their core — Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews — in Lambeau for the long haul. However, tackle Bryan Bulaga’s knee injury in training camp was a significant setback for a team hoping to improve its offensive line. Only one of Green Bay’s regular-season losses was by more than eight points, so with most of its core returning, Mike McCarthy’s team will be in the driver’s seat for the NFC North title. Road trips to San Francisco, Cincinnati, Baltimore and Dallas will be tough, but the Packers should emerge with another 10- or 11-win season. As long as Green Bay’s offensive line keeps Rodgers upright, the Packers will be a threat to win the Super Bowl.
John Rehor (@jrehor), Packerstalk.com
The Packers offense expects to be explosive again in 2013. QB Aaron Rodgers, arguably the best player in the league, leads a high-powered passing attack with WRs Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, and TE Jermichael Finley all capable of producing at a high level. The much maligned running game should also receive a boost with the additions two RBs added in April’s draft — bruising Eddie Lacy, and shifty Johnathan Franklin — to go along with incumbents DuJuan Harris, James Starks, and Alex Green. The Packers offense should be even better in 2013 than it has been in the past few years — and that is a scary thought.
The biggest question mark remains the defense. After being shredded by the 49ers in the divisional round of the playoffs last season, Dom Capers’ squad enters 2013 with something to prove. Clay Matthews and company will receive some help with the addition of first-round pick Datone Jones, and the continued maturation of up and comers such as Casey Hayward and Nick Perry. K Mason Crosby is hoping for redemption following a 2012 campaign he would like to forget. He will be pushed hard by his competition Giorgio Tavecchio during training camp to earn the kicking duties.
An 11-5 record should be enough to get the Packers into the playoffs, perhaps even win the NFC North for a third consecutive season. But if the defense plays the same as it did against San Francisco, which ended their 2012 season, it will be a quick playoff exit for the fourth time in five seasons under head coach Mike McCarthy.
It's no secret. Green Bay's title hopes are tied directly to the right arm and legs of one Aaron Rodgers. As long as No. 12 is on the field the Packers should make the playoffs. Rodgers could use some help carrying the load, however, especially considering he was sacked an NFL-high 51 times last year. Unfortunately, he has already lost his left tackle (Bryan Bulaga) for the season, which is not how Packer fans wanted this season to start. It's even more critical now for draft picks Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin to help jumpstart the running game and the rest of the offensive line to jell.
The defense could help take some of the pressure off of the offense by increasing its level of play. Similar to Lacy and Franklin, the team is expecting big things from first-round pick Datone Jones along the defensive line. The secondary also must find a way to replace the experience and savvy of the departed Charles Woodson.
Schedule-wise, Green Bay has the unenviable task of opening on the road against the defending NFC champion 49ers. After the Week 4 bye, however, things open up somewhat and barring significant injuries to other key pieces, the Packers should be able to win more than enough games to get into the playoffs and claim a third straight NFC North crown.
Evan "Tex" Western (@acmepackingco), Acme Packing Company
Try as I might, I just can't convince myself to pick the Packers against recent nemeses San Francisco or New York on the road. However, the team's home schedule sets up well and I like the matchup with Atlanta in December. Even with an improved running game and pass rush, though, 11 wins and a third straight NFC North title sounds about right to me.
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