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Green Bay Packers: 2022 Preseason Predictions and Preview

Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

Aaron Rodgers and the Packers look to put last season's playoff disappointment behind them while adjusting the departures of some key players.

Matt LaFleur didn't appear to be offended. But maybe he should have been.

As he enters his fourth season as the Green Bay Packers head coach, LaFleur is one of the NFL's brightest young offensive-minded coaches, with a four-time NFL MVP and future Pro Football Hall of Famer at the controls of his innovative scheme. So when it was suggested to him after April's NFL Draft — in which general manager Brian Gutekunst added a pair of first-round defenders and waited until the second round to get the seventh wide receiver to come off the board — that the Packers might be more of a grind-it-out, defensive-oriented, run-the-ball outfit this season, LaFleur merely smiled. "It's all about winning games. I don't care if we score 10 points or 40 points. It's about getting that W — bottom line," LaFleur replied. "We're going to play to whatever strength we have.

"If you have to run the ball 40 times in a game, then you do what you've got to do. But certainly I don't think we necessarily have to do that here, especially when you have a quarterback of the caliber that we have. We'll do whatever it takes to win, though — bottom line."

A year removed from Aaron Rodgers' offseason of discontent, he now has a new contract and a renewed commitment to a team that now includes him in key decision-making conversations. After back-to-back MVP seasons, the 38-year-old Rodgers is showing no signs of slowing down, although his recent playoff performance has drawn increased scrutiny.

Especially disappointing was the team's season-ending 13-10 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, a game that, despite their mistake-prone special teams' game-changing gaffes, the Packers should have won given that the defense didn't allow a touchdown and the Packers had such a big advantage at quarterback.

Instead, after back-to-back-to-back 13-win seasons, the Packers are now a dozen years removed from their last Super Bowl title, and to win another, they'll have to do it without one of the greatest wide receivers in team history — Davante Adams, whom they traded to the Las Vegas Raiders in March, creating the offensive concerns that even LaFleur and Rodgers acknowledged are understandable.

"You've just got to have some faith in the organization," Rodgers says. "I'm going to put in the time to make it work with those guys, and we're going to find a way in Matt's offense to be successful — like we always have.

"It's not going to be any different this year. We're going to be in the mix."

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OFFENSE

While no one seems to want to cop to any cause-and-effect, there's no denying how great Rodgers has been since the 2020 first-round selection of his potential replacement, Jordan Love. In those two seasons, Rodgers has completed 69.8 percent of his passes for 8,414 yards with 85 touchdowns and nine interceptions (116.7 passer rating). But how much Adams' absence will impact his production is among the biggest questions of the entire 2022 NFL season.

On his way to his second straight first-team All-Pro selection, Adams set franchise records for receptions (123) and receiving yards (1,553) in a single season, and no wide receiver in football has caught more passes (581) for more yards (7,192) and more touchdowns (69) since the start of the 2016 season than Adams.

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Not only must the Packers fill that void, but downfield specialist Marquez Valdes-Scantling left for Kansas City in free agency, and Equanimeous St. Brown, who played 846 regular-season offensive snaps in Green Bay, bolted for the Chicago Bears. That means holdovers Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb, veteran addition Sammy Watkins and rookie draft picks Christian Watson (second round), Romeo Doubs (fourth round) and Samori Toure (seventh round) are tasked with picking up the slack.

Complicating matters is uncertainty at tight end, where Robert Tonyan's productivity dropped before he tore the ACL in his left knee in October, an injury that makes his availability for the start of the season a huge question; 38-year-old Marcedes Lewis isn't getting any younger; and third-year man Josiah Deguara flashed at times last season but remains inconsistent.

Perhaps that'll lead LaFleur to lean more heavily on running backs Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon, who combined for not only 1,602 rushing yards but also 86 receptions for 704 yards and 17 total touchdowns. They surely can carry the offensive load if asked.

Up front, five-time All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari's left knee issues remained an offseason worry, and with left guard-turned-left tackle Elgton Jenkins working his way back from his own ACL injury, his status is unclear, too. Add a vacancy at right tackle following veteran Billy Turner's release, and the versatile line that overcame so many injuries the past two years is in flux as well.

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DEFENSE

Defensive coordinator Joe Barry arrived with a questionable résumé, but his guys got the job done more often than not last season. Now, with season-savers De'Vondre Campbell and Rasul Douglas back for another tour, and talent at every level, much will be expected in Year 2.

Up front, nose tackle Kenny Clark remains one of the league's best at the position, and now he's got help in veteran Jarran Reed and rookie Devonte Wyatt, the second of the Packers' two first-round draft picks.

Two-time Pro Bowl edge rusher Za'Darius Smith (144 pressures, 26 sacks in 2019 and 2020) barely played last season and was released in a cost-cutting move. That leaves veteran Preston Smith and 2019 first-round pick Rashan Gary as the starters, and with next to no proven depth behind them, they'll have to be outstanding — and durable.

Inside, Campbell, a mid-June pickup who went from little-known veteran to first-team All-Pro, tilted the field and earned himself a five-year, $50 million contract. First-round pick Quay Walker should give the Packers something they haven't had since switching to the 3-4 defense in 2009: two inside linebackers who never have to leave the field.

In the secondary, cornerback Jaire Alexander's rising star dimmed a bit last season because of a shoulder injury, but he is healthy and should return to form. With 2021 first-round pick Eric Stokes and Douglas, a midseason pickup who led the team with five interceptions (including two that he returned for touchdowns), the Packers' top three cover men might make up the best trio in the league.

SPECIALISTS

Veteran kicker Mason Crosby missed more field-goal attempts (nine) than anyone else in the league. But with veteran punter Pat O'Donnell on board to serve as his holder, the Packers anticipate a bounce-back year. The real question is how much new special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia, the former Raiders interim head coach, can improve the Packers' abysmal units, who were bad even before their playoff meltdown.

FINAL ANALYSIS

While the demise of the Packers' Adams-less offense might wind up being greatly exaggerated, there's no doubt that further investments into the defense have raised expectations for that side of the ball to heights not seen since the 2010 team finished in the top five in total defense and scoring defense and the Packers won Super Bowl XLV in Rodgers' third year as the starter. If the defense is as good as advertised, maybe another title is indeed in reach.

Prediction: 1st in NFC North