Under the radar
Bryan Bulaga blocks Datone Jones (right) during the Green Bay Packers organized team activities Tuesday, May 21, 2013 in Green Bay, Wis. MARK HOFFMAN/MHOFFMAN@JOURNALSENTINEL.COM Image by Mark Hoffman
GREEN BAY - In getting ready for the season, I have been taking a hard look at the Seattle Seahawks (preseason) and San Francisco 49ers (opener) in the past couple of weeks. Most people around the league tout Seattle (getting a lot of love), San Francisco (defending NFC Champs) and Atlanta as the teams everyone is talking about in a loaded NFC that also includes contenders like the New York Giants and Green Bay Packers.
Seattle appears to be the “it” team this off-season, much like the Niners of a year ago. However don’t forget Washington won the NFC East last year, the Vikings made the playoffs and the Bears won 10 games.
I believe the St. Louis Rams might be ready to take the next step up the ladder after a 7-8-1 first season under new head coach Jeff Fisher. The Detroit Lions figure to be much better than 4 and 12 and the Dallas Cowboys have been quiet but might be ready to move up following an 8-8 campaign in 2012.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers on the final week of mini camp mentioned that he likes the fact the Packers are “under the radar” when it comes to the hot teams being talked about in the NFL and that very well may be the case. From a Super Bowl favorite standpoint there is no doubt the Packers do not carry the cache’ they did in the past two off seasons, but Green Bay is getting plenty of pre-season respect.
Prime time games on the schedule often give an indication as to who is considered a hot team; the Packers will play one Monday night, three Sunday nights and the traditional Thanksgiving Day game in Detroit. They play four Sunday afternoon games in the prime time 3:25 CT window, at San Francisco in the opener, at home against Cleveland, at Dallas and against Pittsburgh in December. So I wouldn’t say the Packers are under the radar as far as the league is concerned. Plus, they remain a prime time target for the television networks.
In general, the Packers are the pre-season publications’ pick to win the NFC North Division. Green Bay has dominated the North going 11-1 over the past two seasons.
The Bears won ten games last year but have a new coaching staff this season, and the face of the franchise, linebacker Brian Urlacher, has retired. The Minnesota Vikings were a surprise playoff team a season ago, but the Lions crashed and burned after a playoff season in 2011.
As stated earlier, one can expect the Lions to be better this season, the Vikings have upgraded (with former Packers) but can’t realistically expect another two thousand yard rushing season from Adrien Peterso,n while the Bears will be in transition from a defensive team to an innovative offensive club. So going into this campaign you have to pick the Packers as favorites in their division, but things have tightened considerably.
I mentioned the changes in Chicago, but the Packers will have plenty of changes this season as well. One of the great leaders and on field playmakers, Charles Woodson, is now an Oakland Raider (again). Top receiver Greg Jennings is now a Viking while the club’s all time leading receiver Donald Driver is retired. Some of the great leaders of their Super Bowl team are gone through the natural attrition of a football team. However don’t think the Packers don’t have leaders, like Rodgers, Josh Sitton, Clay Matthews, Tramon Williams and Morgan Burnett just to name a few.
I realize at this point in the process everyone has depth, 90-man training camp rosters will do that, but I really like the possibilities and flexibility of the Packers roster. Going into training camp this group has the potential to accomplish much in this season.
Coming up, we break down the unit that hopes to step up to Super Bowl caliber, the defense. We will start on the line in part two of our series tomorrow.