CAREER-HIGH IN SACKS FOR NO. 52 – Considering Clay Matthews has a combined 11.5 sacks in the past two seasons, it probably seems more crazy than bold to predict he’ll have at least 14 in 2017. But never discount the power of motivation when it comes to professional athletes. Not only is the former USC star coming off only his second Pro Bowl-less campaign since 2009, but he’ll be playing to ensure his future in Green Bay. Matthews is due to make over $10 million next year, and for the first time since signing his blockbuster extension, he can be released in the offseason with zero salary cap ramifications. Talk about incentive. And one more thing, a player can put up big sack numbers without being a great pass rusher. Former Packer journeyman Erik Walden proved that a year ago with the Colts.
VETERAN WILL BE OUTRUSHED BY ROOKIES – This is more about durability than talent. Starter Ty Montgomery certainly has the skill set to run for over 1,000 yards this season, but there’s nothing in his background to suggest he’ll be able to stay on the field. As a wide receiver in college and the NFL, the 24-year-old missed three games with a torn PCL in 2012, two games with a shoulder injury in 2014 and 10 games after undergoing ankle surgery in 2015. The hits obviously come a lot more frequently at running back, and how to best absorb and then recover from them is something that only comes with experience. It’s logical to expect Montgomery to sit out a few games and depart others early – leaving the door wide open for rookie draft picks Jamaal Williams, Aaron Jones and Devante Mays to get a lot of carries this season.
ONE AND DONE FOR STAR TIGHT END – Martellus Bennett signed a three-year contract as a free agent in the offseason, but based on his resume, he’s unlikely to be around for that long. In fact, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him go one and done with the Packers. There’s a reason the 30-year-old has been with four teams since 2012. He’s a very good player, but he’s also a free spirit who isn’t afraid to speak his mind. And while that might be seen as an endearing quality at first, it tends to become old quickly. Players and coaches are saying all the right things now about Bennett, but let’s see how they’re feeling in a few months when the easy and breezy days of August are replaced by the intense and nerve-wracking days of December.
COACH MOVES ON AFTER 12 SEASONS – OK, I saved the boldest of the bold predictions for last. Mike McCarthy’s contract is up after the 2018 season, and since established coaches rarely work in the final year of their deals, team president Mark Murphy will have a decision to make next January. Assuming the Packers don’t get to the Super Bowl, would he be willing to commit another five years and $40+ million to a coach who’s been to the big game one time in 12 seasons despite being blessed with two Hall of Fame quarterbacks? I’m not so sure. There’s also a chance McCarthy will be ready to move on. As much as he loves living and working in Green Bay, the lure of less pressure and more power elsewhere could be tempting.