The Green Bay Packers open the season in less than two weeks, and for a team that played in the NFC championship game less than eight months ago, hopes aren’t as high as might be expected. That’s probably because general manager Brian Gutekunst did so little in the offseason to improve the roster while other contenders added big-name veterans and exciting rookies. But, of course, Super Bowls aren’t won in the spring. There are plenty of reasons to be very excited about the Packers’ chances, and a number of reasons to be a bit apprehensive.
The following are my top three pros and cons heading into what promises to be an unpredictable 2020 season:
1) Considering how strange this offseason has been due to COVID-19, there’s something to be said for stability. Of the 22 players who started against the 49ers in January, 18 are expected to start against the Vikings on Sept. 13. The only new faces will be either Lane Taylor at right guard or Rick Wagner at right tackle, Jace Sternberger at tight end and Christian Kirksey and either Oren Burks or Kamal Martin at inside linebacker. Because of this, few teams are better equipped than the Packers to get off to a fast start.
2) I once opined that a team with Aaron Rodgers at QB could win 10 games with Mike Sherman as GM and Lindy Infante as coach. I’m not sure that still applies to a 36-year-old Rodgers, but it just might. 12 isn’t the player he was five years ago, but he’s still among the best at his position. Just as importantly, he simply knows how to win. While his numbers weren’t gaudy last season, his skill at not turning the ball over and converting third downs in the final five minutes enabled the Packers to go 8-1 in one-score games.
3) A coach with the Eagles once told me that quarterback, left tackle, edge rusher, and corner were the most important positions on a team. He opined that an offense with studs at quarterback and left tackle should be able to move the ball against most defenses and that a defense with stud edge rushers and corners should be able to get off the field against most offenses. In Rodgers, David Bakhtiari, Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, Jaire Alexander, and Kevin King, few teams have better talent at those key spots than Green Bay.
1) The Packers aren’t a particularly deep team and the chances of staying as healthy as last season are very slim. Aside from King, wide receiver Davante Adams, right tackle Bryan Bulaga, and safety Darnell Savage, no starter missed a game. And those four players missed a total of only 8 games. Meanwhile, Green Bay faced three teams (Detroit, Carolina, and Kansas City) playing backup QBs, and two teams (Minnesota and Seattle) down to their third-string halfbacks. This type of good fortune rarely repeats itself.
2) I mentioned stability as a pro, but it can also be a con. As Joe Paterno once said, “you’re either getting better or you’re getting worse.” Unless a bunch of underachieving young players like Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Montravius Adams, Oren Burks, and Josh Jackson suddenly step up, it’s hard to see where the Packers will be significantly better this season. Rodgers is a year older, right tackle won’t be as good, and the odds are against the Smiths combining for 25.5 sacks. Simply put, getting better is hard to do when the GM drafts a No. 3 quarterback, a backup running back, and a backup fullback/tight end in the first three rounds.
3) It’s difficult to judge a schedule in August, but the Packers’ path to the postseason looks treacherous. Minnesota will be good again, and Chicago and Detroit figure to be improved. This will make going 6-0 again in the NFC North highly unlikely. Outside of the division, games against New Orleans, Tom Brady and Tampa Bay, Houston, San Francisco, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, and Tennesse look to be extremely difficult.
It’s always difficult to predict a team’s record in August, and COVID-19 makes it even more difficult this year. Besides talent and coaching, which teams adapted best to the virus in the spring and which teams avoid the virus in the fall will play a big part in determining how things look in the winter. And while I can’t say I’m expecting big things from the Packers, hey, seven months ago, I sure as heck wasn’t expecting to be wearing a face mask to the grocery store or seeing goofy cardboard cutouts of fans sitting in baseball stadiums.