Monday, September 1, 2014

And Away We Go!

I find this time of year to be nerve-wracking.  We have been waiting 6 months for football to return, with a million questions.  Will the Packers sign anybody in free agency?  Who will they draft?  How will the new players look?  Who looks impressive in mini-camps?  How will they look in training camp?  What about the pre-season games?

With all of that behind us, and the season upon us, now is the time when we will finally start to find out what the Packers will be able to do this year.  Will they be able to put it all together, with the benefit of having one of the best offenses in the league, and a somewhat improved defense?  Or will they fizzle out, due to injuries or whatever else, and end up with a mediocre record and out of the playoffs?

Count me as an optimist, albeit a nervous one.  While the Packers have made some use of the no-huddle offense over the years, during the pre-season they have given the impression that they are really serious about using it, a lot, this year.  I am sure this is (in part) a reaction to the success of the Eagles and the Chip Kelly up-tempo offense last year, but that is fine with me.  The Packers are better equipped than most teams to run the no-huddle offense, with a great veteran QB, a vastly improved running game (as compared to a couple of years ago), and experienced, quality wide-outs.  The only unknowns on offense are (1) how much the injury to center J.C. Tretter will hurt, how long he will be out, and how the relative lack of depth on the offensive line will play out; and (2) how things will go with rookie Richard Rodgers trying to take the place of Jermichael Finley.  But Richard Rodgers has looked quite impressive in the pre-season, and I just have to hope that he won't find himself bewitched, bothered and bewildered out there as the season starts.  With luck, he will be able to climb every mountain he finds in front of him.

On defense, the big changes are the addition of Julius Peppers, the drafting of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, and the replacement of B.J. Raji.  Peppers is listed as the starting OLB opposite Matthews, but realistically he will play some defensive line as well.  Clinton-Dix is not a starter as we go into week 1, but with his talent he will be seeing a lot of snaps, and I have to believe he will be a starting safety very soon.  As for Raji, he obviously didn't have a very good year in 2013, but now that he is out for the year, somebody is going to have to step up.  Letroy Guion was the less-heralded free-agent acquisition, but if he ends up as a significant upgrade over the 2013 version of Raji, he might have more impact than Peppers.  I have been a little surprised that the Packers did not sign Ryan Pickett, or even Johnny Jolly, to shore up the defensive line, and maybe they still will.  But for now they seem confident that Guion can do the job.

There is nothing I love more than when the Packers find some hidden gem of an undrafted free agent.  They might have another one in Jayrone Elliott.  When you have limited snaps in the pre-season, but still end up with Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers calling you "The Sackmaster," and the trainers calling you Shakespeare (all he does is make plays), then you just might have a future in the NFL.  

There is a lot of talk about the Packers going to, and perhaps winning, the Super Bowl this year.  So it is going to be one of those high-expectation years.  2010 was just like that, too, and of course the Packers did go on to win Super Bowl XLV, although the path they took to do that was probably not something anyone could have or would have predicted (the no. 6 seed, barely making the playoffs based on DeSean Jackson's punt return TD against the Giants, winning three road playoff games and then the Super Bowl).

As I look at the Packers' schedule, I think they will end up 12-4 or 13-3.  I think they will probably lose to the Seahawks, Saints and either Patriots or Bears.  If they lose both those games, they end up at 12-4, which still ought to be plenty for them to win the division.  

Focusing specifically on Week 1, what a plus it would be if the Packers could defeat the world champion Seahawks, and then get 10 days to be ready for their next game.  And this could well happen - there are reasons for optimism, starting with the fact that the Seahawks have lost a bunch of players in the wake of their Super Bowl win, as frequently happens.  Adam Czech of Jersey Al's lists five reasons the Packers can win, but never mind his reasons, I just can't improve on the intro to his article:
I hate the Seahawks. Pete Carroll is annoying. I’m sick of hearing about how loud their stupid stadium is. Russel Wilson is a terrible actor in bad commercials. Half the team is jacked up on PEDs. I can never figure out what Richard Sherman is yelling about.
I hope the Packers beat the Seahawks on Thursday by 12 touchdowns. Then I hope they build a giant bonfire at midfield, burn every last piece footage from the Fail Mary, and dance around the flames singing “Bang the Drum all Day” until dawn.
 Despite all that, I think it is more likely than not that the Packers will lose to Seattle and start off the season on a sour note.  But we only have three more days to wait to find out.

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