The Green Bay Packers streak of 4 straight NFC North titles came to an end in 2015. The Packers finished one-game back of the Vikings at 10-6.
It was good enough to earn a Wild Card spot in the playoffs. Green Bay opened up with an impressive 35-18 win at Washington, but lost a heartbreaker in Arizona 20-26.
It was the Packers 7th consecutive trip to the postseason, a remarkable feat in today’s NFL. However, the expectations in Green Bay are much higher than just making the playoffs.
With Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, it’s basically Super Bowl or bust. Though Green Bay hasn’t been to the Super Bowl since 2010.
That drought could come to an end in 2016, but it won’t be easy. The NFC is absolutely loaded with elite teams, including division rival Minnesota. First order of business will be taking back the NFC North crown.
2016 Roster Changes
Top Draft Picks
|NT Kenny Clark, OT Jason Spriggs, LB Kyler Fackrell, LB Blake Martinez, DE/DT Dean Lowry|
|TE Jared Cook|
|WR James Jones, NT B.J. Raji, DE/OLB Mike Neal, CB Casey Hayward|
2016 Schedule & Odds
|Week||Opponent||Spread (Est.)||Win Chance|
|Estimated Wins: 10.89|
Last year the Packers took a major step back on the offensive side of the ball. In 2014, Green Bay led the league in scoring (30.4 ppg) and was 6th in total offense (386.1 ypg). They dropped down to 15th in scoring (23.0 ppg) and 23rd in total offense (334.6 ypg).
Most point to the injury of top wide out Jordy Nelson as the primary reason. Nelson was lost before the season ever started. Even with the injury few saw the decline coming. They still had a talented receiver in Randall Cobb and Rodgers was still under center.
Cobb got off to a great start, but never fully recovered from an ankle injury suffered in Week 3. He still ended up leading the team with 79 receptions and 829 yards, but that was far from what they expected. Keep in mind Cobb had 91 receptions for 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2014.
There’s also some speculation that Rodgers wasn’t 100%. Rumors surfaced that he was playing with a torn tendon in his shoulder, but it hasn’t been validated. That would at least make some sense.
Either way, all signs point to the Packers featuring one of the league’s top offenses in 2016. Nelson is back and ready to give Rodgers that dynamic 1-2 punch on the outside.
Green Bay is also expecting a big year out of 3rd-year wide out Jeff Janus. It took a while for Rodgers to trust him, but he came up big in the playoff game against Arizona. He caught 7 passes for 145 yards and two scores. They also finally upgraded the tight end position by adding free agent Jared Cook. One of the more underrated moves this offseason.
It wasn’t just the passing game that took a hit in 2015. Green Bay wasn’t nearly as effective running the ball. That blame falls on running back Eddie Lacey. He came into the season overweight and was not the same player. He’s supposedly in much better shape, so improvement here could also be on the way.
The offensive line returns intact. David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga will be the two starting tackles. Neither is great, but good enough to get the job done. The strength of the unit is inside. The Packers have a strong guard combo in T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton. They also have a talented young center in Corey Linsley. Adding depth is 2nd-round rookie tackle Jason Spriggs.
While the offense struggled, Green Bay’s defense stepped up and had a great season. While they lost key contributors in nose tackle B.J. Raji and corner Casey Hayward, the unit is in good shape.
Raji’s absence is a bit of a surprise, as he came out of nowhere to retire in March. Luckily he informed them early enough they could replace him in the draft. Something they accomplished by using their 1st round pick on UCLA’s Kenny Clark. He’ll join Mike Daniels, Letroy Guion and Mike Pennel in the rotation up front.
As for Hayward, his departure isn’t all that big, even though he’s a really good player. Green Bay still has veteran Sam Shields on the outside. They also struck gold in last year’s draft with Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins. Both played well when given the chance. Randall will start opposite of Shields, while Rollins plays the nickel.
Not to mention the Packers have one of the NFL’s best safety duos at the back of their secondary. Morgan Burnett and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix are two players they can’t afford to lose.
I know Green Bay doesn’t like to spend big on free agents. Instead looking to build through the draft. However, they could have really used an upgrade at inside linebacker. They have been so weak at the position the past couple of years, Clay Matthews has had to help out.
That hurts the defense, as Matthews is an elite edge rusher from the outside linebacker spot. Green Bay has said they are keeping Matthews outside in 2016. However, I doubt they hesitate to move him back inside if needed. With Matthews on the outside, the Packers have quite a 1-2 punch at getting after the quarterback. Julius Peppers led the team last year with 10.5 sacks.
Jake Ryan and Sam Barrington are the projected starters at inside linebacker. Both are more than capable against the run, but a major liability against the pass. That’s where the problem lies. Maybe 4th round rookie Blake Martinez can fill the void in the nickel, but it’s no sure thing.
Regular Season Win Total
to Win the NFC North
to Win Super Bowl
Odds Courtesy of 5Dimes
While I really like what the Vikings are doing, my money is on the Packers to take back the top spot in the North. With that said, I don’t think it will be easy. I have Green Bay only projected 1-win ahead of Minnesota, despite a 12-4 record.
Green Bay should light up the scoreboard on offense and get more than enough stops from their defense. That is assuming none of their key pieces go down for an extended period.
I know 10.5 wins is a lot for a win total, but Green Bay is one team I wouldn’t be concerned with the high number. The Packers won 10 games last year with the offense coming no where close to expectations. Any thing short of 11 wins would be considered a massive disappointment for one of the NFC’s best teams.
NFC North Finish
Win Total Prediction
Packers 10-Year Recap