I get really frustrated when I'm asked to predict the 2011 record for the Green Bay Packers. I spend too much time agonizing over each game preview and now you want to know about 16 games? Coach told me to take it one game at a time! The Packers schedule isn't too bad with only one bad bunching of games at the end of November when they play the Lions on Thanksgiving. Outside of their division, they play the AFC West and NFC South this season, which include some pretty good teams, but also the two worst teams of 2010. Some of their road games look tough, but the Packers should be known as the best road warriors in the NFL after they had to win in Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Chicago during the playoffs. I can see how they can win all 16 games this season, but reality sets in and they're bound to lose some close ones. I think 11-5 is more realistic.
Best Game On The Schedule
Unfortunately I don't expect either team will be clicking on all cylinders in their first game of the season, but an NFL opener featuring the last two Super Bowl champs (the Saints travel to Lambeau Field) really stands out on the schedule. A repeat of the NFC Championship game on September 25 as the Packers travel to Chicago to face the Bears deserves honorable mention.
Player Who Takes A Step Back This Year
Before the lockout ended, I would have said WR Donald Driver is going to take a step back this season. Expecting a 36 year old receiver to bounce back from an injury riddled 2010 is a fools game. But the team has stood by him at the same time they released five high priced veterans, and he's looked like his old self during the preseason. Returning RB Ryan Grant has taken a pay cut, and is expected to take a reduced role, but it's hard to tell if that will really happen based on preseason game usage. The Packers have been incredibly pass heavy this preseason and haven't featured any running back.
Breakout Player Candidates
Health remains a concern for both players but two defensive players had their rookie seasons cut short due to injury, and they are both expected to start this season. DE Mike Neal is being counted on to provide an inside pass rush after the free agent departure of DE Cullen Jenkins, and could become one of their leaders in sacks. SS Morgan Burnett has shown potential as a deep safety able to intercept ill-advised passes, and teams might find out the hard way about him if they decide to target the young starter instead of the other Pro Bowl performers in the secondary.
I've heard several announcers say, sheepishly, that maybe, just maybe, Aaron Rodgers should be mentioned as one of the top quarterbacks alongside Brees, Brady and Manning. They shouldn't be sheepish about it. He's really that good. He still works in the system designed by Mike McCarthy, but McCarthy is giving Rodgers even more authority in it. This preseason they've gone no-huddle so Rodgers can spend a few more seconds looking over the defense to decide whether he wants to change the play. The strength of his game remains his accuracy, which he's shown since he first became the starter in 2008, and his ability in this regard can't be overrated. An accurate quarterback, in an offense with receivers that he's known for years, and he can surprise a defense with an occasional first down run? That's a deadly combination.
Best Packers Player Others Have Never Heard Of
His name recognition has grown after he's won some post-season awards, but RG Josh Sitton is a mauler with a nasty streak. He was singled out by DT Ndamukong Suh as his toughest opponent last season, and their annual battles might be something to watch over the next couple seasons. Sitton might become even more well known after the Packers award him a huge contract extension.
Fantasy Football Outlook
As far as fantasy football advice goes, the reasons why the Packers are such a dangerous offense (so many targets and weapons) makes them a liability on draft day. WR Greg Jennings had a huge 2010 fantasy season, but only after TE Jermichael Finley was lost due to a knee injury. The Packers go deep with four receivers guaranteed to have at least 60 passes each thrown to them, plus rookie 2nd round WR Randall Cobb in the wings, and Finley is only one of four quality receiving tight ends on the roster. Every back on the roster is also a threat to catch the ball. Jennings and Finley are locks to be drafted, but it will be a guess whether any of the other skill players burst out from week-to-week.
Best Players To Follow On Twitter
I don't know how entertaining every player is on Twitter, but the Packers have an impressive lineup in social networking too. Backup TE Tom Crabtree, who still has to earn a roster spot in this preseason, is notable for his random musings and flash mall appearances to show off his Super Bowl ring. Unfortunately QB Aaron Rodgers goes offline once training camp opens, and won't tweet again until the season's over, but he's a must read during the offseason.