In hindsight, the Green Bay Packers' Super Bowl aspirations ended last season before a single meaningful game had even been played. Wide receiver Jordy Nelson tore his ACL in late August, and they never able to replace him. With a full slate of weapons at his disposal once again, Aaron Rodgers will look to put up some of his best numbers yet.
Despite a disappointing offensive output, the Packers were involved in perhaps the wildest NFL playoff ending ever last season in the Divisional round against the Arizona Cardinals. Rodgers threw a game-tying Hail Mary pass with 13 seconds left, connecting with little known wideout Jeff Janis in the end zone. The miraculous throw brought the two teams to overtime, where the coin bizarrely wouldn't flip. Arizona won the re-toss, and Larry Fitzgerald scampered home for the winning touchdown a few plays later.
After trying to spread the ball around to a relatively anonymous cast for four months, Rodgers is probably delighted to have Nelson back in the fold. The seven-year veteran developed into one of the best receivers in football, combining for 2,833 yards and 21 touchdown catches in 2013 and 2014.
One of the other big differences for the Packers this year could be a trimmed-down Eddie Lacy. Green Bay asked the embattled running back to shed some weight this offseason, with head coach Mike McCarthy even addressing the situation publicly. Lacy took up an intense P90X regimen and entered training camp looking much lighter than ever before.
Though the Packers' offense often receives the bulk of the attention, two prominent members of their defense were in the headlines all offseason. Linebackers Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers were two of the players named in Al Jazeera's expose on performance-enhancing drug use in sports, but they were cleared of any wrongdoing in late August after a lengthy NFL investigation. Perhaps they'll have some extra motivation to rush Blake Bortles on Sunday.
The Jacksonville Jaguars aren't in the Packers' class, but they're far from the pushover they've been in recent years. Bortles did lead the league with 18 interceptions, but he also threw 35 touchdown passes. Second-year wideout Allen Robinson reeled in 14 of those touchdown throws in a breakout campaign, and seems poised to become one of the top wide receivers in football.
But the area in which the Jaguars are most improved is on the defensive side of the ball. They went on a wild free agent spending frenzy, inking veterans Malik Jackson, Prince Amukamara and Tashaun Gipson to multi-year deals. With a solid veteran defense and improving young offense, the Jaguars could possibly threaten for a Wild Card berth in the wide open AFC South — provided all goes according to plan.
On Sunday in Jacksonville, though, most eyes will be on the Packers. According to the Vegas oddsmakers, they're the Super Bowl favorites out of the NFC. Anything less than a deep playoff run should be considered a disappointment while Rodgers is in the midst of his prime.
How to Watch
When: 1 p.m. ET
Where: EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Fla
Announcers: Kevin Burkhardt,
Online: NFL Game Pass