Folks, we’ve FINALLY MADE IT.
Tonight the NFL regular season kicks off after seven long months. And this weekend, your Green Bay Packers travel to visit the New Orleans Saints… in Jacksonville.
It’s been a long time since I felt good enough to predict a Super Bowl trip before the season started. Last year I said the Packers would reach the NFC Championship for a second straight year, with anything else after that being gravy.
But this year I’m going for it. The whole hog. The Packers are going to defeat [insert AFC team here, doesn’t matter] in the Super Bowl, giving a fitting end to the Aaron Rodgers era in Green Bay before the team enters a brief rebuilding period this offseason.
So take your screenshots now for @OldTakesExposed, and file them away for February, because the hot takes begin now.
Here are your five reasons the Packers will win the Super Bowl this year.
1. Aaron freakin’ Rodgers.
Look, as big of an optimist as I am about my Packers, there’s no chance we’re having this conversation about the Packers as Super Bowl contenders if he doesn’t ultimately decide to return to the team this year.
I think Jordan Love can be a good long-term starter for the Packers. But he’s not Aaron Rodgers, and probably never will be.
Rodgers is coming off arguably the finest year of his career in an offense that’s only gotten deeper with its playmakers. Now in his third year in the Matt LaFleur offense, Rodgers has an opportunity to build even further on what he accomplished in 2020, and he probably remains at least as fueled by spite as he was a season ago.
At the very worst, Rodgers will be outstanding in 2021. Barring an injury to him (knock on all the wooden objects in your home), this team will be a contender.
2. New defensive system
I said repeatedly last season that if the Packers failed to win the Super Bowl, it would be due in large part to Mike Pettine’s outrageously soft, conservative defensive play calling and philosophy.
There was a lot of criticism over the Packers’ selection of Joe Barry to be their new defensive coordinator, and it’s understandable why. Barry’s defenses in Detroit and Washington didn’t particularly play inspiring football.
But Barry has never had the caliber of players he’s working with in Green Bay–not even close. Moreover, he’s bringing over a lot of defensive principles used by Vic Fangio, who has run successful defenses across multiple teams over the last decade (49ers, Bears, now Broncos).
Players reported over the offseason that the new defense allows them more flexibility and puts them in better position to succeed. I’m going to take the optimistic view here and say a change of philosophy will be big in the development of some of these young players like Rashan Gary and Darnell Savage, and help the team finally get over the hump.
4. Greater versatility in the passing game
I’m wary of saying the Green Bay Packers have more weapons than they did a year ago, because they were doing pretty darn well in that department. Well enough, in fact, to have the league’s best offense.
But with the additions of Randall Cobb and Amari Rodgers, what they do have is more versatility.
Since Cobb left after the 2018 season, the Packers have lacked a true slot receiver. Now they’ve got two, and that opens up a lot of possibilities in the offense.
The Packers won’t have to force Allen Lazard into a slot role for which he’s not well suited. They can still line up Lazard or Davante Adams or Marquez Valdes-Scantling in the slot, but having a couple designated guys for that position who can also line up out of the backfield is a big difference maker.
It allows Lazard to focus on a route tree that complements Adams, and it allows MVS to really be the field-stretching receiver he’s meant to be without having to also take a certain percentage of slot-role snaps.
Plus, with Josiah Deguara returning from injury, the Packers have more options in the H-Back spot that they didn’t really have for most of 2020, at least until Dominique Dafney started getting some playing time.
4. Improved secondary
Jaire Alexander is arguably the finest cover cornerback in the game. Adrian Amos is one of the league’s most underrated players. Darnell Savage is an ascending star.
All of that was true in 2020 and will be again in 2021.
Bringing back Kevin King, baggage aside, was the right move. The Green Bay Packers spent a first-round pick on a very fast, very talented Eric Stokes, who now has the benefit of being able to come along slowly in a depth role behind King and Alexander. Chandon Sullivan will still largely be able to focus on the slot.
It might not sound like much has changed since 2020, but which of these cornerback groups would you rather have?
The depth looks much better this season, and you need that depth when you’re playing a lot of nickel and dime against teams with deep receiving corps… like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
5. The competition
The Green Bay Packers have a tough schedule this year–this is true. But they are extremely well-positioned for a run thanks in large part to the competition they have in the NFC.
The toughest matchup will continue to be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, assuming Tom Brady doesn’t suddenly succumb to Father Time, and the San Francisco 49ers, assuming they make a return to their full power after a year derailed by injuries.
There’s no other team in the NFC North, NFC East or NFC South that has a legitimate shot at making a title run, unless they come out of absolutely nowhere to do so. The Seattle Seahawks and Los Angeles Rams will probably be in the playoff mix, and the Rams could be an intriguing team with their big upgrade at quarterback, but make no mistake: the big dogs are the Packers and the Bucs, and it would be an upset for the Packers to not at least make the NFC Championship.
The Packers have the talent and coaching to take them far, and a relative lack of title-contending competition in their conference to deal with. That should go a long way.
Quick Hits: Week One
Here are some random thoughts I have related to the Green Bay Packers as we prepare for week one and the New Orleans Saints:
- If the Saints really thought moving the game to Jacksonville would result in fewer Packer fans in attendance than some of the other options that were on the table, they clearly don’t know much about Packer fans.
- Rashan Gary has a chance to make his biggest impact yet. As of the time I’m writing this, it’s unknown if Za’Darius Smith will be suiting up on Sunday. Gary could play the most snaps of his career, and be a crucial part of pressuring Jameis Winston into committing some characteristic turnovers. The Rashan Gary breakout season could well begin right away in week one.
- This will be the second Packers/Saints game in a row in which the Packers defense won’t have to worry about Michael Thomas. It’s a big loss for the Saints, and also a chance for this newly revamped Packers defense to put more focus on Alvin Kamara, who gashed them in 2020.
- Aaron Rodgers Tuesdays was bomb, and I especially love the fact that he’s starting book recommendations every week. Pat McAfee getting ridiculously hyped for a book club that he’ll never participate in was pretty hilarious.
- I’m going to be very interested to see how the Packers use the H-Back position this week. With Josiah Deguara back from injury and Dominique Dafney still on the roster, the Packers will have plenty of opportunity to use some creative packages.
- Keep an eye on the field goal kicking this week. With a new punter/holder and not a ton of reps between the two, there’s always a chance something could go haywire.
- Speaking of kicking, Mason Crosby hasn’t missed a field goal since the 2019 season. Let’s see how long he keeps that streak alive.
I joked on Twitter last week that the Packers would win by at least 30. While that probably won’t happen, I do think this is going to be a blowout.
The Saints are temporarily displaced, playing in an outdoor open-air stadium that doesn’t get particularly loud. They won’t have anywhere near the homefield advantage they’d have in the Superdome, and the team under Sean Payton has historically been neutered in outdoor games.
They’re missing their top receiving weapon, cut a lot of key contributors from a year ago and are starting a quarterback who, while very talented, was last seen throwing 30 interceptions in a single season.
Meanwhile, the Packers have a tremendous amount of personnel continuity on offense and defense, tend to have favorable crowds in Florida and are coming in to the season as a team on a mission.
The Packers win 41-20, with the final score by the Saints coming in garbage time.