Since winning the Super Bowl to cap the 2010 season, the Packers have made it back to the playoffs three straight years. But they haven’t made it past the divisional round.
The ability to consistently contend is a testament to franchise quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The inability to get with a game of the Super Bowl is an indictment of the defense. Whether Titletown’s can get close to the title game again hinges on a few questions.
How about five of them?
Yeah, five will be good.
1. Will Aaron Rodgers stay healthy?
For his first five years as a starter, Rodgers missed only one game, due to a concussion. Last year, a broken collarbone derailed the team’s season and nearly cost the Packers a playoff berth.
This year, Rodgers needs to avoid a similar outcome. Which may not be easy, with the team breaking in a new center. The rest of the line has shown signs of encouragement, however, the Packers effectively can replace Evan Dietrich-Smith, Rodgers’ safety will depend more heavily on his ability to protect himself. (With starting center J.C. Tretter gone for multiple weeks with a knee injury, that’ll be a challenge, at least early in the season.)
If he can, the Packers can shake things up in the NFC, starting with the first game of the regular season at Seattle. If he can’t, they’ll need Scott Tolzien or Matt Flynn to do far better than Rodgers’ backups did in 2013.
2. How big of a contract year will Randall Cobb have?
Receiver Jordy Nelson got his big contract. Receiver Randall Cobb hasn’t. He has said he wants to earn it.
So will he?
Cobb definitely has the incentive to put up big numbers. A lot of it depends on whether defenses shade coverage to Nelson or to Cobb, and whether Cobb can stay healthy, a year after missing 10 games due to injury.
3. Is Eddie Lacy ready for stardom?
The truly great running backs in the NFL hand can be listed on one hand. Even if that hand has been partially reconfigured by a table saw.
The Packers believe Eddie Lacy can join them. And he possibly can, given the manner in which he performed last year, especially after Rodgers was injured.
Much of Lacy’s ultimate production will hinge on the run-pass mix. With the Packers inclined to throw the ball a lot, Lacy simply may not get the touches necessary to rack up the kind of yards that would allow him to join the likes of Adrian Peterson, LeSean McCoy, and . . . and . . . .
OK, that hand can lose three fingers.
4. How much will they miss Jermichael Finley?
Lacy could get more opportunities because the passing game will be missing a key component in 2014. Tight end Jermichael Finley is gone, and in recent weeks there has been no talk of a return, to Green Bay or elsewhere.
It’s possible that Finley has fallen quiet because his camp is pursuing that $10 million tax-free disability policy. If/when it appears that Finley won’t be getting the money because his injury ultimately wasn’t career ending, he may decide to play. Which doesn’t mean the Packers will decide to embrace the risk of further injury.
Regardless, they need someone to fill the void. Currently, they simply don’t have anyone who clearly will fill Finley’s shoes.
5. Can Julius Peppers make a difference on defense?
Last year, in his final season with the Bears, Peppers looked like something other than what he has been when he’s been at his best. This year, the Packers are confident Peppers will be much more than he was in 2013, even though it’s his first foray in the 3-4.
The defense desperately needs it, given the loss of B.J. Raji for the year. Peppers on one side and Clay Matthews on the other need to create mayhem in the backfield, which will help the rest of the defense be something other than it has been when it’s been at its best.
Which has been a while.