Seven years ago, the Packers barely made it to the playoffs. And then they went on the road for three straight playoff games, made it to the Super Bowl, and won the whole damn thing. Since then, the Packers rarely have had to struggle to get to the postseason, but they’ve been unable to get back to the Super Bowl.
In 2011, a franchise-best 15-1 record evaporated into a one-and-done Lambeau loss to the Giants. In 2012, another division title and a wild-card win led to a shredding in San Francisco by a quarterback now deemed to be unfit to play. The next year resulted in another division title (despite an 8-7-1) record and another home loss, this time to the same team, and the same currently-unemployed quarterback.
The Packers went 12-4 in 2014, culminating in a defeat-snatched-from-victory’s-jaws NFC title game loss in Seattle. The next year, a wild-card berth resulted in an overtime loss in a division-round game for the ages in Arizona. Last year, the Packers caught fire after a 4-6 start and made it to the NFC title game again, running out of steam in Atlanta.
This year, they again sit near the top of the stack as the season approaches. And their CEO believes that, after two NFC title-game appearances in the last three years, this time they’ll punch through, making the short trip across the border and playing for their fifth Super Bowl trophy in the Vikings’ living room. They’ll definitely get at least close. Whether they can finish the job is another issue entirely.
Biggest positive change: Ted Thompson hasn’t signed many free agents over the years, but when tight end Jared Cook made a cash grab, Thompson said sayonara and signed Martellus Bennett. While Bennett may not make a spectacular postseason catch that takes out the Cowboys in Dallas, Bennett likely will be an upgrade, especially since Bennett has had the better overall career. With Cook’s performance perhaps finally persuading Thompson of the value of having a competent pass-catching tight end (something they haven’t had since Jermichael Finley), Bennett becomes the guy who maybe can make the difference for an offense that is loaded at plenty of other positions, primarily the one responsible for throwing the football to guys like Bennett.
Biggest negative change: Pro Bowl guard T.J. Lang jumped to the Lions in free agency, months after the Packers dumped guard Josh Sitton and he landed with the Bears. While some would say interior linemen are fungible, it’s not easy to let quality guys like Lang and Sitton (and center JC Tretter) leave and hope that the next man up will help keep the quarterback from being the next man down.
Coaching thermometer: Who the hell knows? The standard for Mike McCarthy doesn’t seem to be the same as it is elsewhere, where a single owner can decide in any given year (or on any given day) that the coach isn’t getting the most out of the roster. In Green Bay, it’s different. Which could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on whether the individual owner would make good or bad decisions about keeping or changing coaches.
But here’s one thing that’s hard to dispute. A traditional owner likely would have pushed Thompson to push McCarthy to push defensive coordinator Dom Capers out the door. And many would say that the consistent failure of the defense to properly complement Rodgers and the offense justifies a new approach during however many years Rodgers has left.
We’d like to have a beer with . . . Mike Daniels. The underrated and outspoken interior defensive lineman would hopefully loosen up and share his insights on what’s going right and what’s going wrong with a Packers team that always gets close but can’t get over the top. Is Rodgers a good leader? Where could he do better?
When Rodgers said last year that the team lacked energy on the sideline and then said there needs to be a healthy fear of getting cut, did the players see that as a shot at McCarthy?
Who isn’t carrying his weight? Is Capers the problem?
It may take more than a few beers to get to the bottom of this one. But we’d sure love to try. Even if I’d be passed out before Daniels begins baring his soul.
How they could prove us wrong: If Bennett and Rodgers simply don’t mix (and their personalities are clearly different), that could create a layer of dysfunction that could make it hard to get through what has been an annual stretch of underachievement and adversity. And if running back Ty Montgomery can’t take the week-in, week-out pounding now that he has made the full-time switch from receiver, they may regret letting Eddie Lacy walk — and not making a run at Adrian Peterson. Chances are, though, that they’ll still find a way to still be standing when the field is cut to eight or four. The question remains whether they can keep it together when the field gets cut to two.