August 03, 2010

2010-2011 Packers Season Preview - the crucial players

There was some big news today that changed a big part of what I wrote, but the basic thesis is the same here. What really has changed from the squad that lost 51-45 to Arizona in the playoffs? The secondary was banged up (Harris out with an ACL injury, Woodson not 100%) against what was a bad matchup. Furthermore, the offensive line just stunk. Despite that, they're still an elite offensive team (and there's a good chance Rodgers could get even *better*). But basically, the Packers 2010-2011 season comes down to 6 players.

  1. Charles Woodson

  2. Al Harris

  3. Chad Clifton

  4. Mark Tauscher

  5. Johnny Jolly's replacements

  6. Brett Favre

The theme here is that most of these players are aging and/or are big injury risks, except for Jolly (who is suspended indefinitely for substance abuse/legal problems).

Before today, the Jolly situation was the one I was least worried about. B.J. Raji was picked in the first round for a reason and I think he'll do just fine, and the news that Justin Harrell is healthy helps assuage any problems with depth too.

Of course, the big news I mentioned above was Farve announcing his retirement. Of course, I'm taking that with a huge grain of salt, but if his ankle isn't good, it isn't good. My gut says that the chances are better than not that he stays retired. Once Ted Thompson is gone he'll likely mend his fences with GB (the franchise definitely needs it more than he does). The Vikes are now looking at Sage Rosenfels and Tavaris Jackson as their starting QBs. Jackson is not great, and he lost a year of development with Favre gone, but let's not forget that he was still decent enough to QB the team through a 12-4 season in 2008. They're not going anywhere in the playoffs with him but the rest of the team could still be good enough to carry him to a playoff game at least.

But those 4 guys at the top (and that aforementioned Cardinals loss) are very worrisome. Harris will be out the first few games and he obviously won't be 100% for the next few games after that, and even before the injury his skills were declining. Woodson is coming off a NFL Defensive Player of the Year award last year but is always a guy who's battling injuries, and he's got a lot of mileage on those legs (turns 34 this season). Don't get me wrong - he had a really good year but it was his gaudy INT numbers that got him the award, and that's not something I put *too* much stock on as my gut would tell me there's a lot of variance in that stat. He and Tramon Williams were completely burned by Arizona's (admittedly, excellent) WRs, and the Packers will see more of the same in the playoffs if they run into another elite offensive team.

Tauscher and Clifton are big worries too. It said a lot that no one took a flier on Tauscher, who was a former All-pro RT, after his last knee injury. The Packers picked him up eventually (after Aaron Rodgers was nearly killed in multiple games) and he did an okay job, but nothing to write home about. The same could be said of Clifton, who's a shadow of his former self. They're both just average players at this point. They do have Bulaga (who I'm very high on) waiting in the wings should one of them go down, but I'm not sure he's a guy you can count on in his rookie season. And there's always the FAIL duo of last year of Barbre and Lang, though I think Lang has a lot of room for improvement (he's probably Tauscher's heir apparent).

Anyway, the Favre maybe-retirement was pretty huge. Here's how I think the NFC North shakes out, both with records and chance of winning the division (note: lots of tough road games for the Pack and the Vikes)

Packers: 10-6 (65%)
Vikings: 8-8 (25%)
Bears: 7-9 (10%)
Lions: 6-10 (0%)