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Green Bay Packers: Five Predictions for 2009

As training camp nears before the 2009 season, expectations for the Green Bay Packers grow. This is unusual coming off a 6-10 season, in which the team lost five of its last six.

Ironically, coming into the 2008 training camp there was more trepidation than expectation, despite coming off a 13-3 season. That is because there were questions as to how well the offense would endure the loss of Hall of Fame quarterback, Brett Favre.

But the offense flourished despite numerous injuries on the offensive line and the nagging hamstring affecting running back Ryan Grant. Production fell only slightly—from fifth to sixth in the league, with scoring dropping just a point per game.

Aaron Rodgers led eight fourth-quarter comebacks, only to see the defense and special teams blow seven of them. This led to the firing of almost every coach on either unit. Dom Capers has been brought in to engineer a defensive makeover.

The defense that was 11th in the league in 2007, but fell to 20th in 2008 has been overhauled. The switch to a 3-4 seems to be ahead of schedule, as two of last season’s defensive ends, Aaron Kampman and Jeremy Thompson, have shown they are ready to make the adjustment to outside linebacker.

On paper, the Packers have more talent than other defenses Capers has turned around. Two of the last three he took over shot up to fourth-ranked from the bottom half of the league. The only reason the Packers defense was ranked that low last season was that it had up to five injured starters at one time.

That makes the only thing that is consistent with the 2008 off-season is the, “will-he-won’t-he return” drama surrounding Favre, although this season it is clear where he will play if he does return.

With that in mind, here are five positive predictions, none of which are obvious, for the Green Bay Packers in 2009:

1. The defense will finish the season in the top quarter of the league.

The sack total went from 13th in the NFL in 2007 to 26th in 2008, but the unpredictability of the 3-4 typically results in more sacks and even more turnovers. In addition, the talent on defense now exceeds that of 2007. New additions B.J. Raji, Clay Matthews III, Thompson, and a developing secondary more than compensate for the loss of Corey Williams and Colin Cole over the past two seasons and the aging of Al Harris, who still made the Pro Bowl in 2008.

That is enough reason to believe the unit can climb three spots higher than it was when last healthy.

2. Aaron Rodgers will make the Pro Bowl.

He should have made it in 2008, having finished in the top six in the league in passer rating, rushing yards, total yards, and total touchdowns. He will again achieve 4,000 plus total yards, thirty plus total touchdowns, and a passer rating over ninety. Since it will be a second straight year and the team will finish with more wins, he will get the honour he deserves this year.

3. The Packers will make the playoffs.

I am not willing to predict that Green Bay will win the division: I think the Minnesota Vikings are the favorite presuming Favre does play for them. And making the playoffs in the NFC will be tough as a wild card, with the following ten teams battling for six spots: Giants, Eagles, Cowboys, Packers, Vikings, Bears, Falcons, Saints, Seahawks, and Cardinals. Even Washington, Carolina, and San Francisco are legitimate darkhorse candidates.

I put the Packers’ odds of winning the division at about three in eight and of earning a wild card at about three in ten overall, that gives them about a 56 percent chance of playing in January.

4. At least one rookie will beat out a veteran for a starting position before the end of the season.

In other words, we are not talking about someone replacing an injured player, but legitimately earning a starting spot. The top candidates are first-round picks Raji (DT/DE) and Matthews (OLB), fourth-round pick T.J. Lang (OG/T), and fifth-round choice Quinn Johnson (FB).

5. Tramon Williams will beat out Al Harris for the starting position opposite Charles Woodson.

Harris began to show his age in 2008, missing the first four games of his career due to injury. In his place, Williams grew quickly into a legitimate playmaker at cornerback, and will only get better. The new NFL is a young man’s league, and there is almost a decade between the two corners.

Moreover, Harris’ bump-and-run style he used so effectively against all but the most physical receivers will be employed much less in the new 3-4 scheme. This leaves Williams a better fit for the new defense and relegates Harris to the nickel package, which is a critical personnel grouping that still takes the field about half the time, however, and Harris will be the best nickelback in the game.

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