The Green Bay Packers are coming off of a 2012 season where they won the NFC North with an 11-5 record and beat their division rival Minnesota Vikings before losing to the 49ers in the conference semi-finals.
The offseason saw Donald Driver retire, Charles Woodson get released and sign with the Oakland Raiders, Tom Crabtree go unsigned, and Greg Jennings go unsigned and land with said division rival Vikings as their new No. 1 wide receiver.
Thankfully for the Packers it also saw the drafting of a one-two punch in the running game with Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin as well as some shifting of the offensive line; both moves that are intended to take pressure off of Aaron Rodgers after he was sacked a league-leading 51 times.
The Packers' offense was above average overall and very good in converting possessions into points. While they were only 13th in the league in yards per game, they were fifth in the league in points per game, averaging 27.1 per contest.
This was despite the fact that they were only 20th in the league in rushing yards per game and their leading rusher had only 464 rushing yards (less than one fourth the total of Adrian Peterson). Aaron Rodgers led the league in passer rating and was second in passing scores.
In 2013 the Packers will face six games against the best division in football, at least in this writer's mind. They will also get four games against the NFC East, four against the AFC North, and will play the 49ers and Falcons as well.
Clearly this will be a very difficult challenge for them as seen in their 5th toughest strength of schedule league-wide. This tough schedule including some high-powered offenses bodes well for fantasy owners who select Rodgers and company.
Quarterbacks: The unquestioned starter for the next seven-plus years is Aaron Rodgers. He is often the top QB off the board for both his consistency and the fact that he will get owners points with his feet as well. Over the last five seasons he has averaged over 276 rushing yards and 3.6 rushing scores per year.
That translates into an additional 49 points that guys like Peyton Manning (who has averaged 6 yards and .6 scores over that span) don’t get. With targets like Nelson, Cobb, Jones, Finley, and Franklin in the passing game, Rodgers is a great choice for any fantasy team.
Running Backs: Until this offseason you would have thought that the Packers planned to win another Super Bowl on the arm of Aaron Rodgers alone. Their leading rusher didn’t even reach 500 yards, the worst of any team in the league by a mile, and the Packers often found themselves missing out on short-yardage conversions. Enter Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin. The second and fourth round picks will easily be the starting tandem the Packers are looking for.
At 5’11" and 230 pounds, Lacy has the frame to pound the rock as often as he needs to. Franklin is the lightning to his thunder. At 5’10" and 205 pounds he has the agility to make one cut and be gone down the field. He should also factor in to the passing game a lot more than Lacy and should be seen often on third and long situations.
Wide Receivers: After the trio of wide receivers in Denver, the Packers' group of Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, and James Jones might be the best in the league. Jones led the league with 14 receiving scores last year and there is no doubt that all three of these wide receivers are capable of over 1,000 yards and double digit scores. Cobb seems to be the favorite, especially in PPR format, but you really can’t go wrong with any of them.
Tight Ends: After the loss of Tom Crabtree the Packers made the choice to keep Jermichael Finley, even though he is to count over $8 million against the cap. Finley has a ton of talent and at times has demonstrated his dominance over opponents; however the only consistency he has shown has been in regularly dropping passes. He is certainly a risk-reward player.
Breakout Player: This honor has to go to one of the rookie running backs. While Lacy will likely be the feature back, I like Franklin to be a big part of the passing attack and still get a decent number of touches in the running game.
He has a ton of big play ability and with such a solid corps of wide receiver stretching the field, he could be one of Rodgers’ favorite targets in the short game.
Bust: It is hard to pick a fantasy bust on such a strong offensive team. The only way to really pick a “bust” candidate is to look at expectations and realize that there is a good chance someone won’t reach them.
James Jones saw nine of his 14 scores come across four games and he only had 17 total receptions in those four games, showing that he really was just in the right place at the right time. I don’t see the consistency from him that is needed to be a super star. After 14 scores, he might be considered a “bust” with about half of that total.
MVP: Can we possibly look any further than Aaron Rodgers? He won’t only be the MVP for this team, but should be in the discussion for league MVP after what I expect to be his greatest fantasy season yet. A real run game, having Cobb on offense full-time, some adjustments to the O-line, and getting a weapon like Franklin underneath might just make him unstoppable.