Anyone can make “bold” predictions about a team. I could tell you that the Chiefs will have a major turnaround, get into the playoffs as a wild card, and pound their way through the AFC to the Super Bowl. I could predict that the new schemes in Cleveland will make Trent Richardson a 2500 yard back and allow Brandon Weeden to complete 70% of his passes. It’s easy to throw out “bold” predictions; but if they aren’t at least somewhat based in fact then that’s all they are: predictions.
As a writer and more importantly as a fan, I don’t want to live in a world where everything is glass half full and every day is sunshine, rainbows, and lollipops. That is of course, unless it really is. The reality for the Green Bay Packers in 2013 is that they have a very tough schedule, but may have assembled their best roster in decades. Yes, better than their 15-1 season and better than their recent Super Bowl victory.
The reason I have so much excitement likely stems from the new talent at the running back position. Maybe a few years back it would have been unwise to expect rookies to impact the team much. But then we saw guys like Matt Forte, Chris Johnson, Alfred Morris, Doug Martin, and Trent Richardson shine as rookies. While I don’t expect rookie of the year numbers from either Eddie Lacy or Johnathan Franklin, the duo will immediately improve a lack-luster running game that saw the Packers fail to have A SINGLE PLAYER reach 500 rushing yards in 2012.
So when I step out and make predictions, they have to be fact based. Sure, there is hope and even a little wishful thinking in there. But without some evidence to back these ideas up, they should fall on deaf ears. So with that said, here are my six predictions for the Packers in 2013.
6. The Packers will beat the 49ers week one in San Francisco.
The Packers open the season against the San Francisco 49ers for the second consecutive year. In week one of last year the 49ers won in Green Bay with Alex Smith starting at quarterback. The 49ers racked up 186 rushing yards and Michael Crabtree had seven catches for 76 yards on their way to a 30-22 victory.
In January the Packers travelled to San Francisco and got demolished by Kaepernick and company 45-31. The team combined for 323 rushing yards including 181 for Kaepernick and 119 more for Frank Gore. Michael Crabtree finished the game with nine receptions for 119 yards and two scores. So what will be so different in 2013?
First, the 49ers will be without Michael Crabtree. He averaged nearly 100 yards and a score in the two contests last year and the 49ers will be playing their first regular season game without the all-star. Second, the Packers will have a healthy Nick Perry on defense so that there is a top tier edge rusher coming from both ends with Matthews also bringing the heat.
Most importantly though is that the Packers might actually be ok with giving up a lot of points and simply outscoring the 49ers. With a legit running game the Packers offense will be able to run a lot more play action and utilize one of the best wide receiver groups in the game. They will have also spent an entire off season figuring out how to stop QBs like Kaepernick as they will face him and RG3 in the regular season and could see Russell Wilson in the playoffs.
This win in San Francisco will be a bold statement to open the season and will likely throw the Packers right back into the mix of Super Bowl favorites.
5. Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson, and James Jones will each reach 1,000 yards and 10 scores.
It is one thing to predict that all three wide receivers for any team will reach 1,000 yards. Three players on the same team can definitely do it. We have seen it in Indianapolis with Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, and Dallas Clark. Peyton Manning could easily have another shot at a similar trio with Thomas, Decker, and Welker this year. But to also predict that all three wide receivers will reach 10 scores is something entirely different.
For a team to have two players reach double digit scores, they have to be targeted quite often in an offense that scores a lot. Roddy White and Julio Jones come to mind as do Nicks and Cruz. But even those dynamic duos both missed that feat last year. So to claim that THREE wide receivers from the same team could accomplish this might seem insane. Let’s take a closer look at how this could happen.
Over the past two seasons the top three wide receivers for the Packers combined for 31 and 25 scores. The top two tight ends added 14 more scores over those two seasons. On average that is 35 passing scores per year to the top three wide receivers and the tight end position. Both of those feats were accomplished with lackluster running games and defenses focused on stopping the passing attack.
In 2013 the Packers will have two capable backs at their disposal and will also have less competition in the passing game. Over the past two years Aaron Rodgers has had Jennings, Nelson, Jones, Cobb, Driver, Finley, and Crabtree at his disposal. This is great for the offense, but terrible for fantasy purposes. Who do you go with each week when there are so many options?
With those seven options cut to four after the retirement of Donald Driver and Jennings and Crabtree signing with new teams, the wealth of offense will be spread a little thicker across the board. This prediction (couples with another one to come) assumes that Rodgers reaches around 45 passing scores, something he has proven to be capable of doing. Nelson and Jones have already recorded seasons with 15 and 14 scores respectively and Cobb was only two shy of the 10 mark last season. It is within the realm of possibility that all three of these players could reach 10 scores and 1,000 receiving yards.
4. Aaron Rodgers and company will cut his sack total from 51 to 25.
In his five years as a starter, Rodgers has averaged a whopping 40 sacks per season including two season of 50 or more. I attribute this massive total to three things. Number one is that Rodgers has had a weak offensive line. This has often forced him to scramble and sometimes make big play. But far too often the collapse of the O-line results in a sack. Second is the lack of pass-catching backs for Rodgers to make a short dump off to. If he had a guy like Forte or Ray Rice, those numbers would be drastically reduced. Finally, Rodgers would rather take the sack than throw the pick. He throws fewer interceptions than just about anyone in the league, hence the increased sack total.
In order to reduce that 51 to a mear 25, Rodgers and company will have to remedy all three of these issues. The first issue is hopefully going to be at least improved by shifting the two best offensive linemen to Rodgers’ blind side. The further development of Detrich-Smith at center as well as new competition in the form of rookies should also beef up the line.
Second, and likely most importantly, is the addition of running backs Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin. Franklin specifically should be a nice weapon to dump off short passes to, and I expect to see numerous plays called for him such as screen passes or reverses. This should take a lot of the pressure off of Rodgers when he is feeling the pocket collapse.
Finally, Rodgers needs to get rid of the ball. As we have already stated, his options in the passing game are much more focused this year, and I think that will help a lot. He should look to only two to four options each play before either dumping the ball off short or throwing it out of bounds. Rodgers can still avoid the costly interceptions, but at a 6th year starter he must finally solve the sack issue by getting rid of the ball, even if it means an incompletion to the third row of the section 117 at Lambeau Filed.
If all three of these things can happen, there is no reason to believe that Rodgers will not be able to drop his sack total into the mid-20s, which would be below his best season of “only” 31 sacks.
3. Rookies Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin will combine for 2500 total yards and 20 scores.
If you already read number five then you will be shocked to see this prediction. Based on those two predictions alone, the Packers would need to have a minimum of 5500 yards of offense and 50 scores. When you add in a play maker like Jermichael Finley, plus the rushing yards Rodgers and other backs (and even Cobb) will get, plus totals for the 4th and 5th wide receivers, it isn’t crazy to think that the Packers might need 7,000 yards of offense and upwards of 65+ scores in 2013 to make this even possible.
Over the past four years at least five teams have reached 6,000 yards. In the past two seasons there have been five teams reach 6500 yards and one of those teams reached 7474 yards (Saints, 2011). With such a high powered offense the Packers can clearly hit the needed total for yards. But can they score 65 touchdowns?
We need only look to what I consider to be an overlooked stat in the NFL. Compare total yards to total points. Do teams rack up a lot of yards only to end up with field goals or turnovers? For the Packers, the opposite is true. While they were only 13th in the league in yards last season, they were fifth in scoring. They convert trips down the field into touchdowns.
With all of that said we can re-focus on the two newcomers in the backfield. The Packers have already said they will try to have a more balanced attack, and that means giving Lacy and Franklin opportunities to carry the rock. I also expect both backs, but especially Franklin, to get involved with the passing game. It is certainly not too crazy to think that Lacy could reach 1,100 yards rushing and another 300 receiving while Franklin grabbed around 500 rushing and 60 receiving. I think Lacy will be used on the goal line quite a bit so he should see more scores than Franklin, but 20 between the two of them is not out of reach. I consider this the longest shot, even tougher than the trio of dominant wide receivers; but it is definitely possible.
2. State Farm will produce a number of new commercials with Packers players.
This time State Farm includes the likes of Mike McCarthy and they also do a special with Cobb, Nelson, and Jones after they become the first trio of wide receivers to ever have 1,000 receiving yards and double digit scores each.
Picture Aaron Rodgers dropping back and looking out to see all three guys. He has amazing options; the best in the game. At State Farm we give you three amazing ways to get a rate quote: Call us 24 hours a day; check your rate online at statefarm.com; and now utilize our newest State Farm app on the go. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there (with three amazing options).
State Farm choosing the Packers for more commercials won’t be just because of the wide receiver record. It will also be for prediction number one.
1. The Packers will win the Super Bowl.
When the Packers won Super Bowl 45 in 2010, there were many analysts that predicted the Packers could win three rings in six years. It is never easy to repeat and no one wanted tied down to a back-to-back Super Bowl prediction. But with a young stud like Rodgers leading the way and the way that the Packers do things, it made sense that they could be good for a very long time.
2013 will be the second of those three rings. It won’t be because of Rodgers having another MVP type season. It won’t be the wide receiver core being called “the best ever” and setting records. It will be because the Packers will have learned how to do two things: control the ball and stop the run.
With a ground game finally in the repertoire of the Packers offense, they will not be limited to throwing the ball over and over and over again to move the chains. With 10 minutes left in the game and down two points, they will finally be able to take 40 seconds off the clock every single play with enough talent in the running game to pick up the yards needed to get it done. They no longer have to score like mad and then hope their defense holds.
The second reason is because their defense will be improved. The Packers secondary has some of the best talent in the league. They force turnovers and make big plays. But they have been relied on too heavily by a pass rush that can’t get to opposing QBs. No more! With Perry and Matthews rushing the edge and a beast like Raji in the middle and hopefully a guy like Jerel Worthy coming back soon as well, the defense has the parts needed to be dominant.
Great passing game: check. Great running game: check. Great defense: check. The Packers have all of the pieces. Now they just have to put together the puzzle.