Packers Have A Lot To Be Excited About In 2014
We all know the mantra of every disappointed fan base whose team falls short of winning a championship – "Just wait until next season!" The problem is, with every team but one saying that every year, the chance that next magical season actually comes to fruition is highly unlikely.
Looking at the Green Bay Packers’ roster, however, makes me think they’ve got as good of a shot to win next year’s Super Bowl as any team.
Of course, everything starts with superstar quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Whenever you’ve got arguably the best quarterback in the league, you’ve got a good shot at taking home the Lombardi Trophy. But that’s always been true for the Packers since 2009.
What we really learned this year is that going into the 2014 season, he may have the strongest, most well-rounded supporting cast since he took over as the starter in 2008. If you would have told me before the year that Rodgers would miss seven full games and all but one drive of another, I would’ve told you the Packers would be playing more for a better draft choice than a playoff spot. Granted, the downfall of both the Lions and Bears helped, but many players stepped up in Rodgers’ absence to lead Green Bay to the NFC North title.
The biggest hero was rookie running back Eddie Lacy. He became the focal point with Rodgers out, rushing for 1,178 yards and 11 touchdowns. Green Bay hasn’t seen rushing numbers like that since Ryan Grant’s performance in 2009. But you’d have to go much further back in the Packers’ history to find a running back as powerful as Lacy. Mike McCarthy has never been so insistent on pounding the football in short-yardage situations and inside the 5-yard line, and it’s paid off. I’m sure Rodgers loves knowing the offense can rely on someone other than just him to produce touchdowns in the red zone.
The offensive line also looks young and promising. The ages of this year’s starters are 22, 27, 27, 26 and 24. A unit as young as that wouldn’t be expected to do much, but I’d say this year’s line was the best they’ve had in a while, maybe since the mid-2000s. And that didn’t include Bryan Bulaga, who was supposed to be starting left tackle before his ACL tore. With David Bakhtiari playing so well there as a rookie, I’d imagine Bulaga will go back to right tackle to solidify the line’s weakest spot in 2013.
I will admit, the receiving corps won’t have all the big names like it did in 2010 and 2011, especially if James Jones signs elsewhere. But Jarrett Boykin and Andrew Quarless showed a lot of promise this year and look poised to break out in 2014. And they’ll still have Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb.
As for the defense, well, it’s really hard to figure out what kind of production we’ll see from that side of the ball. Before Rodgers went out this year, the defense looked awesome, with the rush defense even ranking 4th at one point. But following the collarbone injury, everything went south for five games. Then, all of a sudden, it looked competent again over the final four games and in the playoffs.
The biggest key to next year’s defense will be whether or not Sam Shields returns. The unrestricted free agent had a career year, proving to be one of the better cover men in a league where you can never have enough good cornerbacks. If Ted Thompson can resign Shields, that would allow Micah Hyde to possibly move to safety. Not only would that allow for Hyde to flourish more, given that his talents seem to be better suited at safety than cornerback, but it would also help solidify the team’s biggest weakness. Even if Shields doesn’t resign, the prospects of Hyde, Nick Perry, Datone Jones and Mike Daniels getting another year to develop into strong pass-rushers gives me optimism about next year’s defense.
Of course, first things first. The Packers have 17 unrestricted free agents going into the offseason. With the Packers being as dependent as they are on young talent, a lot of those free agents will be with a new team next year. Rodgers’ and Clay Matthews’ new contracts and the fact that Cobb and Nelson will both be free agents next year doesn’t help matters either.
I’d say the four most important guys to resign, in order, are Shields, Evan Dietrich-Smith, Quarless and Jones. I don’t know if Thompson will be able to find a way to get them all under contract, but if he does, look out. This roster would be the most complete one since Rodgers became the starting quarterback. Next year’s prospects are looking quite promising.