One of the great things about the NFL is that despite its regimented nature and somewhat militaristic style of regulating the game, every season brings with it an entirely new set of story lines.
Last year alone we saw an all-time great defy the narrative that age and surgeries would outweigh his will. We saw a rookie Quarterback deemed too short, stand tall — and defiantly — against his detractors in taking his team deep into the playoffs. And we saw the advent of what might very well be a complete philosophical and strategic shift of NFL game-planning in the pistol offense.
All these things combined to make the 2012 season wholly unique. And that’s just what makes watching the NFL so compelling. Because for all the thousands of articles and analyses, all the pre-season projections and "bold predictions", it’s the things we never saw coming and the things we learn over the course of the season that define each year. Going into last season, we knew JJ Watt was really good. We learned that he might actually be a T-1000 Terminator sent from the future. Even on our home turf of Green Bay, we found out a number of things. For those who had forgotten how difficult it is to get back to the Super Bowl, 2012 was a stark reminder.
And now we’re on the cusp of another season in which we’ll learn a number of new things. Some exciting. Some depressing. But make no mistake, they’ll reveal themselves over the course of 16 (or more) games. So let’s take a look at just a few of the topics that we already know, along with some of the things we’ll undoubtedly learn in 2013:
What we know: Aaron Rodgers gets hit. A lot.
What we’ll learn: If the reorganized offensive line can keep him upright more often.
In an offense that relies on Rodgers’ ability to keep plays alive with his legs, there’s already an elevated level of inherent risk. Last season, it resulted in Rodgers taking more sacks than any QB in the league. As history has shown us, that kind of continued abuse just isn’t sustainable. To help protect the blindside of the team’s biggest investment, Mike McCarthy shifted Bryan Bulaga and Josh Sitton (arguably the two best linemen) to the left side of the line. With San Francisco, Washington and Detroit in the first quarter of the season, we should know early on just how well (or poorly) that shift is going to work.
What we know: There are a crapload of running backs on the team.
What we’ll learn: If any of them are any good.
For maybe the first time in Ted Thompson’s tenure as GM, there’s legitimate reason to be excited over the possibility of Green Bay’s running game. Whether that excitement carries over to actual games however, remains to be seen. There’s certainly no shortage of bodies with heralded rookies Jonathan Franklin, Eddie Lacy and the undrafted Angelo Pease joining and already well-stocked cupboard of backs. The really intriguing part is, what will an offense already among the league’s most explosive, look like with the next Trent Richardson or Marshawn Lynch in the backfield?
What we know: Charles Woodson is gone.
What we’ll learn: How much he meant to the defense and team.
On one hand, the Packers defense was among the most undisciplined units in the league last year, so it’s hard to say just how much Woodson’s veteran influence impacted things. That said, Woodson’s emotional leadership and toughness are two areas that could very well be missed. As a team that’s gotten the "soft" wrap for caving to more physical teams in the last two years, perhaps the lone player whose willingness to stick his nose into unfavorable situations could never be questioned, was Woodson.
What we know: The Packers defense got de-pantsed against the 49’ers.
What we’ll learn: If Dom Capers is even paying attention anymore.
As if the pain from seeing Colin Kaepernick scamper all over the field wasn’t enough, we learned this off-season that the Dom Capers-led defense hardly practiced the read-option before the game. This is essentially a boxer training for an opponent who frequently switches stances by only sparring against righties. Which is to say, either incredibly stupid, or incredibly lazy. Either way, it’s something Dom Capers and Co. will have to address heavily this training camp and preseason to avoid getting embarrassed again. And again, San Fran is first on the docket.
What we know: The Packers won the Super Bowl in 2010.
What we’ll learn: If we can expect them to get back any time soon.
Right now, there aren’t many Packers fans who haven’t at least thought of Ron Wolf’s "fart in the wind" quote lately. And with good reason. Of the teams who have appeared in multiple Super Bowls since the Packers last appeared in back-to-back title games in 97/98 (Ravens, Giants, Steelers, Patriots, Rams, Broncos), only the Ravens have had an extended lapse between appearances. All others were within 3 years and only the Giants went 4. Meaning, if the Packers’ 2010 season truly was the start of something special and not just an aberration, this year should go a long way in proving it. Obviously, a lot can happen and even if the Packers miss the playoffs this year, there's nothing to say they couldn't make the Super Bowl next year. But as Packers fans, most of us who thought would be braggarts of multiple titles starting in the mid- to late-90’s, we know that windows don’t always stay open forever.