Before the 2013 NFL regular season begins, let's take some stock of this year's Green Bay Packers team and look ahead to the upcoming season. SBNation asked us a series of questions to get Acme Packing Company's take on the 2013 Packers, both looking from on the field and in the stands.
1. Who is the easiest player on the roster to root for?
This one's easy - it has to be defensive end Johnny Jolly. He was a Packer from 2006 to 2009 before he was jailed and suspended for actions related to a codeine addiction. Now he is back in Green Bay after spending 9 months in jail and completing a full rehabilitation program. By all accounts, he has turned his life completely around and disassociated himself fully with that former life so he can focus on football and family.
Though he seemed a long shot to make the team early on in camp, Jolly was consistently making impact plays in preseason games and showing off his trademarks from the 2009 season - swatting down passes at the line of scrimmage and showing surprising athleticism for a 330-pound man. Even if he doesn't become a true impact player, the fact that Jolly has restarted his life and is back on the right track is admirable, and very much worth Packer fans' support.
2. If you could buy a ticket to just one game this year...
Packers-Bears and Packers-Vikings are always great games, but this year, I'm personally most intrigued by the Week 14 game at Lambeau Field against the Atlanta Falcons. Both teams will likely be looking to stake their claim to division titles and playoff seeding, so this game could be critically important as a tiebreaker. Furthermore, I will be curious to see how the Falcons deal with December in Green Bay.
Oh, and personally, if I have a choice of when I'm going to Lambeau, I'm going late in the season, preferably when the weather is below 20 degrees Fahrenheit and there's snow falling. Those are the best conditions for a fantastic fan experience at the stadium, bar none. December 8th against a warm-weather dome team that should be one of the top teams in the conference? Yes please.
3. Who were some of the notable veterans cut from this year's team?
Obviously the biggest name was Charles Woodson, who was released shortly after the 2012 season wrapped up. Woodson's leadership will be sorely missed, though his physical skills had noticeably slipped over the past year or two. Linebackers Desmond Bishop and D.J. Smith were also cut after suffering season-ending injuries last season.
There were certainly a few surprises among the cuts after training camp, as well. Running back Alex Green was among them - he led the team in rushing yards a year ago and was expected to play a part in the team's running back and kick return rotation. Backup quarterback Graham Harrell is also gone, replaced first by Vince Young, then Seneca Wallace when Young failed to impress.
4. Which second year player is going to make the biggest leap?
We expect a big jump from outside linebacker Nick Perry, who plays opposite Clay Matthews. Perry had an inconsistent start to the 2012 season, but really started to show his athletic ability in the pass rush over his last few games before being shut down after Week 6 with a wrist injury. The speed he showed on this sack-strip of Andrew Luck is just a flash of the talent that he has (and whether or not you think that deserved a flag, that was an impressive play). The Packers are counting on Perry to be an every-down linebacker on the strong side this year, and if he does indeed emerge, that should give the Packers' pass rush a huge boost.
5. What are the odds of your head coach getting fired?
Virtually nonexistent. Mike McCarthy led this team to a Super Bowl title three seasons ago, a 15-win season two years ago, and a second straight NFC North championship and a playoff victory last season. That's a total of 41 wins over the past three years, including the playoffs. If that doesn't earn you job security, I don't know what will. It would take an epic, non-injury-related collapse by this team to a sub-.500 record for McCarthy to be on the hot seat.
6. What franchise or NFL records could be broken this season?
When you have Aaron Rodgers on your team, passing efficiency records seem to be achievable any year. Rodgers set the single-season record for passer rating in 2011, and he is the NFL's active leader in completion percentage, yards per attempt, interception ratio, and touchdown ratio. With a revamped running game taking some pressure off of him, it's possible that while total numbers may drop, his efficiency statistics could set all-time highs.
Also, barring an injury, Rodgers will almost certainly pass Bart Starr for second all-time on the Packers' franchise list in passing yards, as he has just over 3,000 yards to go.
As for more obscure statistics, Tramon Williams is within 13 deflected passes of tying Charles Woodson for the Packers all-time record with 99 (though that is a relatively newly-kept stat).
7. Which rookies will see regular playing time this year?
With the season-ending injury to DuJuan Harris, Eddie Lacy gets to truly become the bell-cow runner in the Packers' backfield. Lacy brings a talent level to the position not seen in Green Bay in several years, and his powerful running style should help take some pressure off Aaron Rodgers.
David Bakhtiari, a fourth-round pick, is penciled in as the starter at left tackle with Bryan Bulaga lost for the season to a torn ACL. The team will likely tolerate growing pains in his run blocking if he can help keep Aaron Rodgers on his feet better than the other left tackles in recent years.
The first-round pick, defensive end Datone Jones, will also be a key member of the Packers' defensive line rotation and will be on the field extensively in passing situations to help compress the pocket. Clay Matthews can't provide a complete pass rush all on his own - the addition of a capable pass-rusher inside will help him do his job even better.
Finally, 5th-round cornerback Micah Hyde has impressed in extended preseason action, though he's likely limited to a role as a slot corner for the time being. He and seventh-round linebacker Sam Barrington will be seeing the field plenty on special teams, however, with Hyde potentially returning some punts.
8. Predict the order of finish in your division.
Part of me wants to believe in Detroit this season, but I just can't bring myself to put them ahead of a team that made the playoffs last year. Green Bay still seems like the top of the class in the division this year.
9. What do you expect your season-end record will be?
The Packers added playmakers at defensive end and running back in the draft this season, which should help with the perception that the team lacked "toughness". Eddie Lacy appears ready to bring a physical running game back to Green Bay, while Datone Jones and the return of Nick Perry are signs that the pass rush should be improved. The temptation here is to project an improvement upon the team's 2012 record.
However, there are still a number of question marks that plague this team. Will Nick Perry become an impact player now that he's back from injury? Will B.J. Raji ever live up to his expectations following the 2010 season? How will the offensive line function with a rookie manning Aaron Rodgers' blind side and an undrafted second-year man on his right? 11 wins for a second straight year sounds about right, but we hope that this Packers team is better balanced than it has been over the past few years, which will give it a better shot to make a run to the Super Bowl.
More from Acme Packing Company:
- Packers Sign Seneca Wallace, Release B.J. Coleman
- Packers 2013 Practice Squad: Tracking the Signings
- Packers Final* 53-Man Roster
- Packers 2013 Roster Cuts: Tracker and Open Thread for Saturday's Cut to 53-Man Roster