As I watch Boise State and Virginia Tech wrap up the opening week of the college football season tonight, my thoughts naturally turn to the NFL and to the Packers' season. As I did last year, I'll go over this season game-by-game, projecting the Packers' season record and finish within the division. A few sentences on each game of the 2010 season can be found after the jump.
When all is said and done, I see a 12-4 season for our Green and Gold in 2010, enough to earn an NFC North division title.
There are a few storylines and factors that I think may have a serious impact on the results of this year. One is the return of Al Harris. If he can return from the PUP list at full strength, it will significantly help the defense against teams with multiple receiving threats (and hopefully his activation will give Ted Thompson the excuse to cut Jarrett Bush). Another major factor, to nobody's surprise, will be the play of the special teams units. With Will Blackmon's release, Jordy Nelson will likely be the primary kick returner with Tramon Williams handling the punts, and we can only hope that the blocking teams fare better than in recent years. One other player who I see as becoming a bigger factor this year is RB Brandon Jackson. I have a hunch that he will establish himself as one of the better 3rd-down backs in the league this year, and that he may have moments like in the Seahawks preseason game where he really shines.
Feel free to criticize my picks in the comments below.
Week 1: Packers @ Eagles, 3:15
The big matchup in this game should be the Packers' pass defense against Kevin Kolb in his first game as a full-time starter for Philly. Combine that with Andy Reid's distaste for the running game and a new starter at running back in LeSean McCoy, and you can see why the secondary will be put to the test. Philly's defense isn't what it once was, however, and I see the Packers winning a fairly high-scoring game. (W, 1-0)
Week 2: vs. Bills, 12:00
Because of my well-documented man-crush on Wisconsin alumni, I'll have my eye on Lee Evans. However, the Bills' best unit is their special teams. If guys like Korey Hall, Tom Crabtree, and Frank Zombo (my new favorite Packer) can contain KR Roscoe Parrish, this game shouldn't be close. (W, 2-0)
Week 3: @ Bears, 7:15 (Monday night)
Remember Jay Cutler's performance in the opener last year? Now he has an even more pass-happy coordinator in Mike Martz. Brian Urlacher returns after playing one quarter last season, but he's been banged up again this preseason. I just don't see enough talent on the defensive side of the ball for the Bears to keep Aaron Rodgers and company off the board. (W, 3-0)
Week 4: vs. Lions, 12:00
Is the Lions' defense better? Probably. The additions of Ndamukong Suh and Kyle Vandenbosch up front will help the line, but I can't see Lions putting up a fight at Lambeau Field. One curiosity is former Badger LB DeAndre Levy, who is moving to the inside for the first time after playing OLB for his entire college and pro career. (W, 4-0)
Week 5: @ Redskins, 12:00
With Mike Shanahan taking over as the head coach and an established QB in Donovan McNabb, this Redskins team suddenly seems like they could make some noise in the NFC East. Their talented secondary needs to show some progress, but they could give Rodgers some difficulty. This is one of those gut-feeling picks like my pick in the Tampa Bay game last year, and I see the Redskins taking a close one. (L, 4-1)
Week 6: vs. Dolphins, 12:00
The team to introduce the Wildcat to the NFL comes to Lambeau in mid-October, but I'm confident that the speed of the Packers' linebackers negates it for the most part. What will make the difference is the Charles Woodson-Brandon Marshall matchup. Since the Dolphins don't have an established second option in the passing game, Capers can focus on Marshall and the running game. The Dolphins only standouts on defense are their middle linebackers, Channing Crowder and Karlos Dansby (remember him?) but they don't have enough playmakers at other positions to slow down the Packers. (W, 5-1)
Week 7: vs. Vikings, 7:20 (Sunday night)
You-know-who returns to Lambeau again. That's enough talk about him. These two teams know each other well, and neither has made huge changes from the last time they played. This time, Rodgers and the Packers get their revenge on a Vikings team without its best receiving option. (W, 6-1)
Week 8: @ Jets, 12:00
In their first visit to New Giants Stadium/The Meadowlands/whatever they call it when the Jets play there, the Packers may have some difficulty against the Jets' defense. In a matchup between the self-proclaimed NFL defensive player of the year and the player who actually won the award, I have a hunch that Revis gets the best of Woodson in this one and the Hard Knocks All-Stars get a win. My player to watch: perennial overachiever Jim Leonhard from Ladysmith, WI. (L, 6-2)
Week 9: vs. Cowboys, 7:20 (Sunday night)
Miles Austin, Jason Witten, and Dez Bryant will be dangerous threats, but with Al Harris back in the secondary by this time (if all goes well with his recovery), they should be able to handle multiple receivers. Aside from DeMarcus Ware, the Cowboys don't seem to have many impact players on defense, just solid players who know their roles. Rodgers and Finley should have a good day against the Cowboys' average safeties, and the Cowboys continue their struggles in Lambeau. (W, 7-2)
Week 11: @ Vikings, 12:00
Last year, I couldn't pick either team to sweep both games. I feel the same way this year, and we get yet another reason to hate the Metrodome. (L, 7-3)
Week 12: @ Falcons, 12:00
The Falcons could be a dangerous team this year, and many people are picking them to win the NFC South. Matt Ryan should show improvement in his third season with a number of solid weapons around him. The front seven should be strong, but the secondary can be beaten. If the offensive line gives Rodgers time to throw, the Packers win. (W, 8-3)
Week 13: vs. 49ers, 12:00*
An excellent defense led by LB Patrick Willis will give the Packers their best shot. However, much like last year's meeting, an offense led by Alex Smith won't be able to muster enough points late to beat the Packers at Lambeau. (W, 9-3)
Week 14: @ Lions, 12:00*
This game actually worries me a bit. The Lions do have weapons on offense in Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson. Add in RB Jahvid Best's blazing speed on turf and there could be some concern. However, as in the first meeting, the defense can't contain the Packers. (W, 10-3)
Week 15: @ Patriots, 7:20* (Sunday night)
Though the Patriots consistently have a very good team, I'm not terribly impressed with them this year. They probably won't have much of a running game (although that's not much of a change), but I just don't get a championship-caliber vibe from their defense. The game will hinge on how the Packers handle slot receiver Wes Welker. If Al Harris is indeed at full strength, I would expect him to shadow Randy Moss while Woodson shadows Welker all over the field. If that's the case, the Packers win. (W, 11-3)
Week 16: vs. Giants, 3:15*
Every year, the Packers seem to lose a winnable game. While I mean no disrespect to the Giants, getting them at home should be a winnable game. Their offense is dangerous, and by this time in the season Ahmad Bradshaw should be starting at running back. The Giants ground game may pull them ahead for a close win. (L, 11-4)
Week 17: vs. Bears, 12:00*
Normally, I would be wary of picking the Packers to win both games against the Bears, regardless of the quality of the teams (see my 2009 preview). However, my guess is that a win against Chicago clinches the division for the Packers, so they'll be plenty motivated to beat an outmatched Bears team and clinch a division title. (W, 12-4)
That's all she wrote. A 12-4 season with a division title is my goal and my prediction. This team has the talent to do it, and I look forward to watching them try. One final note: if any of you readers are in or around the Columbus, OH area, I urge you to join the Buckeye Packer Backers club at the On Tap Pub on Bethel Road for the opening game on Sunday afternoon. I'll be there with a huge crowd of rowdy Packers fans, and I hope to see you there.