Not only have the Green Bay Packers successfully avoided the slow starts that have come to characterize most of their recent seasons, but they also stand atop of the NFC with few peers. Naturally, that success is tied to Aaron Rodgers, who may only now have reached his peak as a quarterback.
Rodgers, the reigning league MVP, is playing better than last year
357 completions on 485 attempts for 4,112 yards, 53 touchdowns and zero interceptions. At his current rates, those are the numbers Rodgers is on pace to finish with this season.
While three games don't make a season, the Packers offense has dealt with several blows. Jordy Nelson tore his ACL during the team's preseason opener. Bryan Bulaga could miss a month with a knee injury. Davante Adams has been significantly limited since spraining his ankle in Week 2. Yet Rodgers' play has somehow raised his play, leading the Packers to three comfortable victories.
How often do we see a player of Rodgers' caliber raise his level of play in his 11th season? Rodgers has long possessed full command of the Packers' offense, but his play has never been this graceful. Specifically, he has never moved this well, instinctively avoiding pressure and unnecessary hits. On Monday, outside of a strip sack wiped out by an illegal contact penalty, Rodgers never seemed out of control. Even the Kansas City Chiefs' mighty pass rush had little hope of slowing him. In the way-too-early MVP rankings, Rodgers comfortably holds the top position.
A big payday approaches for Daniels
Before last season, the Packers failed to come to terms with star receiver Randall Cobb on a contract extension. That eventually manifested as a four-year, $40 million deal this past March, more than the team would have paid had they not hesitated heading into the final year of Cobb's rookie deal. While Green Bay may have made significant overtures to Mike Daniels prior to 2015, they face a similar outcome with defensive end given his play.
Daniels established himself as the Packers' best defensive linemen by the end of his second season, and he has yet to plateau. Against the Chiefs, he registered 1.5 sacks and pressured quarterback Alex Smith on four other occasions. But Daniels is not merely a pass rusher; he has developed into a fine run defender not limited by his 6'0" stature. By any measure, he's Green Bay's finest interior defensive lineman since Cullen Jenkins departed after 2010.
With the leverage Daniels has built up, he may surpass Clay Matthews as the Packers' highest-paid defender. That's assuming, of course, that the team manages to retain him. Plenty of other franchises will make a push for Daniels, who doesn't turn 27 until next offseason. Still, Green Bay general manager Ted Thompson rarely loses his top homegrown talent, and Daniels certainly qualifies.
Green Bay may need to find room for more than Guion this week
As the Packers enter Week 4, they finally regain the services of defensive lineman Letroy Guion, who returns from a three-game suspension. The team will have to open up a spot on the 53 for Guion by releasing one of their players or placing someone on injured reserve, but another roster addition could be in order.
With Davante Adams potentially missing multiple games with a high-ankle sprain and Andrew Quarless suffering an ugly looking injury on Monday, the Packers are down to just six healthy pass catchers on the active roster. That could necessitate a promotion for practice squad members Jared Abbrederis or Justin Perillo, but that too would require the team to make a corresponding move to create an opening.
There aren't many obvious candidates. Chris Banjo once looked like a potential casualty, but with Morgan Burnett and Sean Richardson ailing, the team may need him to play significant snaps. Bruce Gaston hasn't played much since making the team out of the preseason, but Datone Jones may have suffered a concussion near the end of Monday's game. Demetri Goodson would appear to be next in line, but the coaching staff values his contributions on special teams.
Of course, if Adams or Quarless were to land on injured reserve (potentially with the designation to return), the issue of finding room for a replacement is solved. In any event, the situation bears monitoring over the coming days.