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Wednesday Walkthroughs: When were the Packers the best team in the NFC?

The APC writers weigh in on the last time they felt like the Packers were the best team in their conference heading into a season.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers Dan Powers-USA TODAY Sports

The Packers run of playoff appearances came to a disheartening end this season, but it doesn’t overshadow the fact that the team has regularly been among the leading contenders in the NFC for roughly a decade.

But when were they last the odds-on favorite heading into a season? We asked the Acme Packing Company writers when they last thought the Packers were the cream of the crop before a season kicked off.

Paul Noonan - 2017

It may look silly in retrospect, but the team was humming along nicely before Rodgers was injured, and while I agree they should have moved on from Capers, I suspect the defense would have finished solidly in the middle of the pack with a competent offense not constantly putting it in bad situations. The Rodgers/Adams/Jones/Williams combo is a strong enough foundation on offense, and the rest of the NFC just isn’t that impressive. Yes, the Vikings, Eagles, and Rams are all fine teams, but they also have holes as large, if not larger than Green Bay. The Packers will obviously be better next year with a healthy Rodgers, and that’s great, but I suspect the rest of the NFC will take a step forward as well. This was probably their best shot for a while.

Peter Bukowski - 2011

Before the year, I suggested the Packers were the best team in the NFC if the game were played at Lambeau, and if it weren’t, I’d take the Falcons. Technically, I think that means it shouldn’t qualify, though I certainly felt similarly to Paul before the year.

There were times in between where I thought the Packers might be the best in the NFC. Certainly during stretches of the 2014 season including late into the game of a certain NFC Championship Game we won’t go into.

And in discussing this with Tex before we created this prompt, he made a good case for 2012 when it was clear the Packers would be really good again, but everyone knew how awful that defense had been. It was hard to feel great about it.

The last time I truly believed the Packers were clearly the best team and should be the favorites because they were a complete team was coming into the 2011 season and I think that says something about the flaws in team building since then, but also something about the unrealistic expectations set on the Packers with Rodgers. How many times did the Packers lose in the playoffs to an inferior team in the interim? Is ‘14 the only time? That speaks volumes.

Evan “Tex” Western - 2012

As Peter alluded to, I’ll make the case for the 2012 team being convincingly the best in the conference in week one, even accounting for the defense’s struggles the year before. Aaron Rodgers was very much in Godgers mode at that point, having set the single-season record for passer rating at 122.5 (a record which still stands to this day). The team had seen a breakout year from Jordy Nelson, an encouraging rookie campaign from Randall Cobb, and an encouraging second year from James Starks on the ground.

Furthermore, while that 2011 defense struggled to stop the pass, it had big-play capability, leading the NFL by a wide margin in turnovers with 38 and still had stars at all levels of the unit.

A look around the NFC in 2012 didn’t exactly strike fear into the hearts of teams around the league, either. The one team that was clearly on the Packers’ level was the San Francisco 49ers, who had gone 13-3 in 2011 with another exceptional defense. However, their offense behind Alex Smith was anything but explosive, as they finished in the bottom third of the NFL in most passing categories.

Other contenders going into 2012 were the Saints, fresh off a 13-3 season but one that saw their defense play almost as poorly as the Packers’ against the pass but with far fewer turnovers. Mike Smith’s Atlanta Falcons were good, but not great. And the Super Bowl champion Giants, who upset the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI, were another example of a team getting hot at just the right time rather than a dominant squad.

For those reasons, I viewed the 2012 Packers, flaws and all, as the most complete team in the conference and an excellent candidate to earn a first-round bye for a second straight season. And as I wrote a few days ago, that team was good...but a few untimely losses in the regular season and a failure to contain a certain mobile quarterback in the postseason squandered a season that indeed was ripe for the taking.

Jon Meerdink - 2015

Fresh off a season in which the only thing that derailed the Packers was everyone involved with the team having their worst day at the same time, it seemed logical that 2015 would at least feature a Packers team with a decent shot at a repeat trip to the NFC Championship.

Aaron Rodgers was coming off an MVP season. Jordy Nelson had just completed one of the great receiving seasons in Packers history and Randall Cobb wasn’t far behind them. Eddie Lacy, though trending towards heavy, was also coming off an excellent year.

On defense, Clay Matthews had solidified the middle of the field and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was just beginning to emerge as a still-promising playmaker in the secondary to go with Sam Shields, Casey Hayward, Micah Hyde, Morgan Burnett, and top draft pick Damarious Randall. Up front, Julius Peppers was just entering the second year of his deal and looked ready to roll with Mike Daniels and Nick Perry, who’d just come off one of the healthiest years of his career to date.

On paper, it looked like the defense was prepared to keep up with a loaded offense. In reality, they surpassed an offense weighed down by the season of Aaron Rodgers’ discontent. 2015 featured a bizarre swoon from Rodgers, and Nelson’s preseason torn ACL further crippled the offense. I remain convinced that even an average season from Rodgers and a slightly healthier roster would have propelled the Packers deep into the playoffs. The Packers certainly looked ready to do that and more heading into the season.