On the precipice of the start of the Green Bay Packers’ regular season on Sunday night against the Bears, now seems as good a time as any to fire off some bold predictions. APC’s contributors got the hot takes and creative juices flowing for a bonus round of walkthroughs this week, in which we predict some big things for this year’s team.
Paul Noonan: Rodgers throws over 50 touchdowns
Only Peyton Manning and Tom Brady have thrown for 50 touchdowns in a season since the merger, but Rodgers will join them this season as Philbin/McCArthy go extra pass-happy. The only thing that gives me pause is the quality of defenses in the division as stacking up passing touchdowns against the Vikings, and maybe the Bears will be difficult, but I still think he gets it done. Rodgers is essentially the greatest goal line passer in history, and with a new and better scheme, plus rookie deep threats, plus the fact that there just aren’t many running backs on the team, he’ll have an insane, MVP year.
Peter Bukowski: The Packers post the No. 1 run defense in football
The No. 8 run defense last season according to Football Outsiders adds Muhammad Wilkerson, an emerging Montravius Adams, and a defensive coordinator who knows what a modern defense ought to look like. Last season, the Packers also fell behind in basically every game it played with Brett Hundley, giving teams more opportunities to run on them. Still, they finished with an elite run unit.
With Aaron Rodgers back and healthy this season, teams will have fewer opportunities to run with the lead and when they do, they’ll likely be doing it out of multiple receiver personnel as they try to outscore this Green Bay offense. One of the best run defending nickel teams in football last season will play a heavier nickel package this season with three traditional DL instead of two, a move that should make them even more stout in the run game.
Add in additional growth from Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry and Blake Martinez and this front will be downright dominant with Nick Perry and Clay Matthews combining for one of the league’s elite run-defending edge duos.
Evan “Tex” Western: Davante Adams eclipses 1,400 receiving yards
The last time the Packers had a receiver over the 1,400-yard mark, Aaron Rodgers won the MVP award. The year was 2014, the receiver was Jordy Nelson, and the Packers should have ended up in the Super Bowl.
This is a bold prediction for a few reasons. First, 1,400 yards is a big number -- only five times in team history has a player hit the number. (Interestingly, every one of those seasons also game with 12 or more touchdowns from the same player.) Second, only two players hit that mark a year ago: Antonio Brown and Julio Jones. Third, Adams’ career yards-per-catch mark sits at just 11.9, a far cry from the 14+ that is typically required to reach this lofty mark.
Finally, there is the question of Adams’ past numbers. He caught 75 and 74 balls in 2016 and 2017. At 75 catches, Adams would need to average 18.7 yards per reception to hit 1,400 yards. That’s not realistic at all -- it is quite literally a Nelson number circa 2011, when he was the Packers’ primary deep threat. Adams does not have that blazing speed that Nelson possessed, but what he does have is exceptional route-running and after-the-catch ability. That should be enough to get him realistically into the 14-15 YPR range. At that point, you’re looking at something like 93-100 receptions to reach 1,400, a very doable amount.
Looking back at Nelson’s 2014 again, he had 151 targets and 98 receptions, gaining 1,519 yards thanks to a 15.5 YPR average. When he returned in 2016, Nelson essentially repeated his target share, catching 97 of 152 targets -- though his YPR dropped to 13.0. Those numbers clearly demonstrate that a Packers offense can support the number of targets required to give a #1 receiver like Adams enough opportunities to reach this mark.
Like the Packers’ coaches and front office, I firmly believe that Adams is on the cusp of a truly explosive season that cements his status as one of the three or four best wideouts in the NFL. 1,400 yards should be a lofty, but achievable goal for him.
Mike Vieth: The Packers defense will lead the league in interceptions
Just have a feeling that there is something special on the field with the defensive backs for the Packers this year. The young trio of Kevin King, Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson are all ball hawks who have good size, speed and athleticism. These three already have the potential to be one of the best groups in the league this year and for years to come.
The fact that they are being lead by Tramon Williams, who has been known to have those skills as well, gives off a feeling that the young guys are going to learn quick and apply their skills to the field. Davon House will also give a helping hand into coverage schemes and making plays. The old adage of the crafty veterans teaching the young guns all the tricks of the trade will definitely apply here.
While the safeties have struggled in recent years, I believe Ha Ha Clinton-Dix will bounce back in a big way. He might even lead the group in interceptions this year. Mix that with the raw ability and potential of Josh Jones and Kentrell Brice and I think they will hold their own in the middle of the field.
The new Mike Pettine defense will help these defensive backs like we haven’t seen in years. The front seven should be getting creative with pressures and force opposing quarterbacks into bad decisions. This will lead to a feeding frenzy for the secondary and I’m excited to see them make some big plays this year.
Shawn Wagner: Jimmy Graham reaches the 1,000-yard mark for the first time since 2013
While I do believe the full health of both Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams will lead to a great season for the blossoming receiver, I think Graham is in line for a big season of his own.
In preseason against Pittsburgh, the Packers employed a high number of two-tight end sets which will get Graham on the field at a high rate. The early chemistry in that game between Rodgers and Graham was an excellent sign, as was his ability to work the red zone. While not the same athlete he was in his early years, Graham is still a mismatch nightmare with his size and ability to stretch the field. In the Packers’ offense, he can be the same versatile mismatch player that Jermichael Finley was, being able to line up on the outside, in the slot, or in-line. What held Finley back from 1,000 yard seasons was injuries and a slew of playmakers at wide receiver. Graham has been a very healthy player over his career and almost becomes the number two outside receiving option with Jordy Nelson gone, Randall Cobb a better fit for snaps in the slot, and no truly proven third wide receiver.
There will be plenty of opportunities for Graham to get targets and make an impact in Green Bay, and 2018 presents as good a chance as any for the former All-Pro to regain his luster.
Jon Meerdink: Clay Matthews will reach 10 sacks for the first time since 2014
Clay Matthews has in some ways been a victim of his own success. He was so consistently dominant through sheer athleticism and explosiveness that double-digit sacks became an expectation, though not entirely an unfair one.
But then came the switch to inside linebacker and the general deterioration of the Packers defense, both of which hurt Matthews’ statistical output. He still got to the quarterback, but with a ravaged secondary it was almost impossible to get there quickly enough.
With a rebuilt back end to the defense and a new coordinator at the helm that could use Matthews’ skill set to its full advantage, I think a return to double-digit sacks could be in the works.
Pay no mind to the fact that only 24 players since 2000 have had double-digit sacks in a season at age 32 or older. Or maybe do pay it some mind. I don’t know. Look, this piece called for bold predictions and it would be fun to see Clay Matthews get like 14 sacks when the Bears just paid dearly for a pass rusher, okay?