The eve of the NFL’s season opener has arrived, and as the Green Bay Packers prepare to open the year against the Chicago Bears, we at APC are making our final preparations as well. One of our annual traditions is a Wednesday Walkthrough piece giving our contributors a chance to make bold predictions for the upcoming season.
We have five such predictions this year, covering both sides of the football. If all of these things happen, the Packers should be a Super Bowl team, but then again that’s why they are considered bold predictions.
Give us yours in the comments below!
Shawn Wagner: Green Bay’s defense records over 100 QB hits
Expectations are raised for the Packers’ pass rush with the Smith & Smith wrecking crew added to the defensive front. But even the increased depth behind them in Rashan Gary and Kingsley Keke, who I believe will have a breakout year as a rookie, should add to the pass rush. That also does not account for anticipated maturation from a very young secondary a year ago to tighten up its coverage with the help of two new starters at safety.
Green Bay has not tallied over 100 quarterback hits since the 2015 season when it logged 109, and the team’s hits have actually declined by around 10 with each passing year. The Packers only recorded 74 hits last season, but this defense is more than capable of improving that number by at least 15. My bold prediction is the Packers make more than 25 extra pressures this season.
Evan “Tex” Western: Aaron Rodgers bounces back
The analytics community has been hard on Aaron Rodgers over the past few years, and with good reason. Since the team’s bye week in 2015, Rodgers has had just one extended sequence of play that looked anything like his career circa 2009 through 2014. Indeed, the player who was a lock for 8-plus yards per attempt and a passer rating around or over 105 has found himself well below those marks for most of the last four seasons, falling off a cliff in week seven of 2015 and only regaining form for an eight-week stretch in 2016.
Here is the one sequence since 2015 when Rodgers looked like his old self, which runs from week 11 through the Divisional Round of the playoffs in the 2016 season:
195-283 (68.9% completions), 2,384 yards (8.42 Y/A), 21 TDs, 1 INT, 117.9 passer rating
Save for that eight-game stretch in 2016 (the “Run the Table” streak plus two playoff wins), Rodgers has been fairly pedestrian as a passer in most measures, save for his still-legendary turnover avoidance. Our Paul Noonan just wrote about how this manifested in 2018, and it’s not particularly pretty when you’re being compared pretty closely to Mitchell Trubisky.
One of the biggest indicators of Rodgers’ relative struggles since 2014 is his yards per completion mark. After averaging 12.5 from 2008 to 2014 and never falling below 11.6 in any season during that span, he averaged 11.3 over the past four years, with three seasons at about 11 even and a slight uptick in 2018 to 11.9, perhaps as a result of looking for shot plays instead of sticking with Mike McCarthy’s playcalls.
This year, I believe.
I believe that after working out some kinks and getting used to the Packers’ new offense early in the season, the 2019 campaign should be the year that Rodgers gets back on track. All the pieces are there: a system that gets him back throwing in rhythm and helps scheme receivers open down the field; an improved offensive line with no glaring weak spots and better depth; a young, ascending group of receiving weapons; and a running game that should be able to help take a little pressure off. There’s also a major chip on his shoulder, and we all know that Angry Rodgers is bad news for opposing defenses.
This year, I firmly believe that Rodgers will hit statistical marks he has not seen since his 2014 MVP season or earlier: completing two-thirds of his passes, exceeding 8 yards per attempt, and besting 12 yards per completion.
Jon Meerdink - No Packers player reaches 10 sacks, but the Packers’ defense finishes in the top 3 in the league in sacks
Last year, my bold (but misguided) prediction was that Mike Pettine’s defense would lead to a rejuvenated Clay Matthews, who would break the 10 sack threshold. Not only did Matthews not reach that level, the lowly Kyler Fackrell beat him to it.
Nevertheless, the Packers’ defense still managed to regularly find its way to the quarterback, posting a very respectable overall team total. I think we could see something similar this season.
With offseason additions Za’Darius and Preston Smith and Rashan Gary joining Kenny Clark in the front seven, the Packers should feature some potent push in their pass rush. While none of these players may put up a big individual number, I think their team total will still be impressive.
Paul Noonan - Kevin King stays healthy, picks off at least 5 passes
The new and improved front seven should get to opposing quarterbacks more frequently. Opponents will probably shy away from targeting Jaire Alexander too much. That opens the door for King who, if he can actually stay on the field, should be the beneficiary. He’s proven able in those rare instances when he’s been healthy, and as punch number two in the one-two punch of corners, I expect him to capitalize.
I also look forward to more discussion of TJ Watt as a result.
Kris Burke - Aaron Jones goes for 1,500 yards on the ground and 2,000+ yards combined
Matt LaFleur wants to run the ball more. That’s music to the #FeedAaronJones crowd. But Jones isn’t just going to eat, the man is going to all out FEAST.
Jones was showing flashes of stardom in the middle of last season when Mike McCarthy finally remembered he was on the roster and started utilizing him more. It’s unfortunate that injury problems arose for the back because he was on pace to have a strong finish to 2018 and probably would be looked upon more kindly by the national media had he remained healthy.
Now with an innovative and invigorated offense, Jones is primed for a breakout season, and what a breakout season it could be. Aaron Rodgers has never had talent like this in the backfield and if opponents have to start scheming even more for Jones, think how lethal Rodgers and the passing attack could be.
Wipe that drool off the floor.