For the last decade, the road to the NFC North title has run straight through Lambeau Field. This year should be no different. Sports books have the team’s over/under win total at 11. Conventional wisdom says 11 is high for an over/under on wins.
Based on implied power ratings, Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight tends to predict about 10 wins for the best teams at the start of the season.
Looking at the Packers schedule and roster, the over is certainly in play. The squad will have every key cog back on offense minus Jordy Nelson – an offense that was downright dominant last year – and added two corners with their first two picks in the draft to shore up the D. And, while the Vikings should be improved this season, the Lions and Bears don’t really look like legit challengers in the North.
But we’re not ones to tempt the football gods, and we’d rather be pleasantly surprised by a 12-win season than head into 2015 expecting the Pack to dominate. So, on that note, let’s look at a few scenarios in which the Packers don’t hit 12 wins during the 2015 campaign.
Surprise, most are injury-related! We’ll ignore the most obvious Aaron Rodgers injury scenario. Suffice to say that Scott Tolzien is not leading this team to 12 wins.
The Wheels Fall Off the Ground Game
This just in: Eddie Lacy is a beast. Despite a slow start last year, Lacy ended the season with 10 games of 100 or more total yards and four multi-touchdown contests. If the Alabama product is out of the lineup for any length of time, don’t expect backup James Starks to be able to carry the load. He lacks the size and athleticism to replace Eddie.
Without a potent ground attack, the passing game will suffer as well (to some extent) and the Pack could find themselves in a dogfight for the division title instead of getting to rest key players in Weeks 16 and 17.
The Air Attack Loses Its Wings
The Packers’ passing game is one of the league’s best because of Rodgers’ ridiculous accuracy. The question now becomes can the Packers somehow compensate for the loss of Jordy Nelson. Davante Adams will need to step up and James Jones will need to provide the Packers with something like he did in 2013. If neither of those things happen, then the Packers could be in trouble. Then again, it might not matter who Rogers is throwing the ball to.
The Line Lacks Depth
Speaking of the football gods, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy may have already jinxed the team. Going into camp, McCarthy said the offensive line could be the team’s best ever. Yikes. He better hope Josh Sitton, Bryan Bulaga, T.J. Lang, Corey Linsley, and David Bakhtiari stay healthy. The backups looked solid in the preseason, but they were only playing against second-team competition. If the team has to rely on reserves for any length of time, it could have the same result as losing Lacy or Rodgers: both the run game and passing game will suffer.
With parity being the name of the game in the modern NFL, incremental steps backward can be the difference between double-digit wins and missing the playoffs entirely.
The Division Doesn’t Present a Challenge
If the Packers do find themselves with a commanding lead in the division heading into the final weeks of the season, they may very well rest key players. Teams that have already clinched playoff berths do it every year, and every year it impacts the win column.
Minnesota is expected to be improved this year, but Detroit has lost several key pieces from its dominant defense and the Bears are still insisting that Jay Cutler is a viable NFL starter. Green Bay could easily clinch the division with 10 or 11 wins through 15 weeks. With little to play for in the final weeks of the season – and tough-ish games against the Cardinals and Vikings wrapping up the 2015 schedule – the disparity in the NFC North could doom those who are expecting 12 wins.
It’s BALUGA not BULAGA, and you call yourself a Packer fan, criminy.