By Evan Ream

Full disclosure: This is the first American Football article (commonly referred to as “throwball” in my circle of writing) that I have ever written. I am a Green Bay Packers fan and do not consider myself to be an expert on football. I mostly write about soccer for the blog, but after seeing my team go on an epic run to the Super Bowl last year and continue their momentum into this season by beating the Saints 42-34, I had to say at least something.

I believe the Packers will repeat as Super Bowl Champions this year. They will be the first team since the New England Patriots in 03-04 to do so. This is somewhat of a bold prediction considering that just one of the 256 regular season NFL games have been played, but I really can’t see this season going any other way and here’s why.

This Packers team is stronger than their Super Bowl team

Last year, the Packers put 17 players on the injured reserve including key starters Nick Barnett, Ryan Grant and Jermichael Finley. Despite the injuries, they finished 10-6, though their 6 losses were by a combined 20 points. Barnett is gone this year but Grant and Finley are back to give one of the top offenses in the league extra help. With the addition of rookie wideout Randall Cobb who scored two touchdowns Thursday night, Green Bay has six legitimate pass catching threats in Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Donald Driver, Finley, Cobb and James Jones when he feels like catching the ball. Their receiving corps is the best in the league, but teams won’t be able to play in nickel coverage every down like they did last year. Last year, the Packers had no running game to speak of; teams forced Aaron Rodgers to beat them through the air, which he did. But this year if teams are putting in too many defensive backs Rodgers can just hand off to the declining, but still decent Grant or the emerging James Starks. One of the best offenses in the league last year was essentially one dimensional and no one could stop them so over the offseason they gained better receivers and offensive balance. No one will be able to stop them this year.

 

Jermichael Finley

I know that I just spent 200+ words talking about the Packers offense, but I really want to talk about this guy. Finley is a freak. The only other player with this kind of athletic dominance at the tight end position is Antonio Gates. Finley caught three passes for 53 yards last night, a respectable total for a starting tight end. The thing that stood out to me was the manner in which he caught those passes. Each pass that he caught was so far away from his defender that only he could have caught it. Each time he caught a ball, he was being covered by a cornerback who had perfect coverage on him. There isn’t anything defenses can do. If they put a linebacker on him, Finley will burn them and be open. If they put a cornerback on him, Finley will still be 6-foot-5-inches and be able to catch anything near him. I can’t believe how good the Packers’ offense was last year and they didn’t even possibly have their most unguardable.

 

Special Teams

 

I doubt that anyone other than a Packers fan will be able to name the one part of the game that the Packers have consistently sucked at for the last decade, but the answer is special teams. Green Bay have consistently put out crap return men like Najeh Davenport and Jordy Nelson and gotten fair results (near bottom return average and a lot of fumbles, especially with Nelson). So what did the Packers do? They drafted Randall Cobb. Cobb was the first player in over ten years to return a kickoff for a touchdown for the Packers, and he did it with the new kickoff rules and in his first NFL game. Cobb took a kick 108 yards in a momentum changing return that hasn’t been present for Green Bay since the days of Desmond Howard. Cobb also had a nice punt return that was nullified by a penalty. Now, they still need to shore up their return game when they are the ones kicking as they allowed a punt return for a touchdown, but Darren Sproles is one of the best return men in the game and after the lockout, it’s understandable to allow a touchdown like they did; at least they have one side of the ball figured out in special teams. The one thing that Rodgers could never count on was good field position. Now that he can, he will be even more dangerous.

 

Defense

I’m fully aware that the Packers allowed 27 points on defense to the Saints last night, but that is probably fine. The Packers will be better against lesser teams and if they keep scoring in the 40s, 27 a game might be fine. But here’s the thing: The difference in last night’s game essentially came down to a few key defensive plays, which the Packers all completed. In the first quarter, Nick Collins forced a fumble that not only changed the momentum of the game, but gave the Packers a short field to go up 14-0. The Saints came back, but were twice (in the third quarter and fourth quarter) stopped on big 4th down conversions. Does any team in the NFL have more defensive playmakers than the Packers? The Packers play a unique 2-4-5 system (two defensive linemen, four linebackers and five defensive backs). They are able to do this because Charles Woodson, the best tackling defensive back in the league, is essentially a linebacker that can cover. The Packers have two more solid cover guys in Sam Shields and Tramon Williams that give them a defensive backs’ group that rivals Philadelphia’s trio. In addition, they have one of the league’s best pass rushers in Clay Matthews, and one of the best nose tackles in B.J. Raji. Last night, unsung players Jarius Wynn and the “other” outside linebacker Erik Walden both made big plays to help the Packers win. Like the offense, this team simply has too many stars to key on just a few; everyone can hurt you.

 

The Lockout

The Packers didn’t practice together during the lockout, but apparently it didn’t matter. They spent the whole lockout relaxing and enjoying their championship. In a normal year, they would have a ton of pressure on them to repeat, but this year the pressure has been minimal. The Packers spent the whole summer in the shadow of the lockout. They are probably the least hyped defending champion ever, just another reason that they will repeat.

 

To Review

So the Packers got better on offense, defense and special teams. They have an easier schedule this year (AFC West and NFC South + Rams and Giants) and have already won one of their hardest games. Last year, the Packers didn’t get a single playoff home game, but that won’t happen this year. They are already 2-0 (whoops did I just spoil what’s going to happen in Cam Newton’s second career start?) then they have the very overrated Bears to play. If a team ever were to go 16-0 again, I think this would be the team to do it as their only tough dates are away to Atlanta and away to San Diego, two teams that may or may not be good. I fully expect the Packers to go at least 12-4 and repeat as NFL Champions this year.

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