In Matt Le Fleur’s first year as head coach, the Packers went 13-3 during the regular season and advanced to the NFC title game, before going down 37-20 to the 49ers in San Francisco.
Opening their regular season on Sunday against big NFC North rivals Minnesota Vikings at the US. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, the question is if the Packers are ready to go all the way to the Super Bowl in Matt Le Fleur second year.
LB Christian Kirksey (58), OT Rick Wagner (71) CB Parry Nickerson (35) as well as defensive backs coach Jerry Gray compose the four newcomers on the roster.
Kirksey arrives after having played the last six seasons for the Browns. He knows the defence and several of his former teammates have categorized him as a team leader. There are big hopes that he will add a dynamic element to the linebacker position for the Packers.
Wagner has played for the Ravens and Lions earlier. He was in the chase to replace Bryan Bulaga at right tackle, but an injury means he is unlikely to be available from the start of the season.
Nickerson was recently signed and showed blistering speed running 4.32 at the 2018 NFL Combine.
Many pundits are predicting that the Packers will regress from their stellar 13-3 record, saying that they did not play like a 13-3 team last year.
However, there are also reasons to be bullish on the Packers season outlook. There are many reasons to think that the offence should be better in Le Fleur second year, particularly if Aaron Rodgers will be able to remain as sharp as he was most of last season.
The Packers defence is stacked with talent at every level. There are big-time pass rushers and plenty of talented young players in the secondary.
The four-time All-Pro left tackle, David Bakhtiari is one of the NFL’s best players at his position. He struggled with some early season issues but produced a truly dominant finish to his season. He has only allowed 14 sacks the more than 5000 snaps he has played.
Za’Darius Smith had a dominant season last year. 13.5 sacks, 17 tackles for losses and 37 quarterback hits are unbelievable numbers.
Last year’s top pick, Rashan Gary, has had a brilliant training camp and could easily have a huge season. The outside linebacker got some stick last year for playing like a rookie at times. However, it is impossible to deny his talent and we suspect he will step up massively.
Even if the early schedule looks very tough, the minimum goal clearly needs to be to win the NFC North.
The betting markets have installed the Vikings as the favourites to win the NFC North and Green Bay are odds of about 40 to 1 to win the Super Bowl.
These somewhat lowly predictions are likely caused by a perceived lack of depth along the defensive line and at the inside linebacker position. There is also uncertainty about the quality of the right side of the offensive line.
Even so, we see no reason why the Packers should not have higher ambitions. In our opinion, they have all the needed tools to outperform the expectations of the market.