Well, the regular season is nearly here, and with the way that last season ended, Green Bay Packer fans are probably even more eager than usual to turn the page and start anew. The Chicago Bears as a Week One opponent should hopefully help with the catharsis.
Everyone with any interest in the NFL is also eager to throw their own predictions for the upcoming season into the mix. Here are mine.
Record: 12 – 4.
There appear to be six games on the schedule that will pose a significant challenge for the 2015 Packers: Seattle, @Denver, @Carolina, @Minnesota, @Detroit, and Dallas. I think that, conservatively, the Packers are good enough to win half of those games. Add in one fluky, unexpected loss (which will more than likely come on the road) and you come away with four losses. That being said, I would be much less surprised by 13 or 14 wins than by only 10 or 11.
Post-Season: While some might chalk it up to homerism, I have no doubt that by the end of the 2014 season, the Packers were the best team in football (a sentiment shared by Coach McCarthy). With Aaron Rodgers leading the charge, the Packers will return to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2010. They may not exactly always dominate on the long road there, but, with nearly all of the starters from that 2014 team returning, the push to rid the taste of CenturyLink Field will be strong, At this point, it is hard to decipher between the head and the heart, but I’m calling the Packers as my favorites to take home the Lombardi.
1. Davante Adams posts 1,000+ receiving yards and 10 TDs.
Although Adams struggled with consistency last year, he stepped up in games where he was really needed, like in
Week 13 against the New England Patriots where he hauled in 6 receptions for 121 yards. Adams is poised to become the prime player to benefit from the loss of teammate Jordy Nelson. With Adams showing himself to be a quick learner last season, fans can expect him to make a big second year jump.
2. James Jones exceeds expectations
Putting up 666 yards and 6 TDs with the Oakland Raiders, some fans are worried that Jones has lost a step or two and that he will not be nearly as effective as he was with the Packers in 2012 and 2013. While no one should expect Jones to play like the 2012 version of himself that managed a league high of 14 receiving TDs, the drop-off may not be as considerable as some think. Playing outside of his position of strength (Jones was asked to line up in the slot instead of outside) and with a rookie QB in Derek Carr, Jones’ 2014 numbers are actually encouraging. With a return to catching balls from NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers and a system that fits him better, Jones should be able to exceed his numbers from last year. Let’s not forget that Jones is only 31, the same age that Nelson will be when he returns next year. He should be able to post at least 700 yards and 7 – 8 TDs. Considering that that sort of production is only costing the team the veteran minimum, Jones is a great windfall for the Packers.
3. One of the rookie cornerbacks wins the starting job outside
It remains to be seen whether it is Damarious Randall, Quentin Rollins, or even undrafted Ladarius Gunter who pushes Casey Hayward back into covering the slot, but it seems likely to happen at some point in the season. These rookies are better suited for playing the outside than Hayward. At some point in the season, likely later rather than earlier, one of these young players will warrant starting. The move won’t come without growing pains, but it will improve the overall pass coverage of the Packers both this season and into the future.
4. Jayrone Elliott starts to see significant playing time
Elliott was perhaps the major surprise of the 2014 preseason after going undrafted out of Toledo. He showed real potential has a pass-rusher. Fast forward to 2015, and Elliott has only improved his game, adding good run-stopping ability to his arsenal. While fellow outside-linebacker Julius Peppers may get the most important downs of the season, Elliott will be able to come in and keep Peppers fresh. Even at 35, the drop-off between Peppers and Elliott will be noticeable, but Elliott will push even veterans Nick Perry and Mike Neal for playing time. Elliott may contribute as much as 20+ tackles and 5 or 6 sacks.
5. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix will make the Pro-Bowl in 2015
Clinton-Dix may need to work on his tackling game, but in just his rookie year he flashed the ability to be one of the few top-notch, playmaking safeties in the league. While his numbers for the season were modest, Clinton-Dix was one of the brightest points against Seattle in the NFC Championship, grabbing two interceptions and three passes defensed. As I mentioned above, the addition of rookie cornerbacks Randall, Rollins, and Gunter will not be without their growing pains, but I expect the pass coverage unit as a whole to be improved in 2015. Clinton-Dix is poised to jump to the top of the list of defensive backs. Playing next to Morgan Burnett will certainly help as well (though, as the past two seasons have suggested, it may actually be Clinton-Dix who is elevating the play of Burnett, and not the other way around). In just his first year in the NFL, Clinton-Dix already flashed Charles Woodson like ability to react almost instantaneously and make great plays on the ball. As with Woodson in his prime, Clinton-Dix is quickly becoming the sort of player than can single-handedly be the difference between a win and a loss, and that’s rare at the safety position.
6. The Packers move to replace Tim Mathsay during the middle of the season.
This is probably my boldest prediction. I’m not entirely sold on the idea, but every time I see Mathsay punt, I become more and more persuaded. Mathsay has been with the Packers since their championship run in 2010. While he’s never been one of the best punters in the league, he’s been fairly reliable throughout his career. Last season, however, Mathsay fell into a funk, grading out by some analysts as the worst punter in the league. Unfortunately, the punting woes have transferred over into the 2015 season. While the team stuck by kicker Mason Crosby during an incredibly bad stretch in 2012, the situation there was somewhat different. Crosby had shown consistent talent as one of the better kickers in the league since the Packers drafted him in the 6th round of the 2007 draft. The team knew that they had a top talent in Crosby, and this afforded him a long leash for getting back on track. Do not expect the team to give nearly that much leeway to the recently mercurial Mathsay, especially with veteran punters like Steve Weatherford available.——————
Taylor O\'Neill is a Packer fan born and raised in Oshkosh, WI. He currently lives in Florida and is pursuing his PhD. Taylor is a writer with PackersTalk.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @TaylorONeill87 for more Packer news.