Hope springs eternal for most NFL fan bases during a long offseason providing new coaches and/or an infusion of fresh talent via the draft and free agency. That enthusiasm is arguably even greater for Packer backers brimming with high hopes off a 13-3 season that saw their team conquer the NFC North and make it all the way to the NFC Championship.
The way Green Bay lost that dreaded semifinal — in which the 49ers trampled over Matt LaFleur’s group to the tune of 284 rushing yards in a 37-20 mismatch — is what has some analysts feeling rather uneasy about the Packers chances for success in 2020.
In a recent 247Sports.com article, Andy Herman mentioned how “recent history has been unkind” to playoff teams coming off double-digit losses the year prior.
Among those 19 teams, in fact, only four went on to qualify for the playoffs the following season since 2015.
Others, such as longtime Packers scribe Rob Reischel, point to ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI), which predicted 9.0 wins for the Green and Gold as a result of the model’s 20,000 simulations for the upcoming season.
And, of course, there are Packer diehards still harboring frustration over the front office’s inability to supply Aaron Rodgers with young receivers during a 2020 draft that featured a whopping 37 players that were selected from the abundant position group.
But no amount of ominous dark clouds can obscure the positive developments that are taking form under the direction of LaFleur and Brian Gutekunst, who have a clearly defined action plan in propelling the Packers to a fifth Super Bowl title in the very near future.
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That arduous journey starts with making the playoffs in 2020. Let’s count down the list of five reasons why the Packers will not disappoint.
Having any semblance of continuity during the ongoing pandemic is an immeasurable benefit to any NFL team, considering the loss of face-to-face and/or on-field instruction this offseason. Barring injuries, the Packers will be bringing back 21 of 25 starters, which should eliminate many of the transitional stumbling blocks associated with the influx of new personnel. In addition, the stability of a grizzled veteran quarterback in Aaron Rodgers will also play a major role in integrating the newcomers. Similarly, there’s been minimal turnover among coaches, with defensive backs coach Jerry Gray being the lone new addition.
Year 2 of LaFleur’s Transition
As a disciple of the Mike Shanahan-inspired outside zone that was passed on to his son, Kyle, LaFleur is committed to modifying a pass-first, finesse offense he inherited into a physical, run-heavy attack featuring several play-action opportunities. So far the new approach is off to an encouraging start. The Packers improved their standing as a running team by increasing their league ranking from 23rd to 15th overall in that area in 2019, while also scoring 4 more rushing touchdowns than the previous year (18 versus 14). The team’s mission during April’s draft was to further strengthen the ground attack, as evidenced by the selections of 247-pound plow horse AJ Dillon, blocking tight end Josiah Deguara and three offensive linemen. This newfound run-based culture could set the stage for a few games in which the Packers may actually run the ball 40 times and let a well-rested defense take care of the rest. That would certainly be a radical departure from what fans had grown accustomed to under Mike McCarthy.
Many would agree that turnover differential is the single most important stat in any football game. Invariably, the team that recovers more turnovers (via interception or fumble) nearly always wins the contest. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, teams who won the turnover battle over the past decade also earned the “W” 75 percent of the time. Each of the top seven teams in turnover differential made the playoffs in 2019, including the Packers, as they registered a third-best +12. That number was the product of intercepting the opposing quarterbacks 17 times and recovering eight fumbles on defense compared to only 4 interceptions and 9 fumbles on offense. Looking ahead, Green Bay’s young secondary led by Adrian Amos, Darnell Savage and Jaire Alexander should force a greater number of pick-offs and though their fumble recoveries were on the low end compared to other teams, fumble recoveries can dramatically fluctuate from year to year irrespective of a roster’s talent level. Green Bay seems to have all the pieces in place to once again be a top 5 team in the giveaway-takeaway game.
Green Bay pulled an enormous feat by achieving a perfect 6-0 record against their NFC North rivals. It wasn’t as easy as it may appear on paper, however, factoring in two hard-fought victories against the Lions that saw the Packers be outperformed for long stretches in both games. A clean sweep may once again be in the offing, with the Vikings looking to acclimate a slew of new free agents and rookies to the mix due to a rather high salary-cap induced turnover. The Bears, on the other hand, continue to struggle to bring their 2017 second overall pick Mitch Trubisky up to speed, as he battles it out with career journeyman Nick Foles. As for the Lions, they always seem to bring their best against the Packers, but Matt Patricia’s toothless defense shouldn’t be much of a match for an improved attack under the watchful eye of a wiser and more experienced LaFleur.
Getting a Vikings team with a lot of new moving parts in Week 1 is an indisputable advantage for the boys from Titletown, but it’s the last stretch of regular season tilts that stack up most favorably. In what are likely be pivotal late-season matchups, the Packers will play four of five games from Weeks 12 to 16 at home as the weather cools. The one away game is against Detroit and it’s highly doubtful that Rodgers and friends will overlook that one with all the problems the Silver and Blue have presented them with in the recent past.——————
When ~Reverend~ Ralph Mancini is not tackling hard news in New York City, he enjoys analyzing his favorite sports team, the Green Bay Packers. You can follow him on twitter at ReverendRalph.