The Green Bay Packers followed up their Super Bowl XLV victory with an outstanding 2011 season in which the team went 15-1 during the regular season. The Packers 15 wins and No. 1 seed in the NFC were both franchise firsts.
Green Bay’s top passer was NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers who completed 343 out of 502 attempts for 4,643 yards, 45 touchdowns, and six interceptions. The top rusher was James Starks who ran for 578 yards on 133 carries and one touchdown. Jordy Nelson was the top receiver, as he hauled in 68 receptions for 1,263 yards and 15 touchdowns. Desmond Bishop led the team in tackles with 115 (90 solo) and was second in sacks behind only Clay Matthews with five. Charles Woodson intercepted the most passes with seven, while returning one for a touchdown, and was second on the team in passes defended behind Tramon Williams with 17.
The following is a breakdown of the Packers 2012 season:
Green Bay had one of the top offenses in the league in 2011 and there is no reason to believe it will slow down in 2012. With the addition of running back Cedric Benson, the running game should improve greatly while the passing game will be even better. If Benson can gain positive yardage on every carry, it will benefit the play-action passing game more than fans realize. Rodgers is already the best quarterback in the league at selling the run and then completing passes to the wide open receiver afterwards, but with Benson’s help, he can be even more efficient.
Speaking of Rodgers, expect to see the same quarterback as last season with an edge. Make no mistake about it, he is not happy about how last year ended with a loss to the New York Giants in the playoffs and is determined to get the Packers back to the Super Bowl. To do so, he will need his wide receivers to step their game up and play with more urgency. Too many times last season passes were dropped and wrong routes were run. Expect an All-Pro year out of Nelson while Greg Jennings should accomplish plenty as well, considering he is in his contract year. This is also the year Jermichael Finley must break out and show why Rodgers thinks he is the best tight end in the game.
Green Bay had one of the worst defenses in the league last season, as they ranked No. 32 in passing yards, surrendering a record 411.6 yards per game. On the other hand, the Packers were No. 1 in the NFL in takeaways with 31 interceptions and seven fumble recoveries. The reasons for the absurd amount of passing yards given up were due to a lack of a consistent pass rush and bad tackling.
The Packers added several key defensive players that should help keep those numbers down this season. Nick Perry should help take some pressure off of Clay Matthews in the pass rush while Jerel Worthy should aid B.J. Raji in getting interior pressure. Matthews and Perry have both demonstrated the ability to beat their blockers on the outside but unless the defensive line can get an interior push, it will not do much good. I believe Green Bay will be able to get to the quarterback more similar to what they were able to do in 2010. This will give the defensive backs a better chance of making plays on the ball because they will not have to be chasing their assignments around the field for abundance amounts of time. When quarterbacks have all day in the pocket to throw it is nearly impossible for every defender to cover their man for that length of time. The Packers have exceptionally talented cornerbacks and safeties so expect a similar amount of takeaways again this year.
Mason Crosby converted 85.7% of his field goals last season, the highest percentage of his career. He also made the longest field goal of his career (58 yards) and the most extra points (68). Crosby plays a big role in the Packers success and needs to continue raising the bar in order for Green Bay to get to where they want to go in 2012.
Punter Tim Masthay improved on his numbers across the board from 2010. He had a career-high 45.6 gross punting average and had a 71-yard punt. Fans and even players take punting for granted but it can really have a huge impact on the game. The Packers have struggled to find a decent punter for years but Masthay has proven he is the man for the job for many seasons to come. Look for him to continue improving on pinning opponents inside the 20-yard line, which is something he is already exceptional at doing.
Randall Cobb had a phenomenal rookie season in the return game. In the Packers first game of the season last year, Cobb tied an NFL record with a 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against the New Orleans Saints. He became the first player in franchise history to record a 100-yard kickoff return and 80-yard punt return for touchdowns in the same season. Cobb has certainly set the bar high for himself but he is definitely a player that can live up to the hype. Expect similar statistics as last season in the return game with an additional awareness about him.
Top 5 games to watch for in 2012:
5. San Francisco 49ers Sept. 9 – Home
Not only is this the home opener but it will also be a tough initial test to start the season. The San Francisco 49ers will be bringing the best defense in the NFC to Lambeau Field against the most potent offense in the league led by Rodgers. The 49ers are steamed and ready to roll after losing in the NFC Championship game early this year, which means they will hold back nothing as they look to knock off the Packers, a team everyone is afraid to play this season. Green Bay must win this game in order to prove to themselves they are up to the task of being the No. 1 seed once again in the NFC.
4. Detroit Lions Dec. 9 – Home
It will be crunch time at this point in the season, as the Packers will most likely have to win this game in order to hold off the hungry Detroit Lions. Fans are hoping Green Bay will have the same breathing room in the division as they did last year but the reality is the NFC North is too good to rely on that. That means this game will be critical as it is the last time these two teams will face each other in the regular season. The Packers defense must shut down Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson one last time in order to take one step closer to their first goal of the season, which is becoming division champs.
3. New Orleans Saints Sept. 30 – Home
Last season, the NFL Kickoff game between the Packers and Saints was regarded as the best regular season contest of the year. It was electrifying with two of the league’s best offenses led by outstanding quarterbacks going head-to-head. Week 4 of this season should be no different as these two teams clash once again. However, this time it is personal as reports surfaced the Saints “bounty program” had targeted Rodgers last season. Be prepared for a high-scoring contest in which neither team will want to fall to the other in the standings as playoff implications will most definitely be on the line.
2. Chicago Bears Dec. 16 – Away
The third to last game of the season is against the Chicago Bears and could potentially decide who will be crowned NFC North division champs, especially if both teams remain healthy. Soldier Field will be cold, windy, and rocking with anticipation of the ultimate showdown. This could potentially be the last meaningful game on the schedule for Green Bay so they must make it count. There is nothing better than a Packers-Bears rivalry game in December as these two teams will battle and bruise their way to the end.
1. New York Giants Nov. 25 – Away
This could possibly be the ultimate revenge for the Packers as they get a chance at payback against the Giants Thanksgiving weekend. Everyone will be tuning in for Sunday Night Football as two elite quarterbacks attempt to lead their team to victory. With only six games remaining on the schedule, there is no question both teams will need the win to help propel them to a top seed in the NFC. New York may have gotten the last laugh, but it is a new dawn as the Packers look to be the ones doing the upsetting on their foe’s home field.
The Packers will finish the season 13-3 and win the NFC North for a second consecutive year. Green Bay will also be the No. 1 seed in the NFC for the second year in a row and will not squander it this time around, as they will march through the postseason on their way to Super Bowl XLVII. The Packers will defeat the New England Patriots 31-28 for their fifth Lombardi Trophy and 14th World Championship.