Friday Aug 20

How the Packers Size Up Against the NFC North

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Green Bay Packers vs NFC NorthSince the Packers play six of their sixteen regular season games against divisional opponents, one could say that how they size up directly to those three teams is pretty important. Below I list the Packers' ranking (out of four) for each main positional group on offense and defense, in terms of overall talent and ability of the players at that position. The fact that the Packers run a 3-4 defense makes it difficult to compare the positions that make up the front seven on defense, but just remember that the ranking corresponds to overall talent level (how good the players are, overall).

Quarterback: First 

To be fair, the 2009 season featured a very close battle between Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers for best quarterback in the division. And even though many would argue that Favre had a better supporting cast on offense, his numbers still earned him the close victory over Rodgers for top QB in the division. 

This year, I think Rodgers has to go into the season as the best quarterback by default. You don't even need to go into the talk about Favre's ankle issues. That fact is, the man is an entire year older; and when you're past the 40-mark, that year means a lot in terms of ability to produce on the football. A young, healthy Aaron Rodgers has to get the nod over the legend whose health happens to be ailing. 

Running Backs: Second 

Bears fans may throw a fit over the Bears' backfield falling to the third spot here, but I haven't seen consistent production from their backfield since the Super Bowl season (except for maybe Forte's rookie season in 2008). The Bears and Lions have both added weapons in their backfields during the offseason to help establish a better running game. 

Right now, the Packers do a better job of supplementing their passing game with a consistent ground attack from Ryan Grant and occasionally Brandon Jackson. Jay Cutler and Matthew Stafford could both benefit from something like this since too much pressure has been put on them as a result of not being able to run the ball effectively. 

Receiving Corps. (WR+TE): First 

Since this category includes both wide receivers and tight ends, the Packers nab the top spot with ease. There have been many discussions on who has the better wide receiver corps. between the Packers and Vikings, ever since Percy Harvin's addition and Sidney Rice's emergence. I'm one that thinks this is a closer comparison, with the Packers edging out the Vikings by a little bit. 

When you add tight ends to the equation, it becomes a little more lopsided, with the Packers asserted themselves as the superior receiving group. Without even getting into talent level, Jermichael Finley, spends more time as an actual receiver than any other tight end in the division. When you factor in his 6'5" frame, blazing speed, and respectable blocking ability, the North's other tight ends (Shiancoe, Olsen and Scheffler) simply don't size up. 

Offensive Line: Second 

Isn't it a bit sad that a once-porous offensive line steals the second spot here? Unfortunately, this ranking really speaks to how bad the division's offensive lines are, after the Vikings. We know that the Bears are in a world of hurt after the Orlando Pace project ended as a pseudo-bust last season. Meanwhile, the Lions still haven't found an adequate tackle to stick opposite Gosder Cherilus. 

If the Packers' o-line can play the way they did in the second half of last season, they will have fully earned this second place rank. I have to think that there's a good chance of this as the depth has improved considerably since last season. 

Defensive Line: Second 

I should note that this ranking would be closer to first if it weren't for Johnny Jolly's departure. This is not to say that the Packers don't have a top d-line. Unlike offensive line, the NFC North has four defensive lines that range from solid to outstanding, starting with arguably the best in the game in Minnesota. 

The Bears give the Packers a run for their money here, but I don't view the running stopping unit quite as dominant as they used to be. Somehow, the Lions reshaped defensive line still lands them in last place, but a not so distant one this time around. Even without Jolly, the Packers have three quality starters in Ryan Pickett, BJ Raji and Cullen Jenkins. After that, they have plenty of unproven, young depth that could be the source of an elite defensive line down the road. 

Linebackers: Second 

I was dangerously close to making the Packers third at this position, given a very quality linebacking corps. in Minnesota. But Brandon Chillar's versatility and Nick Barnett being heavily underrated convinced me that the Packers' linebackers were worthy of the No.2 spot. Additionally, Clay Matthews has already made huge strides as a rookie and looks to be the face of this group going forward. 

I still don't think the Packers can touch the Bears' pair of playmakers in Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. While they're up there in years, they are centerpieces in what's been a very successful defense under Lovie Smith. 

Secondary: First 

Injuries to Al Harris and Atari Bigby make it hard to grade the Packers' secondary against the rest of the NFC North. I will say this: even with Tramon Williams and Morgan Burnett filling in for those two, you could still argue that the Packers have the best secondary in the division. One may think of that as a bold statement to make, considering Burnett hasn't played a down during the regular season. 

Fortunately, Charles Woodson and Nick Collins are the hands-down best defensive backs in the division over the past two seasons. Tramon Williams would be a starter on both the Bears and Lions, possibly even edging out Cedric Griffen on the Vikings. With all that said, I feel that one could still make the case that the Packers still have the best secondary in the division, even with unproven Morgan Burnett primed to start Week 1.

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0 # Jr Augustine 2010-08-17 19:01
If you count completing passes to the opposing team, Cutler might be in the running for quarterback. :)
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