Note: Majority written BEFORE week 1.

Dun, dun, dun, duh-dun, dun, dun—GO PACK GO!!

Depending on bias and what side of the ball you were viewing—2008 was either a complete disaster or one heck of a season.  Brett Favre?  Good-bye, nice knowing ya!  Unfortunately, the leaving of the legend meant a huge burden for Aaron Rodgers to shoulder.  If you were a huge Favre fan and felt the whole season was resting solely on Rodgers—then Rodgers didn’t play very well; we’ll get to that in a bit.  If you didn’t have a Favre bias or were glad he was gone?  Then Rodgers was fantastic!  The offense was not a problem; it was the defense that was murder.  You need a stop on 3rd and short?  Sorry, not happening.  Need to stop the other team late in a close game?  Nope, not this week.  I’ll touch on the defense later, but let’s just say there’s a good reason that this team was 6-10 and probably should have been worse.

Offense: After scoring the fifth most points in the league last year, what is probably the best passing offense in the NFL is ready for more fun.  Aaron Rodgers plus one star-going-on-megastar receiver, one star receiver who’s beginning to decline but is still very serviceable, plus two young kids with upside equals one dangerous team.  If Ryan Grant gets to where he was two years ago—or at least a step better than last season—Green Bay could well have the most potent offense this season.

Quarterback—Aaron Rodgers: This has to be said, so I’ll do it right now—Green Bay is now Mr. Rodgers’s Neighborhood.  There, done—out of the way.  So….Passing for over 4,000 yards and having a touchdown-to-interception ratio of better than 2:1 (28 TD’s vs. 13 INT’s) in your first season as a starter?  Yeah, I think that’s pretty good!  Once again, a person who backed up Favre has turned into a star.  Yes, Aaron’s only had one year as a starter but considering how he played then and how he tore it up in preseason—I don’t think “star” is too far off.  From Mark Brunell to Aaron Brooks (hey, he WAS decent in New Orleans) to Matt Hasselbeck—the tradition continues.  He has upside written all over him—he’s smart, he’s not going to risk the long ball like the old man before him, and he’s actually very mobile and not too afraid to run if need be *points to 34 yard scramble in preseason against Arizona*.  He’s taken huge strides every season up here: Rookie year he looked lost in preseason.  The next he looked like he at least knew what he was doing.  In 2007, he looked pretty good.  Last year he proved he was ready to start.  This season he’s showing he can dominate.  Is he the best quarterback in the league?  No.  Is he close?  I think so.  Top five?  I think one could certainly make a case he’s in that area.  He’s definitely the best QB in his division (and here’s hoping it stays that way!).

Unfortunately, he has a dark cloud over his head—he seems to come up short in “crunch time.”  In games against Carolina and Jacksonville last year, he threw an interception—his only one of the game, mind you—on the Pack’s last drive.  Well, the one against Carolina was the next-to-last drive technically, the last drive involved 2 seconds left in the game and a short dump-off pass to Greg Jennings—I don’t count that as a “real” last drive.  Two other times it was an interception during a drive late in the 4th quarter that could have given Green Bay the lead, versus Tampa and the next week against Atlanta (again, in this case his only pick of the game).  Instead, the INT’s turned into points, giving the opponent a wider edge and thus ensuring another loss.  Yes, the pattern of “Oh, it’s late in a close game, here comes an interception,” has been established, but I’m not fully blaming Aaron for those losses.  Well, maybe the Tampa game—that was a disaster.

I’m not even going to touch on the backup situation.  If Rodgers gets hurt—I don’t care how awesome/studly Greg Jennings plays, it won’t make a difference.  Sorry Matt Flynn, you’re nice to have on the team, but you aren’t going to be leading anyone to the playoffs anytime soon.  It’s not like you have LSU’s defense to help you.

Running back: Ryan Grant—People up here (fans, writers and talk radio hosts) are saying that Grant isn’t the answer.  Is he “good?”  Sure.  Is he “great?”  No.  He doesn’t have speed—he’s a guy who runs between the tackles and loves getting banged up.  He won’t beat you to the corner and won’t even try juking out of your way.  If you’re coming at HIM, he’s coming right at YOU!  So can the bull-headed style hold up for another 16 games after two years of it (okay, one and a half since he really didn’t become a starter until after the Denver Monday night OT thriller in ’07)?  If he can be more consistent rather than “2 yard gain, 1 yard gain, 1 yard gain, 3 yard gain, HEY LOOK A 55 yard run!!” on his way to 100 yard games and over 1000 yards this season—that opens up the passing game even more and this time will be scoring like there’s no tomorrow.  Which they might have to anyways.

If Grant is ineffective enough for whatever reason and is pulled or he gets hurt—it isn’t entirely the end of the world.  Brandon Jackson, in his third year, made progress at the end of his rookie season and last year took another step forward.  I’m not sure if he could really handle a full load this season if things ever came to it—but he wouldn’t be nearly as bad as he was that rookie season when he started the first handful of games.  DeShawn Wynn is the third halfback and, if his head is on straight—he’s pretty good.  He’s shown flashes of greatness two years ago when he was starting after Jackson was pulled but the injury bug got him and unfortunately, besides being a bit thick-headed at times, the injuries seem to plague him.

Fullback: John Kuhn, Korey Hall and Quinn Johnson: You’re probably thinking why Green Bay has three fullbacks—something that probably cost Sutton a roster spot.  Both Kuhn and Hall have proven themselves as capable blocking backs and Thompson and the coaching staff have been impressed with Johnson’s potential.  Like Hall, Johnson spent time in college as a linebacker so it’s not like he’s just a “blocker,” he’s a hitter too.  He’s still raw in blocking technique, but isn’t the worst in catching the ball.  Barring injury to Kuhn or Hall, Johnson probably spends the majority of the season on the inactive list.

Wide Receiver: The deepest part of the offense, and one of the best in the league.  Greg Jennings leads the way as the big play guy.  He began taking over as “the guy” from Donald Driver two years ago and fully embraced the role last season.  Even with a blow to the head against Arizona a few weeks ago, Jennings should be ready to go and barring any long-term side effects, Greg could push 1500 yards and should be able to hit double digits in TD’s.  Donald Driver is the possession receiver and still, especially in this offense, could attain 1000 yards—but is no longer the big play receiver he once was so his effectiveness can’t really be judged by TD’s.  He’s one of those guys where you really have to watch the game in order to realize how important he is—the box score won’t do him much justice anymore.  At the third and fourth receivers are, in no specific order, James Jones and Jordy Nelson (K-State in da house!!).  As you can see, I’m a bit biased towards Jordy since we attended the same university, thus I’ve gotten seen him much more than any other Packer fan.  Jordy is another big play guy and while his 40 time may read slow—he is much faster than that and it shows on the field.  His reception numbers and yardage may not be the highest totals, but when he catches it it’s either long yardage or a dink-and-dunk that gets about 3, there’s no in-between.  Long-term—if Jordy is still in GB when Driver retires—he’s the new number 2.  GO ‘CATS!!

Tight End: As Jermichael Finley catches on to things more and uses his head more, with Donald Lee, this could be a formidable tandem.  Lee can catch but is more of a blocker.  Finley is pretty much a wide receiver lining up at tight end, though to his credit he’s really improved his blocking skills since his rookie year last season.  This could be the “set the tone” season for years to come with these two—this combo sort of reminds me of the combo during the Super Bowl XXXI year; Keith Jackson as the main blocking tight end who could catch, and Mark Chmura (pre-prom party hot tub incident) as the main pass catcher who could block.  That’s something that probably won’t truly emerge until next year though.

Offensive Line: A rather big change up here.  Mark Tauscher is gone and even if he were to come back, he ripped up ACL last year and at his age, would he be very effective?  Probably not.  Last year’s starting center, Scott Wells, has been relegated to the bench and was nearly traded at cut-down day—with Jason Spitz moving over from right guard to take over his more natural position in the middle.  Chad Clifton remains at left tackle, with Allen Barbre (again, someone Ted Thompson had high hopes for but has struggled in his first two years) getting the chance to start at right tackle after spending a small portion of time last year at left guard.  The guards are Daryn Colledge, who’s started since his rookie season four years ago.  Though he’s had a handful of rough periods, Colledge looks to have found his groove and shouldn’t be a question mark.  At right guard stands second year Josh Sitton in, like Barbre is in his first year as a starter.  He barely played last year, so this position could be a problem if he doesn’t learn quick.  As you can see—there is plenty of versatility amongst the linemen which helps if there’s an injury.  With Wells backing up at center, there wouldn’t be much of a problem if a guard were to go down or if Sitton was to be ineffective and Spitz had to move back there.  Losing Tauscher hurts, but if this group can play like it has during training camp and preseason, the problems—while there, won’t be as much as expected from a young group.

And so comes the problem…

Defense: Remember the show The Electric Company?  As it would go: Pew…trid….putrid!  This unit was God-awful!  I’ve seen crummy defenses and, okay, the Lions were terrible, New Orleans stunk up the joint and Kansas City’s belonged in a landfill—but Green Bay’s made me sick.  Eleven years ago in pro wrestling’s WCW, Hulk Hogan had a feud with Kevin Nash, whom if you were a fan, was known as Diesel years earlier in the WWF (now WWE).  There was an interview by Hulk where he used as an insult, “If you’ll excuse me, I have to go take a ‘Kevin Nash.’”  I think we’re all smart enough to know what he meant.  Well, for me, it’s gotten to a point where if I’m sitting with friends and the time comes, “Excuse me, I have to go take a Green Bay Packers’ defense.”  They have some pretty good individual players whom I’ll touch on—but the until as a whole has belonged in a toilet.  Of the 10 losses last season, 9 are fully on the defense.  Rodgers stunk against Tampa—that’s his fault.  It was either letting the Saints go haywire against them or letting Dallas do what they wanted.  Or completely blowing games in the final few minutes.  In the Carolina, Jacksonville and Atlanta games—Rodgers was pressed to be throwing at the end because the prior opponent possession?  Green Bay let them walk right down the field to score to either break a tie or give up a lead.  Same thing with OT losses to Chicago and Tennessee.  Same thing with Minnesota and Houston.  You wonder why GB lost so many close games—the defense, under intense, pressure situations just simply let the other team take a Sunday (no pun intended) stroll down the field to win the game as the clock expired.

The starters played out of their minds during the preseason, so if they can play like that during the season itself—this team is winning the NFC North and probably has homefield advantage and is probably a Super Bowl contender.  On the other hand, it’s my team and my teams have a bad tendency for sucking (read: Milwaukee Brewers, Milwaukee Bucks, and of late, Kansas State). 

Defensive Line: Okay, here we go!  A new scheme, the 3-4.  It’s been said that teams transitioning to the 3-4 from the 4-3 don’t do well the next year.  In my opinion you couldn’t get much worse than 2008.  So who do we have here?  Cullen Jenkins, a serviceable player who can a make a play at times but is a bit injury-prone.  He’s probably best suited as a sub, but with not much depth here, he gets to start.  I won’t argue though—he’ll be okay.  At the other end is Johnny Jolly.  I am a huge fan of this guy!  He’s able to make to plays—the kind that don’t show up in the box score such as tipped passes at the line, which why you’ve probably never heard of him, and is around the ball.  He had a terrific preseason playing with the starting unit and, like many others I’ve mentioned, has taken strides during his handful of years in the league.  He may not make headlines but he’s going to be enough of a difference maker.  At nose tackle is Ryan Pickett.  Big guy, takes up blockers—the run stuffer akin to Gilbert Brown from years ago.  Health and stamina is his concern, which led to Green Bay’s number one pick in this year’s draft.

Now, for my friends it’s never-ending entertainment.  For people who have just met me, it literally takes them only 10 minutes at most to realize the two people I hate most in the world.  Until April, the list was just one person: Milwaukee Brewer Jeff Suppan.  The guy sucks, always did suck and always will suck, yet Milwaukee not only signed him, but gave him over $10 million a year for a contract that runs about two more years.  I don’t know because I don’t care because I am more consumed with kicking him out NOW rather than waiting for his contract to expire.  Just be glad you don’t know me in-person or you’d hear much, much more griping.

But this is a football blog.  Number two on my most-hated list?  BJ Raji.  WHAT ARE YOU DOING TED!!!??? Are you serious?? A guy who’s primary job is to “take up blocers” is being taken at NUMBER 9!!??? You honestly can’t find someone like that later on?  Take a play-maker here dammit!!  I’m not saying take an offensive player like Michael Crabtree, mostly since WR is already deep enough—but Aaron Maybin would have been nice!  Ted Thompson has gained the nickname “Trader Ted” for, while almost never trading up, consistently trading down in drafts and acquiring as many picks as possible and.  Why, why, WHY couldn’t you have done that here??  I know Raji wouldn’t have been around late in the first round and probably would have gone ninth regardless of who was picking—for whatever reason GM’s all over loved the guy and I still have no idea.  They liked Mike Mamula years ago too—how did that guy work out?  Yeah, that’s right.  And where did he go to school again?  Hmmm—I see a correlation here!

I noticed a theme during preseason that whenever there was a big play by the other team, Raji was on the field doing absolutely nothing but standing around.  The only time he made tackles was when the opposing back came right at him and didn’t bother trying to move out of the way even one bit.  In my opinion he was terrible at Boston College and will be a bomb here.  Again, be happy you weren’t around me when I saw the headline “RAJI SIGNS” and again when he took the field for the first time in preseason—and be glad you won’t be around me when he takes the field for the first time during the regular season.  Unless you love unmitigated cursing that lasts for five consecutive minutes—then you’re more than welcome to come over.  I see of late “Raji flunks ankle test” since he was injured during the last preseason game and may not be able to go week one.  My reaction?  “Thank God!”  Hopefully he stays out—addition by subtraction.  I don’t mean to wish injury on anyone and, for his sake, I hope he gets over, but it’s like I just said—addition by subtraction.  Like Suppan, I’m sure Raji’s a great guy off the field.  Am I happy for him he got drafted?  Sure!  Am I happy he’s getting a bunch of money?  You bet!  Any time anyone can make money doing what they love, I’m happy for them.  I just wish it wasn’t my team cutting his check. 

*END RANT*

Linebackers: Aaron Kampman moves from the line to outside linebacker and this will likely lead to much blitzing.  Will he put up the same sack numbers as from recent history?  Probably not.  Will he make a difference?  Sure.  He’ll get plenty of tackle opportunities and as long as he’s adequate in pass coverage, I have no problem with this move.  He doesn’t have to be a coverage linebacker like teammate Brandon Chillar—he just has to prove he’s merely “okay” in coverage.  If it gets to the point where teams are intentionally throwing at him because he sucks, then we’ve got a problem.  Inside linebacking is, to me, set.  Nick Barnett is back from his season-ending knee injury, suffered in early November.  He might not be what he had been the past couple seasons, but if he can show he still is able to play NEAR that level, that’s more than good enough. 

Then there’s AJ Hawk who’s shown he can’t exactly cover a receiver and thus won’t be playing in obvious passing situations.  He struggled last season but still led the team in tackles.  At his age, while the passing situation hurts him, I don’t see why he can’t rebound from last year in the tackling game.  If he hits another streak where he can’t get around open field blocks or isn’t making sure tackles—then major problems arise and we’re probably back to where we were last season and no one stopping anyone else.  Brady Poppinga is the other outside linbacker to start.  It was supposed to be Clay Matthews, the other first round pick—a rare trade UP by Thompson and a pick I love—but he suffered an injury early in camp and didn’t suit up until the final preseason game.  As long as he’s healthy and gets the job done in practice and doesn’t utterly fail during games, he’ll be starting by season’s end. 

I mentioned wide receiver was the deepest part of the team; well I almost take that back.  Linebacker is awfully deep as well.  Matthews is a quality reserve, I feel—and Poppinga has proven he’s a quality reserve.  Brandon Chillar, a middle ‘backer, is a great guy to have come in on passing situations since coverage is his strength and Desmond Bishop, the other middle guy, had a monster of a preseason to solidify his status.  Maybe it was because Bishop was playing against second-stringers—but he was overly dominant of them—he’s certainly worth of facing other teams’ starters.  He may not be ready to start, but coming in on occasion should work out.

Defensive Backs: Oh boy.  Charles Woodson?  As awesome as you can get, led the NFL in interceptions last season and has a high propensity for returning them for touchdowns.  He was moved to safety late in the year due to injuries back there, because he had a nagging toe injury, and partly because he’s starting to age and playing safety is probably his best bet.  Even at safety he was playing like an All-Pro—but for now he’s back at corner. 

At the other corner is “I have to go take an Al Harris.”  I correct myself, there’s THREE guys I hate—Al is the other one.  I have hated him akin to my Suppan hate since his first year in GB.  I considered at one point renting out a billboard on a nearby highway, having a big picture of Al Harris and it reading in huge font “I HATE AL HARRIS.”  I never checked the pricing so it didn’t happen.  Yes, gets interceptions (like game-cinchers against Chicago) and plays well when he’s gone overtime in studying the opponent’s tendencies.  When he doesn’t do that, he gets burned.  Badly.  Remember the NFC title game two years ago?  It was Harris’s job to cover Burress.  Every time they faced Dallas, Harris had to cover TO.  TO dominated.  I can’t *fully* blame Harris because the planned defense for those games didn’t really cater to him being able to give terrific coverage then—but he’d shown more than enough to me in previous years that he stinks.  He was fast, yes.  But I never understood the whole “He’s a great cover corner.”  Did these people actually watch the games??  Tramon Williams makes a great nickel back—he’s shown the capability to get to the ball for an interception—it’s a matter of shaking injuries.  He’s by no means a starter at this point in time, but when Woodson or Harris leave, I can see him stepping in.  Will Blackmon also plays corner and again, it’s a matter of injuries.  If two of these guys are hurt, any combination of the four—then all hell breaks lose because what’s left is a complete disaster.  Please don’t get hurt guys!

The safeties read out as Nick Collins and Atari Bigby.  Bigby is one of the hardest hitters in the NFL—so he’s fun to see coming in at full speed on an unsuspecting receiver or running back.  He’s able to play himself to be around tipped passes which is how he attains the majority of his INT’s.  Unfortunately he can’t cover worth anything.  Nick Collins seems to have quite a few detractors up here, even after tying with Woodson for the NFL lead last season—mostly because he was a second round pick that, after having a great rookie season in 2005, almost flamed out.  He came back to life last year and if he can come through again this year, the fans will be back in his corner.  If Aaron Rouse, a third-rounder in ’07 whom I enjoyed seeing play for VA Tech and was glad GB took him, can get over his current injury—he’s shown himself to be a ball hawk and, if there were an injury bug like what hit last season in the defensive backfield—I would have absolutely no problem seeing him start at strong safety.

Special Teams: The coverage unit has a lot left to be desired after 2008, but they’ve shown in preseason that gang-tackling is an actual asset to use.  The return game, with Williams and Blackmon, is as solid as possible—as long as those two are healthy, otherwise it’s Jordy Nelson on kicks and punts, which isn’t a bad option either since he handled those at KSU.

Mason Crosby, again another pick I really liked in ’07—mostly because I saw more than enough of him since he went to Colorado—had a down year and missed a couple kicks, namely against Minnesota and Chicago, that would have won the game or given GB a safe enough lead.  His leg strength seemed to disappear over the year as well—but he showed it’s back, attempting a 60-yarder against Buffalo that banged off the left upright.  Again, from watching him in college, I can’t possibly think he’ll do as bad as last season.

Punter is another story.  I have no clue what’s going on here and it seems to be a lost situation unless Jeremy Kapinos shows he’s worth something.  They cut Jon Ryan last season after a mediocre season by him, brought in Derrick Frost who quickly earned the nickname “noodle leg,” who subsequently shoved out the door in early December for Kapinos.  He did well in limited action in preseason, mostly because GB almost never had to punt—so one wonders how long a leash he’ll have if he kicks poorly.

Team Overall: I don’t know.  I’m a cynic by nature and with what they have in front of them—yes, Green Bay SHOULD have a winning record and SHOULD be battling for the wild card.  They could well be about 12-4.  However, with my luck, they’ll be the first team to lose to Detroit, they’ll mess up against San Francisco and overall will wind up about 5-11 or 4-12.  I don’t see them beating Minnesota either time because Favre is going to be so pissed at them, and the coverage unit, as much as I played them up here, still inspires no confidence in me–and I don’t care how well they played Sunday night vs. Chicago, that’s “just one game.”  I honestly can see Favre going for over 400 yards and having 4 TD’s both times.  Yay for being embarrassed on Monday Night Football!  They’ll either split or be swept by Chicago (obviously being swept at the time this is posted is now out of the question).  Pittsburgh and Baltimore are lost causes, as is, I think, Tampa.  Pretty much, with the cupcakes they play, minus Chicago and Minnesota, if this team isn’t 5-1 at the seond game against Minnesota, maybe 4-2, then all hope is lost.  ESPN’s Bill Simmons picks Green Bay to be his Super Bowl winner “…to cap off the first Eff You season devoted to a single player.”  Simmons is entertaining to read, but isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer either.  Considering he’s picking Green Bay—I don’t see much hope here.  I just want 8-8.