NFL Analysis: Is Green Bay Still Super Bowl-Caliber?

After a run of two seasons where they won the Super Bowl (2010) and then finished 15-1 in the regular season (2011), the Green Bay Packers slipped a bit in the 2012 season. They still won 11 games, the NFC North and a first-round playoff game. The lingering memory though, is  a postseason beatdown in San Francisco  and the question for our NFL analysis is whether the Packers are still Super Bowl-caliber in 2013.

If this were flag football, there’s no question what the answer would be. Green Bay is loaded at the skill positions and it naturally starts with Aaron Rodgers. The quarterback threw 39 touchdowns against just eight interceptions in a performance arguably as good as his MVP year in 2011.

In spite of having some of the worst pass protection in the league, Rodgers still kept Green Bay in the upper fifth of the NFL in yards-per-pass and near the top in completion percentage.

There’s no shortage of toys for the quarterback to play with. Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson make for an ideal deep threat-possession receiver combo. Jermichael Finely frustrates fans and the coaches with his drops, but remains as good a deep threat as there is as a tight end. And the Packers decision to draft running back Eddie Lacy, fresh off a national title run at Alabama, appears to be ready to pay off, at least based on preseason results.

Green Bay’s problem lies in a phrase buried above—“in spite of some of the worst pass protection in the league.” The Packers allowed 51 sacks in 2012, worse than every team except the Arizona Cardinals. Lest you think this is just a byproduct of a pass-happy offense, the Packers are in the middle of the league in the number of times they throw the ball.

It’s not just the yardage lost on all the sacks, or even the risk that the game’s most valuable asset in Rodgers is being exposed to. Green Bay head coach and playcaller Mike McCarthy has had to tone back the number of times he throws the ball to prevent defensive lines from teeing off. The hidden question that no one knows the answer to is how many potential big plays in the passing game can never even be attempted because the offensive line is a joke?

Nor should we expect 2013 to be any better. Left tackle Bryan Bulaga, one of the line’s few bright spots, missed the second part of last season and will be out all of this year. Green Bay desperately needs some of its younger lineman to develop rapidly.

The Packer defense took its share of heat, both locally (I live in southeastern Wisconsin) and nationally over the way they were taken apart by Colin Kaepernick in the playoffs. But if you review the statistical data, this is still a pretty good unit. They’re in the upper quarter of the league in forcing incompletions, limiting yardage on completed passes, getting sacks and getting interceptions.

Green Bay’s defense also has playmakers, notably outside linebacker Clay Matthews and second-year linebacker Nick Perry also missed the second half of last season. His return prevents defenses from keying on Matthews. Charles Woodson is gone, but since he missed pretty much all of 2012, those positive stats were already compiled without him.

The folks in Las Vegas have posted Green Bay’s Over/Under win prop at 10.5. This is a stiff number, but I’m still going to lean a little bit to the Over. So long as Rodgers stays healthy, the Packers are good for a minimum of ten wins and if they defense plays well they get themselves to 11 or 12 again. Whether a Super Bowl run is in the cards depends on the offensive line. 

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