- The Packers’ Achilles' heel on defense has been atrocious cornerback play, but a new defensive coordinator and three young promising cover men could fix that issue this season.
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Packers 2018 win total: 10 (+105 over, -125 under)
Packers 2017 record: 7-9
Key offseason acquisitions: TE Jimmy Graham, DT Muhammad Wilkerson, TE Marcedes Lewis, QB DeShone Kizer, CB Tramon Williams, defensive coordinator Mike Pettine
Key offseason losses: WR Jordy Nelson, CB Damarious Randall, S Morgan Burnett, TE Richard Rodgers, LB Joe Thomas, G Jahri Evans, LB Ahmad Brooks, WR Jeff Janis, defensive coordinator Dom Capers
Five things to keep in mind before betting the Packers’ win total
1. Aaron Rodgers’s collarbone is fully intact, and if he stays on the field, you have to love the Packers’ chances of double-digit wins. Rodgers has played 15-plus regular season games eight times in his career. Seven of those times, Green Bay won 10 or more games—the one exception was his first year as a starter. Through dysfunctional offenses and middling defenses, Rodgers is the kind of player who can flip the switch and win games almost single-handedly.
2. Andy Benoit and I discussed this on the Cornerbacks Episode of our podcast this summer (hurry up and subscribe, we’ve added The MMQB Gambling Show to the feed, debuting Friday!): When we compiled our rankings of the top cornerbacks in the NFL right now, five of the top 18 were first- or second-year players last season (Jalen Ramsey, Marshon Lattimore, Tre’Davious White, William Jackson and Adoree’ Jackson). The Packers’ Achilles' heel on defense has been atrocious cornerback play—they missed in recent drafts. But it’s a position you can turn around quickly even with one right pick (just ask the Saints). In rookies Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson, and second-year man Kevin King, Green Bay has three chances to have a true No. 1 cornerback emerge this year—I like those odds. And if the defense gets good cornerback play behind new DC Mike Pettine’s creative blitz packages, this unit could do a complete 180.
3. This might be the best the NFC North has ever been during the Rodgers era. The Vikings are, obviously, stacked. The Lions have a chance to be one of the surprise teams of 2018—after failing to assemble anything close to a running game so far in Matthew Stafford’s career, they now have one that could be a top-10 attack in the NFL, not to mention a sneaky good defense and a ton of depth. The Bears are if nothing else interesting, with former Andy Reid assistant Matt Nagy and long-time Oregon coach Mark Helfrich revamping the offense, one that figures to use a lot of college concepts. The Packers host Chicago in the Sunday night opener, and the Bears didn’t do themselves any favors by failing to get first-round rookie linebacker Roquan Smith into camp. But remember what Nagy’s Chiefs offense did to the Patriots in last year’s season-opener? Similarly, you might see the Bears roll out a lot of never-before-seen, misdirection-heavy designs in Week 1. You used to be able to pencil in the Packers for four or five division wins every year. That’s no longer the case.
4. Two seasons ago, when Jared Cook was in the lineup, the Packers were 10-3. Last year, with Martellus Bennett and Aaron Rodgers both in the lineup, they were 4-1. Rodgers is obviously bummed that the Packers moved on from Jordy Nelson (who was indisputably aging), but Jimmy Graham is exactly the kind of versatile, chess-piece tight end Rodgers has thrived with over the last two seasons. Having that flex tight end adds a layer to an offense that too often relies on Rodgers making otherworldly plays out of structure—as we’ve seen over the years, that usually works, but this offense has hit some slumps. And, let’s be honest, Graham is an upgrade over what the offense had in Cook or Bennett.
5. There are some wild cards in Pettine’s defense. Clay Matthews, so valuable and versatile over his career, is—to put it kindly—no longer the player he once was. Muhammad Wilkerson, dominant playing under Pettine when the two were with the Jets, is coming off a tumultuous two seasons. Jake Ryan’s torn ACL means athletic-but-undersized Oren Burks, who was probably pegged for more of a dime safety role as a rookie, will have to prove he can hold up against the run immediately. Morgan Burnett, a rock in the secondary for the past eight seasons, is no longer there, and there’s the aforementioned rookie corners. It was past time to move on from Dom Capers and get a fresh voice on the defensive side of the ball, but this unit has a wide range of possible outcomes.
PICK: OVER 10 Wins