Could be a long year for Packers fans
When you grow up like I did as a Minnesota Vikings fan, you get used to heartbreaking defeat.
At this point, I’ve grown almost numb to them as it’s happened so often over the years. In fact, even if my team were predicted to win the Super Bowl in February, I’d chuckle and I wouldn’t believe it until I saw it.
I’ve seen too many good teams waste too many good opportunities to get my hopes up.
Now it seems like Green Bay Packers fans are getting a taste of that, at least the ones from my generation.
I’m sure many of you fans reading this are well aware of the “lost years” in Green Bay that, from what I’ve gathered since living in the Upper Peninsula, lasted from the late 1970s to the early ’90s before Brett Favre showed up. I almost feel sorry for you Packers fans who went through that rough stretch. Almost.
Right now, Green Bay seems as if it’s trending toward that period, and just like I said last week to Detroit Lions fans, it’s going to be more of the same this season.
Now before you think that this is just going to be a column mocking the Packers, that’s not the case. After all, a few weeks ago, I told you that I enjoyed my time at the Packers Hall of Fame and heck, even Vince Lombardi contacted me from beyond the grave while I was there, welcoming me to the team.
Still though, last year in Green Bay was pretty laughable, so I’m going to have a little fun with it and I hope you will too. After all, if you can’t laugh, you can’t get through the pain. Trust me, I do it every year with the Vikings.
At this time last year, the Packers were coming off a season where they missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers was healthy again and simply due to that fact, Green Bay was in contention for a playoff spot.
Instead, the Packers went 6-9-1 and avoided last place in the NFC North only because Minnesota’s Daniel Carlson decided his goal was to join Blair Walsh and Gary Anderson on the list of awful kicking performances one particular afternoon.
Packers kicker Mason Crosby also had an atrocious day during a game last year when he missed five — five! — field goals against the Lions and the Packers were swept by Detroit for the second straight year.
Green Bay missed a chance to get a win over the eventual NFC champion Los Angeles Rams because Ty Montgomery fumbled a kickoff after being told to take a knee in the end zone when he caught it.
The most embarrassing moment of all, though, was probably that late-season loss at Lambeau Field to Arizona, a Cardinals team that finished 3-13 and ended up with the first pick in this year’s draft.
There was also some drama with that Bleacher Report article about how Rodgers and head coach Mike McCarthy didn’t get along amongst other problems.
Seriously, Green Bay did something incredible last year, and that was making the Lions look somewhat competent even though Detroit was a mess in 2018.
So the Packers decided to make some changes. They sent McCarthy packing after the Cardinals’ game, which should’ve happened three years ago, and have now turned the whistle over to one-time Northern Michigan University coach Matt LaFleur.
They also finally dumped defensive coordinator Dom Capers, who I’m pretty sure was hated even more than McCarthy. They let roughing the passer-repeat offender Clay Matthews walk as a free agent and released often-injured linebacker Nick Perry.
They even did a solid job in the draft, picking up linebacker Rashan Gary out of Michigan to potentially replace Matthews, and safety Darnell Savage Jr. from Maryland to help replace Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and compete with Josh Jones.
It’s almost as if they’re looking like a functional franchise. Again, key word is almost.
You see, there’s still some lingering problems. Yeah, McCarthy is gone now to harass high school basketball officials, but something tells me LaFleur and Rodgers won’t be seeing eye-to-eye long.
LaFleur was the Titans’ offensive coordinator last year and didn’t do much as Tennessee finished 25th in total offense; meanwhile, Rodgers is a first ballot Hall of Famer. LaFleur also tore his Achilles tendon in the offseason playing basketball, so that’s not a good sign.
Speaking of injuries, if Rodgers goes down with a season-ending injury like he did in 2017, Green Bay’s backup quarterback is ex-Clevelander DeShone Kizer, the author of most of the Browns’ 0-16 season a couple years ago, so that should scare Packer backers as much as Brett Hundley did.
The Packers still don’t have a solid running back to fall back on with presumptive starter Aaron Jones coming off a knee injury he suffered late last season.
Green Bay has a great No. 1 receiver in Pro Bowler Davante Adams, but there’s no reliable No. 2 guy. Geronimo Allison had groin surgery last year and Equanimeous St. Brown had a quiet 2018. Marquez Valdes-Scantling showed some potential last season, but he’s going to need to take a big step in 2019. Tight end Jimmy Graham’s best days seem to be behind him as are Marcedes Lewis’.
On the line, offensive tackle David Bakhtiari can pound beers with the best of them, which is an admirable trait in Wisconsin, but he’s the only real stable part of that front wall.
Then there’s the defense, which according to the Packers fans I know, has been excruciating to watch. Green Bay has ranked 29th over the past three seasons in points allowed per game and pass defense, so to say it’s been porous might be an understatement.
However, Capers has left town, so you can’t blame him anymore for its failures and there’s been many.
The good thing is, like I said earlier, the Packers looked good in the draft with Gary and Savage and they added free agent Za’Darius Smith (8.5 sacks last year) to help anchor the line. Kyler Fackrell had a breakout year at linebacker in 2018 with 10.5 sacks and Preston Smith was a good offseason pickup as a free agent.
Jaire Alexander, Kevin King and Josh Jackson have all looked decent at cornerback, but the Packers’ most glaring defensive weakness is at safety. They’ll need Jones, free agent pickup Adrian Amos, Tramon Williams and Savage all to step up quickly. Otherwise, opposing quarterbacks are going to have a field day again.
Speaking of field days, the Packers won’t be having many early as they get the Bears and Vikings in the first two weeks, two teams with ferocious defenses. Green Bay also gets potential Super Bowl contender Philadelphia in Week 4, so that’s not a great start to the year.
Looking at the schedule as a whole, there’s only one time during the year where the Packers could build a winning streak and that’s mid-November to mid-December. The problem is they could be out of the playoff picture, or hanging by a thread, by the time that comes around.
This may be tough to take, but this will probably be another disappointing year in Green Bay and for the majority of the U.P. The Packers did make some improvements, but they’ve still got a lot of issues to work out, and right now the other three teams in the NFC North are better than they are. Yes, even the Lions, which shouldn’t surprise you a whole lot considering they’ve won four straight over Green Bay, which might be the most painful part of all of this.
This year and possible the next couple are going to be rough in Green Bay and as much as I will enjoy that as a Vikings fan, I’m also not a terrible person. So I’ll give you some advice Packers fans. Watch the first few games and then shift your focus over to the Milwaukee Brewers or Bucks, who both have a far better chance for postseason success.
Take it from a Minnesota sports fan. It’s much easier to accept a mess if you don’t look at it for awhile.
Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.