Preseason predictions call for stormy season

If the Packers were to pay much mind to their preseason press, they would just accept their second-place consolation prize (or worse) and call it a season.

The major pro football periodicals, including Street and Smith, Athlon Sports, Sports Illustrated, Sporting News, ESPN and others have hit the stores. Once awaited with nearly the same fervor as the first baseball cards of spring, these preseason prediction mags don't have the impact in the internet age that they did years ago. By the nature, much of the information is already stale, a foible which is becoming harder to overlook. But old habits die hard. I still can't help but rifle through the pages wondering where they'll peg the Pack.

This year's Packer forecast in these magazines is about the same as the past few editions, thanks to the decline of the defense. The various chapters on the Pack could be titled "How the Mighty Have Fallen," while consistently predicting Green Bay's finish behind the Vikings.

Fortunately for the Packers, most prognosticators have been wrong. The Packers remain the only team ever to win a NFC North Division title in the three years since the league restructuring.

A brief scan of the 2005 publications reveals a common, and obvious, thread. The defense, specifically the secondary, isn't good enough to make the Packers the favorite. Some periodicals settle for that, others present a more detailed picture.

Athlon Sports presents a solid case. They predict a second-place finish for the Pack, behind Minnesota, and reveal a reason that goes beyond passing defense. Green Bay, Athlon scribes contend, has not made the strides that its North Division neighbors and others have made in the draft, free agency, or though retaining their own key pieces. The loss of offensive linemen Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle are cited as examples of the Packers not keeping up with the Jones' - and not just Jerry.

Two consolations are offered, however. First, in this age of parity the Packers have stayed on top for longer than the league intends and thus have defied NFL odds. Second, Athlon pundits say (as do all but one of the others surveyed) that as long as Brett Favre is on this team, nothing is impossible.

Here's one trivial perk for the Pack: the magazine puts out 28 cover versions (Washington/Baltimore and Oakland/San Francisco double up) and the Green Bay version featuring Favre is the fourth best-seller behind Dallas, Oak/SF and Pittsburgh.

Street and Smith also sees Green Bay second behind the Vikings. This time, the blame is placed not on poor performance in January's playoffs, but on April's draft. Failure to adequately address the defense through the draft will be the undoing of the 2005 Packers, S&S predicts. The Packers earned an embarrassing C-minus for their 2005 selections. Minnesota got an A.

Street and Smith rates each teams' units, ranging from 1 star (poor) to 5 stars (excellent). While GB's quarterback, running backs and wide receivers get five stars, the defensive categories fall into two-star territory.

And so it goes, with most prognosticators giving Favre his props, deriding the defense, and discussing the bewildering draft. Most - but not all.

One publication, the well-respected Sporting News, forecasts disaster. How does 7-9 sound, with a dead-last finish in the North? Scary. The faint-hearted should probably stop there, because it only gets worse.

Sure, the defense takes its deserved pounding, and a key point is made about coach Mike Sherman has much to prove to new GM Ted Thompson. Dan Pompeii, a long-time, Chicago sports scribe, sees a poor year ahead for Ahman Green, and TSP's pick to click is, unfortunately, WR Javon Walker.

But that's not what got to me. One snippet tucked inside the Packers' pages was the devious suggestion that the presence of rookie QB Aaron Rodgers will weigh on Favre. The Sporting News goes as far as to caution that fans are brutal, and will be quick to turn on Favre and call for Rodgers as soon as things go awry.

Who is more off base - this particular predictor, or any fan who would potentially commit such NFL treason?

The predicted lack of defensive improvement and worries about Sherman or Green sprinkled throughout these preseason publications are based on fact. Angry fans chanting Aaron Rodgers' name any time during 2005 is based on a bad fantasy that could live only in the imagination of someone who would enjoy seeing it come true. Could Mike Ditka have found another career?

Editor's note: Laura Veras Marran grew up in Green Bay, Wis., and is a longtime sportswriter. Her column will appear Thursdays and Sundays on

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