For all the bitter criticism tossed at Packers general manager Ted Thompson during the offseason, the team clearly is better today than it was four months ago.
For one, Brett Favre is back. Put him with a new coaching staff and, on paper, at least, a better offensive line and running game, and he almost certainly will cut his interception total by a third. Only a fool would look at his interception total last season and, based on that alone, think Favre was finished.
The running back position is stronger, with the returns of Ahman Green and Najeh Davenport. Is Green too old and can he recover from a torn thigh ligament? Can Davenport stay healthy for more than, say, a few games at a time? Who knows, but at least Thompson didn't put his eggs in one basket by retaining one or the other. Throw in Samkon Gado and, again, the improved line, and the Packers' running game should be better.
The receiving position is terrible beyond Donald Driver, and that includes the running backs. Everyone is high on second-round pick Greg Jennings, but rookie wide receivers almost never produce. Only five rookie wide receivers since 1990 have reached 1,000 yards, ESPN.com's Len Pasquerelli discovered. That's not good. Still, with a better running game, a better line and a better Favre, perhaps some of that will translate to helping the passing game.
The offensive line clearly will be better, as I've alluded to here several times. Second-round pick Daryn Colledge will be an infinite improvement at left guard over Adrian Klemm — though those Mike Wahle comparisons sound like so much minicamp hot air — and the free-for-all at right guard should improve that position, if you subscribe to the competition-breeds-improvement theory. Judging by the success of the zone-blocking schemes in Atlanta and Denver, this new approach is a proven winner.
It's much the same story on the defensive side as the offensive side.
The defensive line is no better, because Ryan Pickett is younger but not better (or worse) than Grady Jackson, and the rest of the guys are back.
The linebacking corps, obviously, is better, with the addition of first-round pick A.J. Hawk over oft-injured Na'il Diggs on the weak side. With Hawk and Nick Barnett, the Packers have athleticism that a lot of the league will envy. The strong side remains a big question mark, but Barnett and Hawk should be able to cover up some of those deficiencies.
Assuming there's any tread left on the tires of Charles Woodson, he's a dramatic upgrade over clueless Ahmad Carroll at cornerback. That's a big if, however, considering his injury history. If Woodson is rejuvenated by the change of address, he and Al Harris automatically must be considered one of the top three cornerback tandems in the NFL. Marquand Manuel? Mark Roman? Marquand Roman? It's a wash, but the other safety, Nick Collins, is a year wiser and a year better.
The one offseason move that could smash any chances for a dramatic turnaround is Thompson's decision to let kicker Ryan Longwell head west to Minnesota. Close games often boil down to field goals, and Longwell was pretty much money in the clutch. Then there's the departure of the maligned Antonio Chatman. Say what you want about his lack of explosiveness and his love for the fair catch as a returner, but he didn't cough up the ball. Will Woodson or one of the rookies be able to catch the ball and do something with it?
The Packers went 2-8 in games decided by a touchdown or less, including three crippling losses in the first four such games that sent the season spiraling. They lost their first seven "close" games before finally breaking through.
Yes, the Packers are better in practically every area. But it's incrementally so in a lot of areas. Thus, the Packers' ability to win half of those "close" games and turn a 4-12 season into, say, 8-8 or 9-7, will be determined in three areas: Can Favre eliminate a lot of the stupid mistakes that marred last season, can Mike McCarthy pull the strings that Mike Sherman failed to pull, and can the Packers overcome the loss of Longwell?
Those are some vital questions, and the minicamps, training camp and preseason must provide the right answers.
Lawrence is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.