A positive look at 2006 season

After the Packers dropped their final two preseason games in unimpressive fashion, many fans have lowered their expectations of the team this season. PackerReport.com's Doug Ritchay, however, explains why there is hope for the Packers to win the weak NFC North Division.

We are less than one week away from the start of the NFL season, which is exciting. However, the way the Packers have played at times this preseason, exciting wouldn't be the word that comes to mind.

No question, the game at Cincinnati, where the starters had their most playing time, gave many Packers fans and coaches worries. The Packers were outclassed in every area in losing 48-17 to a team many think could challenge for the AFC title. The Packers' second- and third-stringers didn't perform much better in Green Bay's 35-17 loss to Tennessee on Friday.

Because of that, it'd be easy to pick on the Packers and have me tell you why this team can't win more than six games. But I have decided on my final column before the regular season comes straight into focus to concentrate on the best-case scenario for the Packers in the NFC North. There is no doubt the defending champion Bears are the team to beat in the division, as the Packers, Lions and Vikings could each finish below .500. However, here's what has to happen for the Packers to win (yes, I said win) the NFC North.

Brett Favre has to play within the offense, not take stupid chances and realize throwing the ball away is smarter than throwing a ball up for grabs between two defenders. He was a big reason Green Bay had a minus–24 turnover ratio, tied for the worst in the NFL last season.

Also, the Packers- 45 give-aways ranked last in the NFL.

Not only does Favre need to play smart, the offensive line has to play better than it has showed during the preseason. If not, the running game will disappear and Favre will be compelled to take chances.

Defensively, the front four must do enough to keep blockers off linebackers Nick Barnett and A.J. Hawk. If the line can do this, the Packers' best playmakers on defense have a chance to make impacts. The success of the defense lies within the front four doing its job.

The offense needs to play as poor as it has in recent memory, and it can. Rex Grossman has never played a full season at quarterback, leaving uncertainty about his talents. Also, the running back debate between Cedric Benson and Thomas Jones must blossom.

Nothing like controversy.

Defensively, the Bears are real good, but if this unit can be put behind in games, because of the lack of offensive production, then the defense can't attack like it usually can. So the key is to jump on the Bears quickly. Defenses play different when they are behind.

Detroit just has to keep playing like it has in the past. The Lions have potential on offense, but potential means nothing unless it's realized. If Kevin Jones remains a disappointment and the stable of first-round picks at wide receiver continues to struggle, this offense can mirror last year's, which is bad.

Defensively, new coach Rod Marinelli is defensive-minded, but the lack of playmakers on this unit makes Marinelli's job difficult. There's really not much to say about Detroit, as long as it plays like it has in recent years, the Packers can place ahead of the Lions.

Offensively, Brad Johnson must show his age and play the way I think he will – hot and cold. He was the flavor of the day last year as Daunte Culpepper struggled and then got injured, but Johnson doesn't have the consistent playmaking ability to make the Vikings' offense lethal.

Also, new running back Chester Taylor has to play like a backup, which he was in Baltimore.

Defensively, the Vikings must play below their ability. This defense could rival Chicago's, as it's stacked with playmakers, especially in the secondary. Hopefully, the defense plays careless, takes chances and feels the pressure of an offense not expected to blow up quite often. There you have it. If all this comes to fruition, the Packers go 9-7 and win the NFC North. Not a great record, but who wouldn't take it now?

Packers coach Mike McCarthy would, I can guarantee you that.

Doug Ritchay

Editor's note: Doug Ritchay is a longtime sportswriter and former Packers beat writer for the Green Bay News-Chronicle. E-mail at dritchay@sbcglobal.net.

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