With such eagerly-awaited anticipation, though, comes expectations and the Packers expectations are lower than they have been in 15 years. A new era will kick off on Sunday with several new faces and a familiar opponent, the Bears, for the 172nd meeting overall. The Packers are hoping they can find paydirt a little more often than they did last year against the Bears, when they scored only two touchdowns in two forgettable losses.
To recognize football's most cherished 10 yards otherwise known as the end zone, here are seven (a touchdown plus an extra point) bold predictions for the Packers 2006 season:
1. They will finish 6-10: The Packers are a young team still in a state of transition. Oh, yeah, they also have a rookie head coach. Their two true veterans, Brett Favre and William Henderson, seem oddly out-of-place on the roster. Favre really has no one to relate to anymore, and Henderson is a part of an offense that would seem less suited for a true fullback. Thus, youth will prevail and with youth comes excitement, but also plenty of mistakes. Realistically, the Packers are one year away from being a playoff contender. This year will be a necessary learning experience and the true training ground for the future of the Mike McCarthy-Ted Thompson era.
2. Brett Favre will not surpass any of the records he is chasing in 2006: Favre has a chance to eclipse several NFL career marks this year, but with the way the team is shaping up, he will not get to any of them. No less than four records – touchdown passes, completions, wins, and interceptions – are within his reach this season. He needs 25 touchdown passes, 290 completions, and 10 wins to pass Dan Marino for No. 1 all-time on each respective list.
With 23 interceptions, Favre would also pass George Blanda for the dubious honor of having thrown the most passes to the wrong team. With what the Packers are preaching on offense – a commitment to the run and a short passing game to move the chains, Favre's likelihood of reaching the above passing marks is not likely. As for the career wins, he will have to play another year to get that record.
3. The defense, while better on paper, will take a step back this year: The additions of Charles Woodson at cornerback, A.J. Hawk at linebacker, and Ryan Pickett at defensive tackle give the Packers upgrades at each position, but to achieve what the 2005 defense did will be a tall task. For starters, a spirited coordinator in Jim Bates is gone. Bob Sanders, his longtime colleague takes over, but is a first-year defensive coordinator who may call the game somewhat different and will be trying to find his own style.
The Packers were No. 1 in the NFL in pass defense and No. 7 overall last year, two rankings which will be worse this year. Remember, the Packers ran into several backup quarterbacks and just plain bad starters a year ago, which helped them attain such high rankings. They will not likely have the same good fortune this year. Thus, the numbers will indicate they will take a step back this year even with an improvement in personnel.
4. Donald Driver will catch 100 passes: When all else fails on offense, the Packers always have a true pro in Driver. Last season, he stood out on an offense devoid of play-makers with career highs in catches (86) and receiving yards (1,221). Not much has changed for the Packers offense this year. Rookie Greg Jennings has shown potential, but Driver will have to carry the load of the passing game. Favre would be wise to give him at least 10 chances every game because that might be what it takes to make some plays. Remember a receiver named Sterling Sharpe? Well, in 1992 he was on a team with Favre that was remarkably similar to the 2006 squad and he caught 108 passes. Driver will not be too far behind under similar circumstances.
5. They will again win just one game on the road: Detroit, Philadelphia, Miami, Buffalo, Minnesota – those locations are all places the Packers have historically struggled over the years. While that may not mean much for 2006, consider the Packers prospects for the season are not looking that good, and another one-win season on the road, like a year ago, looks to be a possibility. The road schedule is tougher than it looks, even at Buffalo, one of the toughest places for a road team to win in the NFL. The Packers only likely win will be at San Francisco in December. They will need to play flawlessly or get some breaks to win at the other stadiums.
6. Special teams will cost them at least two games: To put it lightly, the Packers special teams units during the preseason were below average. There is reason to believe that mistakes will continue. Two new specialists, kicker Dave Rayner and punter Jon Ryan, have strong legs, but accuracy and precision will be an issue.
Rayner was a kickoff specialist in Indianapolis a year ago, but will get his chance to kick field goals this year. Ryan may boot several over 60 yards, but with little hang time, return men will have ample opportunity for big returns. Of course, how the coverage units come together under new special teams coach Mike Stock will be the X-factor. Athletically they seem to be okay, but Stock will have to motivate several young players to play hard on every kickoff and every punt.
7. They will finish the regular season strong, giving fans hope: December is a long time away, but it should be the Packers' best month of the season for several reasons. They have three of five home games in the month and play four teams which should have losing records by that time. That gives the Packers a chance to finish strong. Furthermore, by that time of the year, a primarily new coaching staff should have worked out the wrinkles, and should have a better idea of what they want to do and how to do it. It all adds up to a month where the Packers will go 4-1.
Matt Tevsh is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report. Agree? Disagree? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.