Wanted: Patience and optimism

With a better running game, a better Brett Favre, a better defense and a ridiculously easy schedule, the Packers should easily surpass last year's 4-12 record, PackerReport.com's Steve Lawrence says.

A couple weeks ago, I think it was the night the Green Bay Packers were dismantled by the Cincinnati Bengals, an unhappy fan sent me an e-mail. In his note, he actually said he wished someone would put a bullet in Ted Thompson.

Clearly, this lunatic is in the extreme minority, but there are a lot you who are mad — screaming, stomping mad — at the direction Thompson is leading the franchise as the Packers are about to kick off the regular season on Sunday.

If that's you, here's one word of advice: Relax.

Good teams can't stay good forever. The Packers had a heck of a run of success, but through reasons we all know and I won't bother rehashing, that run has come to an end.

It happens to every team in the NFL. It's the nature of the salary-cap beast.

So deal with it.

Thompson hasn't said it, but his actions speak louder than words. The Packers are rebuilding.

I'm not breaking any news here. One look at the roster shows 27 of the 53 players have one year of NFL experience or less. Four rookies will start on Sunday.

This team is not going to win the Super Bowl. I realize it's been an awful long time since Packers fans had to face that realization at this time of year. Even before last year's 4-12 nightmare, the Packers appeared to be contenders if a few things went in their favor.

Nothing, of course, went in their favor, so Thompson tore the whole thing down to build it up again, starting with the firing of coach Mike Sherman and the hiring of Mike McCarthy, and followed by this year's roster revamp.

Only time will tell if Thompson will be successful.

Of course, the naysayers aren't giving him that time.

A few pundits recently ranked McCarthy the worst coach in the NFL. What they're basing it on, I have no idea, though I'm guessing it's because he was the coordinator of San Francisco's horrible offense last season.

Saying the hiring of McCarthy is a mistake, however, is absurd. Maybe McCarthy will be a disaster. Maybe he'll be the next Mike Holmgren. Who knows? New England's hiring of Bill Belichick was ridiculed, based on his failed tenure in Cleveland. But as I've said before, a coach is only as good as his players. Belichick lucked into Tom Brady and the right mix of bargain-basement veterans and, voila, he's won three Super Bowls and will wind up in the Hall of Fame.

On the personnel front, the results so far have been mixed. Thompson is putting most of his eggs into the draft basket, but after this weekend's roster moves, only five of his 11 picks in 2005 are on the team.

He'll have to do a lot better than that to turn this team into a contender again.

All of this, however, is looking at the Packers over the long term. How about the coming season?

A lot of fans have thrown in the towel. I honestly can't remember a time when the upcoming football season has generated this little buzz. After the preseason, I can't say I blame them. The Packers went 1-3, but, hey, Pittsburgh and Washington went 0-4, and they're considered championship contenders.

I'm not calling the Packers championship contenders, but there are reasons to believe the Packers will be better — considerably better, in fact — than last year's 4-12 record.

Let's start at running back, where Ahman Green is back after last year's season-ending thigh injury. Green Bay's season was ruined by Green's injury. Without Green, opposing defenses could afford to ignore the Packers' running game, and that played a big part in Brett Favre firing 29 interceptions. Even if Green is only modestly effective, just the threat of the run will be enough to open up the play-action passing game and slow the pass rush just enough for Favre to be effective.

Of course, a running back is only as good as his offensive line. The line looked awful during the preseason, but unlike last year's unit, at least there's potential to improve. With hard work and good coaching, perhaps the Packers will have a decent line by midseason.

With Green occupying linebackers and rookie receiver Greg Jennings taking some of the heat off Donald Driver, Favre should rebound. He doesn't have to rebound to MVP form. All he has to do is not lose games.

The football Web site ColdHardFootballFacts.com analyzed every playoff game in the Super Bowl era, and its findings are real eye-openers. Teams that threw zero interceptions won 79 percent of the time. Teams that threw one interception won 57 percent of the time. Teams that threw two interceptions won just 32 percent of the time. Teams that threw three interceptions won 16 percent of the time. Teams that threw four or more went a combined 1-39. Buffalo won that 1981 game because the Jets' quarterback also threw four interceptions.

Assume those stats are about the same in the regular season, and it's easy to see how the Packers can improve on last year's four-win season. That's especially true when you consider how many close games they played last year. Favre averaged almost two interceptions per game last season. If he can cut his interceptions to even an unsavory 20, the Packers should be in position to win at least three or four more games.

Defensively, Green Bay ranked seventh in the NFL last season, including No. 1 against the pass. Those rankings should dip this season, as PackerReport.com's Matt Tevsh pointed out, because the Packers faced a bunch of bad backup quarterbacks last season. Nonetheless, with linebacker A.J. Hawk and cornerback Charles Woodson joining a hard-working and underrated front four, and the Packers shouldn't have too many worries defensively.

Then there's that feather-pillow-soft schedule. Green Bay gets the 31st-ranked schedule — only Chicago has an easier slate, thanks to six games against its NFC North rivals. It features two games against North lightweights Detroit and Minnesota — both of whom have new coaches and quarterbacking issues — and matchups against New Orleans, St. Louis, Arizona, Buffalo, the Jets and San Francisco. Not to say the Packers should win all of those games, but they are all very winnable.

With all of that said, make no mistake: This Packers team is not going to the playoffs. The talent and experience just aren't there. But for many reasons, from the possibility this is Favre's last season to the chance to watch the players of the future come of age, it's time to get excited about the 2006 Green Bay Packers.

Lawrence is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com. Send comments to steve_lawrence_packers@yahoo.com.

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