But somehow, the Packers were able to be 8-8 in 2006 after winning the last four games of the season. Included in that was a 26-7 drubbing of the divisional champion Chicago Bears in the last game of the year. The Bears played their starters for most of the game. The Bears were looking for a lift before the playoffs. Instead they got a punch in the nose by their divisional rivals.
Not many of the national press are giving the Packers much of a chance this year, either. Most expect the Bears to still control the NFC North division. I have to differ with the so-called experts. However, this is not to say that Green Bay still has many things to prove. Here is my breakdown:
The Packers should be better on offense this year, especially the passing game. Brett Favre has a lot of records he could break, but most important to him is the amount of wins the team has when all is said and done. Favre should be better in 2007 than he was in 2006. The receiving corp should be better as well. Besides wide receivers Donald Driver and Greg Jennings, the team now has a bonafide threat in rookie James Jones. Jones should help offset the problem the team had in 2006 in the red zone and converting 3rd downs due to his great hands and physical strength.
There will also be other help with Ruvell Martin and Carlyle Holiday. Plus, Koren Robinson may be back in late September after his suspension. The tight end position will be vital. Both Bubba Franks and Donald Lee had good pre-seasons and the team hopes that they will become the players that they can be.
The offensive line should be a strength as well. The line utilizes a zone blocking technique and the starters are now into the second year in it. The tackles are very solid with Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher and the interior of the line will should grow into very steady linemen. Daryn Colledge, Scott Wells and Jason Spitz are all players that should be very effective in the zone blocking scheme.
The area of concern right now is the running game. The Packers look like they will start two rookies with Korey Hall and Brandon Jackson. The team needs to get the running game going to help set up the passing game. Hall surprisingly won the starting FB job with his steady play. Jackson inherited the starting HB job because of a knee injury to Vernand Morency. Jackson can run inside effectively and also catch the ball, but his blocking is suspect.
Rookie DeShawn Wynn may be a wild card. The coaching staff loves his size, speed and physicality. Wynn was hurt most of the pre-season but he showed just enough to get a job with the team. Somebody has to make this running game successful, either as an individual or by committee.
The 2006 Packer defense has a chance to be the best defense since the 1996 championship season. All areas of the defense have very good players, if not all-pro players. Especially deep in position players is the defensive line.
Defensive end's Aaron Kampman and Cullen Jenkins are poised for great seasons, especially creating havoc for opposing quarterbacks. Backing them up is Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila. The tackle position is really deep with Ryan Pickett, Johnny Jolly, Corey Williams, Colin Cole and rookie Justin Harrell. All of the tackles can be good run stuffers that can also create opportunities for the linebackers.
The linebacking corp of Green Bay has two tackling machines in Nick Barnett and A.J. Hawk. Brady Poppinga is a high energy guy who is getter better at his strong-side position. But Barnett and Hawk are the guys that smell the football and both should make big plays. The depth is somewhat short with Tracy White and rookie Desmond Bishop as backups.
The defensive backfield will have a new look in 2007. Gone is Marquand Manuel and replacing him is Atari Bigby. Bigby is similar to LeRoy Butler with his blitzes and he can really lay the leather. The hope is that he will be steady enough to make sure the big play doesn't occur as often as it did in 2006, especially big pass plays.
Nick Collins is expected to pick up his game in 2007 and play like he did in the season finale against the Bears. The starting cornerbacks are veterans Al Harris and Charles Woodson, who are both very steady. Both can be shut down corners and Woodson had a career high 8 interceptions last year. The nickel corner is expected to be Jarrett Bush, while Will Blackmon will come in during dime coverage. Both had excellent pre-seasons.
The Packers were almost dead last in special teams ratings in the NFL last year. That statistic got the attention of General Manager Ted Thompson and the coaching staff. Some players from the 2007 draft were drafted because of their ability to play on special teams.
The punting and kicking game should both be better. Jon Ryan has gotten better due a new two step approach in punting the football. Ryan has a very strong leg. Speaking of strong legs, the Packers drafted Mason Crosby in the 6th round of the 2007 draft, and he showed excellent leg strength in both kickoffs and field goals to beat out Dave Rayner in training camp.
The return game should be improved as Will Blackmon will be the primary return guy for the punt return team and also one of the kickoff returners. Blackmon has been hampered by a thumb injury of late that may delay his debut. In fact, special teams coach Mike Stock said that Charles Woodson will return punts against the Eagles Sunday. Wynn will help out on the kick return unit, while Koren Robinson is a definite option if he returns in late September.
The coverage units should be better as well with the addition of Hall, Bishop, Jones and others. White is a returning headhunter for the Pack. The Packers did have some glitches in this part of the game in the pre-season, but the coaching staff feels that this unit should be much better.
My belief is that the Packers, although they have a tough schedule early, will be contenders for the NFC North title. Green Bay has a chance to go 10-6 in 2007 and win the division. Favre is clearly the best QB in the division and if he gets some help, the season could be very promising.
The Packers need to create turnovers for the opposition and limit their own turnovers. The team also needs to be better in the red zone and on 3rd down. Hopefully players like James Jones and Bubba Franks/Donald Lee will help out there. The running game has to help out and contribute. Favre needs some running back or all of them to help take all of the pressure off him.
Special teams must be steady and better than most. Crosby must be the weapon he was at Colorado. Ryan must hit solid punts consistently. The return and coverage units must be consistent. Consistently good.
But the straw the stirs the Green Bay drink is the defense. I expect this defense to be the best in the division, and one of the best in the NFC. If the Packers can stop opponents consistently and create turnovers, then the 2007 season will really have a solid chance for success.
So I expect the team to win the division and make the playoffs. What will happen in the playoffs? Well, let's just get there and THEN figure it out. But if the 2007 Packer team gets back to the playoffs for the first time since the 2004 season, I think the Packer faithful will be very pleased.
Bob Fox is a frequent contributor to PackerReport.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.