Can the Packers take that next step?

After finishing a game away from Super Bowl XLII, the Green Bay Packers will be expected to contend for the league title next season.'s Doug Ritchay contends that if the Packers add a few more pieces to the puzzle, 2008 could be great.

When the Green Bay Packers kick off their 2008 season, expectations will be higher than Keith Richards after a night of partying. It will be Super Bowl or bust for the Packers. This, of course, is assuming Brett Favre returns for another season as quarterback.

The 2008 season will carry expectations not seen since the 1996 season, when Favre declared, after coming out of rehabilitation for painkillers, "I'm going to win a Super Bowl. And all I can tell people if they don't believe me is, ‘Just bet against me.'"

This just in, the Packers won the Super Bowl that season.

This past season, the Packers' 13-3 record and trip to the NFC title game were unexpected. After the disappointment of losing to the Giants at Lambeau Field in the NFC Championship Game wears off, everyone will see 2007 was a special season. However, how certain can anybody be the Packers will be a Super Bowl contender next season? Of the 12 teams that made the playoffs in 2006, half missed the postseason this season, including Super Bowl runner-up Chicago and NFC title runner-up New Orleans.

Just because you're great one year doesn't guarantee you the same the next. So much goes into succeeding in the NFL.

The Packers have the most important piece with Favre, but is it realistic to believe Favre will be as good next season as this past season? Likely not, but the offense will have running back Ryan Grant for a full season.

Also, another hurdle the Packers have to clear is injuries. For the most part, this season the Packers didn't deal with major injuries. The loss of defensive lineman Johnny Jolly was the biggest loss, but fortunately Jolly was at a position which was the deepest on the team.

What happens if the Packers suffer significant injuries at thinner positions, like offensive line, linebacker or the secondary? Injuries are the one thing teams can't prepare for. They happen when they happen, without a warning.

Therefore, for the Packers to remain an elite NFC team, they have to build depth at the positions just mentioned. The Packers can do this via the draft, which is GM Ted Thompson's M.O.

Nevertheless, he should take a more active role in free agency than he did in 2007, when his biggest signing was journeyman cornerback Frank Walker for a one-year deal. I'm sure he'll point to the team's success in 2007, where the roster hardly changed, and say, "That's how you do it." But the Packers have an opportunity in 2008 to make big things happen. It wouldn't be a surprise if Favre announced 2008 is his last season, so it would make sense to load the Packers up for a big run.

Thompson won't take that approach, as in his position he feels he has to look to the future, not just one season. Still, when you have a chance to reach a Super Bowl, you have to take it. Notable free agents to-be include Baltimore safety Ed Reed and Bears linebacker Lance Briggs. The odds of the Packers signing either are slim, but these guys are impact players who would make a difference.

Although the Packers seem primed for a Super Bowl run in 2008, don't expect Thompson to take the Packers' wallet and open it up to any free-agent Pro Bowler. He's going to do it his way, and it's hard to argue with what he's done.

"We won a lot of football games," coach Mike McCarthy said about this season. "We won a lot of ‘em in big fashion, won some tight games, too.

"Just the culture that's been created, I feel very good about the direction of our program that's in place. So do the players. There's been so much positive feedback about how the year went along."

The feedback next year would be even greater if Thompson took a chance like he did two years ago, when he signed cornerback Charles Woodson to a $39 million deal. It was criticized then, but he's getting pats on the back now for a great move.

Another move or two similar to Woodson this offseason and Thompson and Co. will be busy this time next year in Tampa, Fla., the site of Super Bowl XLIII.

The Packers have enough money under the salary cap to do this, so there's no excuse to not try to position this team to win even more in 2008.

Doug Ritchay is a frequent contributor to and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at

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