Ten reasons for a grand season without Favre

From historic Lambeau to a super schedule, to stars such as Driver as Grant, an exciting season awaits, Packer Report's Matt Tevsh says.

It was a trying training camp for the Packers. From the unretirement drama of a legend to the surprising release of an incumbent punter, there has been plenty of water-cooler talk in between a disjointed schedule of practices and preseason games.

Now, it is time for the regular season, in which the Packers will suit up for the first time since 1991 without Brett Favre at quarterback. Though some never will forgive general manager Ted Thompson for trading Favre, maybe those same people can be convinced by the following 10 reasons as to why the 2008 season can be great without No. 4:

10. Lambeau Field: The Favre era might be over, but Lambeau Field on game day never has been better. Attending a game there is arguably the NFL's No. 1 experience.

9. A marquee home schedule: If the Lambeau experience falls short, the Packers' opponents at the historic stadium should shake the foundation. It starts Monday night against the Vikings and their superstar running back, Adrian Peterson. Then comes a national Sunday night game (Sept. 21) against the Cowboys, led by Terrell Owens and Tony Romo. In October, the Colts and Peyton Manning visit. There is another annual historic date with the Bears (Nov. 16) and a date with a new foe, the Texans (Dec. 7), who will make their first visit to Green Bay.

The last time the Packers had a home schedule with this much excitement and intrigue was 1997, when the Packers were coming off of a Super Bowl championship. That season, they opened on Monday night against the Bears, saw Dan Marino play for the last time at Lambeau and had heated rivalry matchups with the Buccaneers and Cowboys, who visited for the first time in eight years.

8. Aaron Rouse: Rouse, entering his second season, has the make-up to become one of the Packers' most exciting defensive players and a Pro Bowl safety. He has intimidating size (6-foot-4, 223 pounds), can lower the boom on would-be receivers and has an uncanny knack for the football. Now, all he needs is a chance to play on a regular basis.

The Packers list Atari Bigby and Nick Collins on their depth chart as starters at safety, but expect Rouse to crack the lineup or at least see increased playing time. His talents do no good on the sideline.

7. More career records to be broken: Favre rewrote the NFL record book for passing a year ago, and Donald Driver could do the same to the Packers' record book for receiving. The wiggly, tough-as-nails wide receiver stands 93 receptions away from topping Sterling Sharpe (595) for most in Packers history. He is just nine games behind Sharpe in consecutive games with at least one catch (103). Another 1,000-yard receiving season would put Driver at No. 1 on the team list of such grand seasons (ahead of James Lofton and Sharpe).

6. Having the best of both worlds: The Jets and Packers have complementary kickoff times for much of the season, meaning Packers fans who remain Favre fanatics can have the best of both worlds. They can get their Favre fix live while not missing a Packers game live at least nine times this season. Green Bay television stations have gone as far as changing their broadcast schedules to include all Jets games for the local market as the weekly doubleheader schedule allows. Throw in that the high-definition television generation is here, and the options for watching the NFL on cable and satellite never have been better. Getting a ticket to a game at Lambeau just might be considered a second option.

5. Ryan Grant: There is no doubt Grant, the Packers' featured back, is legit and could become one of the top five runners in the league. Though his brief holdout and lack of any live contact since January's NFC championship game might slow him down early, he looks poised for a breakout year. Should he stay healthy for 16 games, a 1,500-yard season can be expected should coach Mike McCarthy stick to the running game.

4. Many happy returns: The Packers have the type of players on special teams who could make for many exciting plays. At the top of the list are kick returners Will Blackmon and Jordy Nelson. Blackmon has flashed his potential over the last couple of preseasons and last regular season when healthy. He could break out this year, but even should he have any setbacks, Nelson, a rookie second-round pick, seems to have a knack for making a big play without having blazing speed or flashy moves.

Additionally, the Packers have a cool, strong-legged kicker in Mason Crosby, arguably one of the top five in the league, and a special teams coverage unit that should cause a turnover or two and maybe even a block a punt or kick.

3. A more aggressive defense: The Packers' defense has marketed itself to be more of an attacking unit under normally vanilla coordinator Bob Sanders. To help out their ailing defensive line and make up for the trade of tackle Corey Williams, the Packers will look to their linebackers to put more heat on opposing quarterbacks. That means more blitzing from guys like Nick Barnett, A.J. Hawk, and Brady Poppinga. Sanders has flashed an uncommon 2-4-5 defensive alignment in the preseason that will aim to bring pressure from different angles.

2. The return of the Vikings: Who cares who the Vikings play at quarterback? With Peterson and a trash-talking, potentially dominant defense, the Vikings look the best they have since 2000. That makes their two-game set with the Packers as spicy as it has been in a while.

Though the Vikings never have won the NFC North since division realignment in 2002 (the Packers have won it four of the last six years), they seem to be the consensus favorite by many, including this scribe, to top the North. The Packers should take that as motivation, and likely will beginning this week.

1. 13-3 was no fluke: The surprising 13-3 regular season that the Packers put together last year was part magical, but mostly legitimate. Though that type of season will be difficult to duplicate this year, the message is clear: The Packers are a good, young team bigger than just one guy. They should be expected to contend for the NFC playoffs again. Their record will be 9-7.

Matt Tevsh is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at matttevsh@hotmail.com.


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