Green Bay Packers 2015 Season Preview
Aaron Rodgers will look to repeat his 2014 MVP campaign this coming season - AP Photo/Mike Roemer

2014 Recap

2014 was a season that, while impressive by most standards, ended in true disappointment for the Green Bay Packers. The team earned the second overall seed in the NFC playoffs last season, only behind the eventual conference champion Seattle Seahawks. Green Bay won the NFC North Division for the fourth-straight season, with only a hint of pressure midway through the season from the Detroit Lions. After cruising through much of the regular season, the Packers defeated Dallas in the Divisional Round of the playoffs (albeit under some level of controversy) before falling to Seattle in overtime of the NFC Championship Game. That final game was not just any loss, though; Mike McCarthy’s squad led the Seahawks 16-0 at halftime, intercepted opposing quarterback Russell Wilson four times and neutered the Seattle offense for most of the game. Unfortunately for the Packers and their fans, the ending of that game is all too memorable now, if not for all the wrong reasons, as the Seahawks scored on their first possession in the OT period and advanced to Super Bowl XLIX.

Despite the eventual let down in the NFC Championship Game, by nearly all metrics it was a successful season for the Packers, as the team and several players have been showered with accolades since the conclusion of the 2014 season. Most notably, quarterback Aaron Rodgers was named the NFL MVP for the second time in his career (the first such honor coming in 2011), as he led the Packers to a 12-4 record. The team had seven players named to the Pro Bowl, including Rodgers, Jordy Nelson, Josh Sitton, Randall Cobb, John Kuhn, Clay Matthews and Sam Shields. Rodgers, Nelson, Sitton and Kuhn were also named All-Pros at season’s end in 2014. Of all the impressive awards and achievements earned by the Packers in 2014, the most stunning may be the efficiency of their offense; despite finishing 24th in the NFL in total number of drives, Green Bay had the highest scoring offense in the league.

2015 NFL Draft Results

Round/Pick Position Name School
1/30 CB Damarious Randall Arizona State
2/62 CB Quinten Rollins Miami (OH)
3/94 WR Ty Montgomery Stanford
4/129 LB Jake Ryan Michigan
5/147 QB Brett Hundley UCLA
6/206 FB Aaron Ripkowski Oklahoma
6/210 DE Christian Ringo Louisisana-Lafayette
6/213 TE Kennard Backman UAB

Versatility was clearly a top priority early in the draft for Ted Thompson and the Packers. The team’s first pick, Damarious Randall, while surprising to some fans, gives Green Bay more depth on the outside, while also giving the team a player who can also play in a safety role and is a solid tackler. Quinten Rollins, taken late in the second round, could have seemed like something of a repetitive pick after taking another cornerback just one round earlier. However, Rollins is a very skilled player already and has ballhawk-tendencies, which will serve well in a Packers defense which thrives on turnovers. Third-round pick Ty Montgomery gives Green Bay another solid receiving option in the form of what some are describing as a larger version of Randall Cobb. Montgomery also will likely serve as one of the lead return man for the Packers’ revamped special teams, solving an issue the team had for a portion of last season, especially on kickoffs.

Fourth-round pick Jake Ryan filled a glaring need for the Packers at linebacker. Green Bay has solid talent at the outside rushing positions but was still weak up the middle in 2014, and with Clay Matthews playing inside linebacker more often, Ryan will likely help shore up the team’s run defense. Quarterback Brett Hundley has shown progress in the preseason and has shown flashes of why some believed he was as good as a second-round talent in this draft. Sixth-rounder Aaron Ripkowski was likely taken to be groomed as the eventual replacement at fullback for fan-favorite John Kuhn. The Packers’ last two picks were both compensatory selections at the end of the sixth round, numbers 210 and 213 overall, which turned in defensive end Christian Ringo from Louisiana-Lafayette and tight end Kennard Backman from UAB, respectively. Reasonably meaningful preseason performances should mean these players make the team’s practice squad, if not the final 53-man roster.

Key Players Not Returning

Position Name Reason
WR Jordy Nelson Injury; still under contract with team
CB Tramon Williams Free agent; now with Cleveland
CB Davon House Free agent; now with Jacksonville
ILB AJ Hawk Released; now with Cincinnati
ILB Jamari Lattimore Free agent; now with New York (Jets)
WR Jarrett Boykin Free agent; now with Panthers*
RB DuJuan Harris Free agent; now with Vikings
QB Matt Flynn Free agent; currently unsigned
DB Jarrett Bush Free agent; currently unsigned
TE Brandon Bostick Released; currently unsigned

For the majority of the offseason, the biggest concern in Green Bay in terms of personnel moves this year was losing both Tramon Williams and Davon House to other teams in free agency. This changed, however, when star receiver Jordy Nelson went down with an injury in the team’s second preseason game (against the Pittsburgh Steelers). Nelson caught a pass from quarterback Aaron Rodgers, turned and crumpled to the turf on his knee. Despite the non-contact nature of the injury, it was severe enough to sideline Rodgers’ favorite target for the season, in what he described as a “meaningless game.” Nelson is under contract with the Packers through 2018.

As for the aforementioned cornerbacks, they saw the field more than any other player who left the Packers this offseason, especially Williams. A mainstay on the Packers defense for years, he leaves big shoes to fill, despite his decline in speed on the outside over the years. House was not a permanent starter for the team, however saw a great deal of playing time. As for the current roster, Sam Shields returns as the Packers’ top corner, while Casey Hayward will likely step into the other starting role outside, but will almost certainly still see time at slot corner, the position at which he has had the most success in his career thus far.

A former first-round pick, AJ Hawk had been solid yet unspectacular throughout much of his time in Green Bay, and had become more known by Packers fans lately for his helmet frequently falling off during games than his tackling ability. Jamari Lattimore had been a depth player for much his time with the Packers, yet still played reasonably well when he saw the field. Jarrett Boykin and DuJuan Harris, despite both having been served purposeful roles with the offense in the past, had been pushed far enough down the depth chart that they became expendable. Matt Flynn was allowed to walk away, leaving Scott Tolzien as the only other quarterback outside of Rodgers on the roster with any NFL experience. Jarrett Bush, despite being a solid special teams contributor for several years, saw time on the field defensively only in emergency situations in recent years. Brandon Bostick was released following a gaffe in the NFC Championship Game which allowed Seattle to recover an onside kick.

Key New/Returning Players

Position Name Acquired
WR Randall Cobb Re-signed
OT Bryan Bulaga Re-signed
NT Letroy Guion Re-signed
NT BJ Raji Re-signed
FB John Kuhn Re-signed
OL Don Barclay Re-signed
S Sean Richardson Re-signed
QB Scott Tolzien Re-signed

The biggest story of the offseason for the Packers was the re-signing of Stud receiver and all-purpose athlete Randall Cobb. Cobb has developed a strong rapport with Aaron Rodgers since entering the league in 2011 and with his ability to play from the slot, on the outside and out of the backfield, he has become one of the NFL’s top playmakers. With Jordy Nelson out for the season, Cobb will assume the role of number one receiver for Green Bay in 2015. The re-signing of Bryan Bulaga may have had an equally large impact on the Packers offense. A key part of a much-improved offensive line, Bulaga will be part of the group tasked with arguably the biggest role on the entire team: protecting the franchise, Aaron Rodgers.

Defensively, bringing back Letroy Guion and BJ Raji gives the Packers flexibility up front while also allowing both players to prove whether they deserve any future contracts with the team. Raji, who has been frankly a disappointment since a stellar 2010 campaign, will look to re-emerge as a top nose tackle while he gets the bulk of the snaps in the first few weeks of the season while Guion serves a suspension. Safety Sean Richardson was also brought back this offseason to provide depth in the secondary.

Offensive role players were also among the players re-signed by Green Bay in the last few months. Along with the aforementioned Tolzien, versatile offensive lineman Don Barclay and the beloved John Kuhn will be coming back to the Packers. Barclay is able to play multiple positions along the offensive line, which provides a bit of flexibility in the trenches in case of an injury to a starter. Kuhn has become a household name across the league, thanks to his ability to pick up short amounts of yardage on a regular basis and the chant of his last name often heard being bellowed throughout Lambeau Field on Sunday afternoons.

Coaching Changes

The most notable change to the Packers coaching staff, rather their coaching organization, is that head coach Mike McCarthy relinquished the role of play-caller to Tom Clements. McCarthy, having been the team’s play-caller since Aaron Rodgers took over as starting quarterback, will still be involved in game-planning and building an offensive strategy on a weekly basis. Clements has worked with McCarthy and Rodgers for several years and there is not expected to be a large change in philosophy or offensive style in Green Bay this season.

Dom Capers returns to the Packers for his seventh season at the helm of the defense. Special Teams also has a change at the top this season for the Pack, as Shawn Slocum was fired following a poor performance by the unit last season. Ron Zook has taken over the role of Special Teams Coordinator after having worked as an assistant with the team in 2014. Zook is the former head coach of the University of Florida and the University of Illinois.

2015 Schedule

As is often the case for division winners, the Packers do not have an easy schedule in 2015, but that does not necessarily mean it isn’t a favorable schedule. Headlined by games on Sunday Night in Week 2 (versus Seattle), on Monday Night Week 3 (versus Kansas City) and on Thanksgiving night (versus Chicago), the Packers will be on primetime 5 times this season, tied with 7 other teams for the most such games this season. The NFC North is matched up with the NFC West this season, and as such the Packers will be facing Seattle, San Francisco, Arizona and St. Louis in intra-conference matchups this year. Seattle and San Francisco have given Green Bay fits in the last few seasons, however with the 49ers losing a huge portion of their roster this offseason and the Seahawks’ Kam Chancellor uncertain about his status for the start of the season, there could be a change in fortunes for Green Bay against these two teams this season.

September 13 in Chicago is where and when the Packers start their season, taking on their archrivals, the rebuilding Chicago Bears. While rivalry games across all sports see teams put their absolute best on the line, Green Bay has Chicago’s number over the last several years, and frankly since the beginning of the Brett Favre era over two decades ago. The week after will be the NFC Championship Game rematch in which the Packers go up against the Seattle Seahawks, in what is one of the most-anticipated games of the entire NFL slate this season.

After the Seattle matchup, the Packers have an intriguing stretch leading up to their bye in Week 7. They play the Chiefs on Monday Night Football Week 3, then face off against San Francisco, St. Louis and San Diego in successive weeks. While these all seem like winnable games for Green Bay, there could be at least one trap game in the mix, specifically against St. Louis. While the Packers were borderline invincible at home last season, they did struggle against teams with a strong pass rush/front seven. The most notable examples of this were their two games against Seattle (Week 1 and the NFC Championship Game), as well as their loss in Buffalo against the Bills. These teams clearly have stout defenses, and Buffalo especially was able to frustrate Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense for 60 minutes last season. St. Louis has plenty of questions offensively, however their defense is primed to be quite strong once again, especially with a front seven anchored by second-year defensive lineman Aaron Donald.

Following the bye, Green Bay has 6 of their remaining 10 games on the road, with their stretch right after the off week looking tough on paper. The team travels to Denver to take on Peyton Manning and the Broncos, then on to Carolina to face the Panthers, who will need to rely heavily on their defense if they want to hang with the Packers. Following that the Packers will be headed back to Green Bay for their first showdown of the season with Detroit (a team which has lost all of their games in Wisconsin since 1992) before heading up to Minnesota to face off with long-time nemesis Adrian Peterson and the Vikings at TCF Bank Stadium. While the chance to continue the home winning streak against Detroit is a moment which Packers fans always look forward to, the game in Denver will likely be the last game ever to feature both Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning, which will be a can’t-miss event for any football fan.

The Packers’ last two primetime games of the season (not including a possible flex game later on) will take place in Weeks 12 and 13. Week 12’s game is on Thanksgiving and will see the Bears travel to Green Bay for their second game of the season. This also happens to be the game which will see Brett Favre honored at halftime, and that could symbolically spell doom for the Bears, considering their history against Aaron Rodgers and Favre since the early 90s. Week 13 sees the Packers play the Lions in Detroit on Thursday Night Football. Detroit has crumbled late in the season the last two years; this game could indicate whether or not the Lions are contenders or pretenders once again.

The final four games of the season for Green Bay will be against Dallas, Oakland, Arizona and Minnesota, with the games on either end of that stretch taking place at Lambeau Field. Simply examining these games based on preseason expectations, one could infer that three of those teams will be contending for the playoffs, which will likely make for exciting while also highly competitive late-season games. That being said, it is not a farfetched notion to believe that the Packers will be favorited in all four games. The rematch from the divisional round of last season’s playoffs against Dallas will be a highly anticipated matchup, but possibly the most interesting will be the game in the desert against the Cardinals. If the Cards have quarterback issues at all similar to the massacre they had under center last year, this will likely be a game in which the Packers are heavily favored. However, assuming full health for Arizona, the battle between the two could be one of the best games of the whole year.

Season Prediction

A conservative estimate could peg the Packers with an 11-5 record this upcoming season, but it is certainly possible that Green Bay could cruise through 2015 with a win total as high as 14. Either way, it is most certainly Green Bay’s division to lose. It is going to take a stunning disappointment of a season from Mike McCarthy’s team, along with an impressive performance all season long from another team in the division (likely Detroit) to usurp the Packers as kings of the North. That being said, Green Bay has their sights set higher than just winning the division.

It is easy to say that the Super Bowl is the ultimate goal for every team, however for the Packers it is almost a necessity. Having won the division every year since winning Super Bowl XLV at the conclusion of the 2010 season, the Packers have gotten close to the big game many times, none more so than last season. The defense is not the strongest in the league and they will be missing their best receiver this season. However, the Packers still have arguably the best quarterback in the game today, a stellar 1-2 punch in the backfield with Eddie Lacy as the workhorse and James Starks as the change-of-pace back, plenty of talented receivers and a steady defense with one of the best all-around linebackers in the game, Clay Matthews. Green Bay is primed for a big season in 2015, one in which nobody will be surprised if the winners of the first Super Bowl reach number 50 as well.

*Update as of 3:00 PM Central Time, September 1: Jarrett Boykin has been released by Carolina and is no longer with the team.