But for a change, I'm posting a prediction with good news: the Green Bay Packers will be a dramatically improved team in 2013.
The reasons for optimism begin with the new contracts handed out to Green Bay's offense and defensive MVPs. Clay Matthews and Aaron Rodgers both signed five year extensions, keeping them in Titletown for the foreseeable future.
"That's great, Steve," you might be saying. "But those guys were around last year. How will keeping them around make the Packers better next year?"
Great question. Here's the answer: the Packer front office masterfully orchestrated the contracts in a way that limits their impacts on the Packers' salary cap situation, freeing up money for other players. In fact, Green Bay is still have about $13.5 million under the cap. That means the Packers won't be forced to drop any key players and can actually begin locking up other key players for the next few years.
Here are five more reasons Green Bay will win its third straight division title and contend for a fifth Super Bowl ring.
- The Pack didn't lose any key players. I'd forgive you for thinking this claim is crazy given that Green Bay saw an exodus of players who were core members of the Super Bowl champions just two years ago. But the fact of the matter is that those players contributed very little in 2010.
Donald Driver contributed nothing to last season, and Erik Walden and Jeff Saturday were among the worst starters in football. Charles Woodson missed half of 2012 and was a shell of himself when he did play. That he hasn't received a contract following his release is telling. Greg Jennings also missed a ton of time. And while his level of play was high when he was in the lineup, Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Randall Cobb showed no signs of struggling without number 85 in the lineup. Entering his third year, Cobb is ready to be Rodgers' top target.
- Pass protection will be better. It certainly can't be worse. Evan Dietrich-Smith will go into training camp as the favorite at center, where he was an upgrade replacing Jeff Saturday late in the year. Aside from that, Bryan Bulaga and Derek Sherrod are due to return from injury. Add a couple of draft picks, and the offensive line should be stronger than last year.
- New weapons for Rodgers. While a revamped line should give Rodgers more time, he'll also relish new weapons at his disposal. For the first time since Ahman Green led the NFC in rushing a decade ago, the Packers appear to have a marquee feature back. Even if Eddie Lacy isn't an instant star, he should be an improvement upon Cedric Benson, James Starks and Alex Green.
While an improved running game opens up new opportunities for Green Bay to move the ball, it will also help improve the passing game. As a punishing runner, Lacy won't get stuffed a lot. Even an extra yard or two at a time should open up the playbook by giving Rodgers more second-and-sixes instead of second-and-seven or eights.
Furthermore, it's been well documented that teams have found success slowing Green Bay's passing game by dropping their linebackers into deep zones and taking away the Packers short passing game. With defenses forced to respect the run, Cobb should be able to run wild over the middle, and Jermichael Finley might finally hit his potential.
- Mason Crosby will rebound. How confident am I? Well, not really. But if he's not better, he'll be out of a job, and Ted Thompson will find somebody who can make a field goal.
- The secondary will be among the youngest--and best--in the NFL. Even with the retirement of Charles Woodson, the Packers are stocked with talented defensive backs. At safety, Morgan Burnett appears poised for a breakout season, and the duo of sophomore Jerron McMillian and third-year veteran MD Jennings will compete to start opposite him.
Cornerback is where the future really looks bright. Sam Shields came into his own last year, consistently employing the coverage skills he flashed in 2010. Meanwhile, youngsters Davon House and Casey Hayward look like shutdown corners who can produce big plays. If Tramon Williams can show any indication that he's the same player he was before his 2011 shoulder injury, the Packers have four starting caliber corners.