The forecast is calling for gloom, and a whole lot of doom. In the wake of the Aaron Rodgers trade, oddsmakers are predicting the Green Bay Packers will finish in last place in the NFC North.
Our guess is that’s hogwash. Sure, the Packers will field one of the youngest teams in the league. And yes, moving from Rodgers to Jordan Love will have some hiccups.
Still, there’s a lot to like about Green Bay in 2023. In fact, here are three reasons the Packers will be a playoff team this season.
1. Jordan Love can play
This is far and away the most important variable to Green Bay’s season. But the guess here is Love will play well and justify management’s decision to move on from Rodgers.
Love just finished his third year as a backup, the same amount of time that Rodgers sat behind Brett Favre. And the Packers believe in Love today the same way they believed in Rodgers back in 2008.
The odds of Love developing into a Hall of Fame-level quarterback, as Rodgers did, are unlikely. But Green Bay thinks Love can become an elite player and wants to discover first-hand what its 2020 first round draft pick can do.
“Well … he can throw the ball, No. 1, which you need to do in the NFL,” Packers veteran quarterback coach Tom Clements said of Love. “He’s athletic, he can move around, buy time, and he’s intelligent and he generally makes good decisions. And he at this point just needs to play and work on processing information, making quick decisions, then getting it to the right guy. But he has all the qualities that you’re looking for in a guy to be successful.”
Rodgers skipped the majority of Green Bay’s 2022 offseason program, giving Love ample opportunity to work with the No. 1 offense. Love showed tremendous improvement from his first two seasons during those practices — and then shined when his number was called last year.
During a 40-33 loss at Philadelphia on Nov. 27, Rodgers left the game with a rib injury early in the fourth quarter. Enter Love who went 6-of-9 for 113 yards, had a quarterback rating of 146.8 and led the Packers to 10 points on his two drives.
Ironically, Love’s breakout performance came nearly 15 years to the day that Rodgers showed the Packers he could be their heir apparent to Favre with a memorable performance in Dallas.
Love played in four games in 2022 and finished the year 14-of-21 for 195 yards with one TD, no interceptions and a quarterback rating of 112.2.
It took a while, but that was the type of player general manager Brian Gutekunst envisioned when he traded up four spots in the 2020 draft to take Love.
“I think whenever players progress, it factors into all the decisions that you’re making,” Gutekunst said of Love. “We took him for a reason back in 2020, he’s been progressing nicely, and to see him kind of take the jump he did this past year was nice.”
2. Defensive dominance?
Packers defensive coordinator Joe Barry is on the hottest of hot seats. And if Barry can’t get it done this season, his days of being a coordinator are likely finished.
The Packers have an NFL-high eight first round draft picks on the defensive side of the ball. And Barry must get more from that unit than he has to date.
Barry’s defense was respectable in 2021, but took a step back last year and finished 17th in both total defense and scoring defense. And that level of mediocrity was a major reason the Packers finished 8-9 and missed the postseason.
“I think if you do go back and really critique last year, the inconsistencies were the things that really got us,” Barry said. “We played well at times. We didn’t play well at times. And that’s what you can’t do in this league.”
The good news is Green Bay did make strides in the final month of the season.
After 13 weeks, the Packers ranked 30th in rushing defense, 18th in total defense and were allowing 23.2 points a game. Over the final four games, Green Bay allowed 17.3 points per game and improved to 26th against the run and to 17th in total defense.
The Packers have an elite trio of cornerbacks, a pair of athletic inside linebackers, a gifted group of pass rushers once Rashan Gary returns, and athleticism up front.
It’s a leap of faith betting on Barry, who has been a subpar defensive coordinator in Detroit, Washington and now Green Bay. But there’s plenty of talent for this to become a top-10 defense. And if that happens, the Packers will be one of the NFL’s surprise teams in 2023.
3. A Charmin-soft schedule
Green Bay has a third place schedule following its disappointing 2022 season. The last time the Packers had the third place schedule was 2019 when they went 13-3, won the division and reached the NFC Championship Game.
That’s obviously a longshot for the 2023 Packers. But the schedule is extremely manageable and should give Green Bay’s young roster a chance to grow.
Just six of the Packers’ 17 games will come against teams that made the postseason last year. Only two teams — defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City and the New York Giants — won playoff games.
Green Bay won’t face a 2022 playoff team (Minnesota) until Week 8, giving Love and his young offense time to develop. And overall, the Packers’ foes went 137-151-1 last year, a .476 winning percentage.
The oddsmakers continue to give the Packers little chance of success in 2023. But the NFC North remains mediocre, Green Bay still has several elite players and these Packers relish the chance to prove people wrong.
“I’m loving it. I’m used to it, being an underdog or being slept on, personally, so it’s a position I love to be in,” running back Aaron Jones said. “Nobody sees you coming at all. Everybody’s relaxed when they’re thinking about you or they don’t think you’re capable of it. When you prove people wrong, it’s one of the best feelings in the world.
“I think that’s what we’re going to do this year — prove a lot of people wrong. We’re not worried about anybody’s opinions. We know what’s going to be written out there or where they’re going to have us selected to finish. All that matters is we go to battle every day, we trust these guys in the locker room and the scoreboard will tell the rest at the end of the day.”