The 2021 NFL season is fast approaching and the despite a turbulent offseason, the Green Bay Packers are geared up to contend for a title this year. The Packers feature talent on both sides of the football and have gone all in to bring a championship back to Titletown in what may be Aaron Rodgers’ last season with the team.
Here are 10 bold predictions for the Packers in what promises to be an exciting 2021 season:
- The Defense Struggles Early
The Packers have a new defensive coordinator in Joe Barry and it will take some time for the team to adjust to what Barry wants them to do.
The Packers defense is talented but there are some question marks at some positions. Look for the defense to struggle a bit in September but by November and December, they will round into form and play their best football late in the season and into the playoffs.
- Special Team Are Better But Still Not Great
Just about everything on special teams will be new and different this year except for Mason Crosby returning as kicker. The Packers have a new punter in Corey Bojorquez and new return specialists in Amari Rodgers (punts) and Kylin Hill (kickoffs). Maurice Drayton is the new special teams coordinator. While they haven’t made a change yet, the Packers added a long snapper to the practice squad and worked out several others to show they will not tolerate inconsistency at that position.
The Packers special teams have ranked near the bottom of the league for several seasons now and it’s hurt the team in some key situations. The special teams will improve this season but they will still be somewhere in the low to mid 20s in the league rankings. It’s progress with the potential for better things to come in 2022.
- The 2021 Draft Class Contributes
The Packers draft class looked good in preseason and in camp. Eric Stokes will fight for a starting job at corner, Josh Myers and Royce Newman will open the season as the starters at center and right guard. T.J. Slaton will be in the defensive line rotation while Amari Rodgers and Kylin Hill will contribute on special teams.
The Packers will get contributions from this year’s draft class and they will help make the team better and deeper.
- Za’Darius Smith Struggles with Injuries All Season
Za’Darius Smith has been the Packers top pass rusher since he joined the team in 2019. Unfortunately, the former Kentucky star has struggled with a nagging back injury throughout training camp.
Back injuries are tricky things and Smith will be dealing with this one throughout the season. It will keep him out of several games and slow him down in many others.
Because of the way his contract is structured, this is a critical year for Za’Darius Smith and he may not be back in Green Bay in 2022 unless he signs an extension or restructures his deal. These injuries will frustrate him throughout the year and put him in a more difficult situation when trying to negotiate a new contract.
- Eric Stokes Takes Over After Kevin King Gets Injured Again
Kevin King has played four NFL seasons so far and has yet to play in all 16 games in any of them. While King has plenty of incentive to play well since he’s essentially on a one-year, prove-it contract with voidable years, he will not make it through this season without missing time due to injuries.
When King gets hurt, Stokes will take over as the starter opposite Jaire Alexander. He will have his rookie moments but by the end of the season, Stokes will be an upgrade over King. He should be a starting cornerback for years to come.
- Elgton Jenkins Is the Key to the Offensive Line
We already know David Bakhtiari will start the season on the PUP list which means he won’t be back until at least late October. That means Elgton Jenkins will be the starting left tackle until Bakhtiari returns to the lineup.
Jenkins is the key to the success of the offensive line early in the season. If he plays well and stays healthy, he will keep the line playing at a high level. He will also provide leadership for the two rookies starting along the line.
After Bakhtiari returns, Jenkins will return to left guard and strengthen the interior of the offensive line.
Jenkins will have another Pro Bowl season and will prove his versatility and value to the team with his strong play at two positions.
- Robert Tonyan Earns Pro Bowl Honors
In many cases, younger players don’t get Pro Bowl honors the first year they deserve them mostly because their reputations haven’t been established yet leaguewide. Last year, tight end Robert Tonyan deserved to make the Pro Bowl based on his 52-catch, 11-touchdown, campaign.
This season, Tonyan will have another solid year even though he’s unlikely to match last year’s outstanding catch percentage of 88.1 or his very high touchdown total.
Tonyan will be voted to the Pro Bowl for the first time in his career and that will set him up for a big contract in 2022 whether it’s with the Packers or somewhere else.
- Rashan Gary Has 10 Sacks
Gary impressed the coaching staff in training camp and appears set for a breakout season. He was likely to start even if Za’Darius Smith was healthy, but with Za’Darius likely to miss time due to his back injury, Gary will see even more playing time and will likely be the team’s primary edge rusher.
Expect Gary to record the first double-digit sack total of his career as he enjoys a breakout season and starts to truly live up to his potential.
- Aaron Rodgers Is in the Conversation for Another MVP
It will be very difficult for Aaron Rodgers to match his 2020 numbers. He set personal bests in touchdown passes (48) and completion percentage (70.7) and had the second highest quarterback rating in league history (121.5). The only quarterback who had a higher quarterback rating in a season was Rodgers himself who had a 122.5 in 2011, his first MVP season.
Rodgers will have another strong season in 2021. He will not win a fourth MVP, but he will be in the conversation for the award all season long. The statistics may not match up to last year, but Rodgers will be eager to prove he is still the best quarterback in the league and that the Packers were wrong to draft his potential successor in the first round in 2020.
- The Packers Reach the Super Bowl
The Packers are coming off back-to-back 13-3 seasons and consecutive trips to the NFC Championship Game. They were the NFC’s second seed in 2019 and the first seed in 2020.
This year, the Packers will finally get past the NFC title game and advance to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 2010 season.
I won’t make a prediction yet as to whether the Packers win it or not, but this “Last Dance” season will result in the Packers first Super Bowl appearance in more than a decade.
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