With Packers season set to kick off in Seattle, Milwaukee Magazine‘s Howie Magner and Dan Shafer exchanged thoughts on tonight’s game and expectations for the season ahead.
Howie Magner: You’re dressed quite professionally today. But now that Thursday is here and the Packers season starts tonight, shouldn’t you be toasting it with your Tramon Williams plastic cup while wearing a Clay Matthews jersey, and perhaps even a Clay Matthews wig?
Dan Shafer: You don’t see it now, but I am wearing my Clay Matthews jersey-shirt, and my brain is playing this video on repeat. I’m pretty excited the season is finally getting started and I no longer have to pretend to care which backup quarterback is making the team.
Tonight, we (yep, I’m referring to the Packers as we) are playing the team currently renting the Lombardi Trophy from its rightful owners in Titletown. Is this the night we avenge the Fail Mary and take the first step toward bringing the trophy home?
HM: I want pictorial evidence of you wearing this Matthews shirsy, or it didn’t happen. Even though I’d still recommend adding the wig. Moreover, since you insist on using we in reference to the Packers, I also want pictorial evidence of you trying to tackle Marshawn Lynch.
But let’s move on to answering your question – or, more accurately, your two questions.
Because it seems to me that it’s far too late to avenge the Fail Mary, since that happened back in 2012, and two of its most integral pieces – receiver Golden Tate and replacement ref/literary opportunist Lance Easley – won’t be on the field tonight. Were I a Packers player, I’d be more concerned about a much more recent game, Super Bowl XLVIII, and preventing the Seahawks from making Aaron Rodgers look as bad as Peyton Manning. (And there’s a negative comparison you won’t see too often.)
As for the other question, whether tonight’s a first step toward bringing Lombardi home, I tend to think Seattle wins tonight. Which doesn’t mean this can’t be the first step toward a Packers Super Bowl party. Mainly because I’m not convinced the Packers defense is good enough yet, but I think it can develop into being good enough as the year continues. That, to me, will be the biggest factor in whatever success the Packers will have come playoff time. Assuming, of course, that Rodgers doesn’t break any more bones along the way. Which dovetails into my second-biggest concern about the Packers: how the revamped offensive line will hold up, particularly rookie center Corey Linsley, who should at least benefit from the prayers of Seahawks linebacker Bruce Irvin.
How about you, dapper Dan. What’s your biggest question mark about your Packers?
DS: I’m not as concerned about the offensive line as you are. Even against the Seahawks defense, I have confidence in veteran guard duo Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang, who should be able to make the transition to the NFL easier for the rookie fifth-round pick. The bigger concerns are the same as they are every year – injuries and defense. Speculating about injuries is a tired exercise, so let’s talk defense. The Pack ranked 26th in team interceptions last year with 11, only three more than Richard Sherman had on his own. Casey Heyward missing most of the season had a lot to do with that, but with turnovers being such a big part of Dom Capers’ defensive scheme, another ball-hawk will need to emerge in the secondary.
I do also think we’re still feeling the effects of the Fail Mary game, in a weird way. The result of that call was a road playoff game in San Francisco instead of a home game in Lambeau, which began Colin Kaepernick’s run of dominance against the Packers. Is this a dumb theory? Perhaps, but nothing happens in a vacuum, and I would really, really enjoy seeing the 12th Man silenced tonight, if only because it’ll help me psychologically as a Packers fan (because clearly I need it).
The Packers’ over/under for wins this season is 10.5. Which are you taking?
HM: Put me down for the over, but barely. Looking at the schedule, 11 wins seems about right, which should be enough to win the division. For all the talk of these improved Bears and Lions teams, the bottom line is, they still have to prove they’ve matured enough to overtake Green Bay. I’m not saying it can’t happen for one of those two teams, but I’ll have to see it before I believe it. That assumes no long-term injury for Rodgers this season, of course. But considering his new personal trainers, that shouldn’t be a problem.
If the Packers do win NFC North, that’ll be a fourth straight divisional championship and a sixth straight playoff berth. Which means the last time they didn’t make the postseason, you were probably in high school, you whippersnapper, you. This stretch of success is no small accomplishment, and yet, every season, there seems to be questions about Green Bay leadership, be it complaints about coach Mike McCarthy or GM Ted Thompson or even Rodgers. And not just boy-I-disagree-with-that-move comments, but genuine teeth-gnashing suggestions to fire the bums into Canada with a Howitzer.
I suppose that comes with the territory, but I also wonder if it stems from Packers fans being somewhat spoiled from all the recent success. You want to see a pained fan base? Go to Dallas or Buffalo or Oakland, where folks would give up beer for a year to have the stable success McCarthy and Thompson have brought. And what do you think Cleveland would give to have a QB like Rodgers? Instead, they’re stuck with the false hope of Johnny Manziel’s circus.
So I put it to you, voice of the fan Dan. Just how much have the Packers spoiled you, and what will it take to make you happy this season?
DS: Here’s how spoiled I am: I’m upset with anything other than a Super Bowl victory. Yes, this run of success is great, and yes, most fanbases would love to have Thompson/McCarthy running their franchise, and yes, it is remarkable that we’ve had two hall-of-fame quarterbacks under center for the past 20+ years. This is all true. But with all of that in place, shouldn’t we expect big things? Or, should we settle for being a good-but-not-great team? Being consistently competitive has all too often ended in heartbreaking playoff losses. I still have nightmares about 4th and 26, The Vick Game, the OT loss in Arizona, both Giants games and now, both 49ers games. And I fear that this year’s team has many of the same flaws of good-but-not-great Packer teams from years past, namely, a below average defense.
Two things, however, give me an extra dose of hope that this year is different. One is the running game. Eddie Lacy is a force of nature, James Starks could be a feature back for a handful of teams, and having DuJuan Harris healthy doesn’t hurt either. This is, by far, the best stable of running backs Aaron Rodgers has had in the backfield during his career. Second is the young talent on the defense. Ted Thompson has used a number of draft picks in recent years on defensive players like Datone Jones, Nick Perry, Mike Neal, Casey Heyward, Micah Hyde, Mike Daniels, and Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix. It seems like at some point, one of these guys has to become a breakout player.
Barring injury, the Packers should win the division (the Bears/Lions hype is just adorable), and should be in the mix for one of the NFC’s top two seeds. But I do not think this is a Super Bowl team, and for me, that’s all that matters.
HM: Fair enough. And I’m not saying you shouldn’t expect big things. I’m just saying it’s silly to advocate drop-kicking the architects into the street, where Detroit or Minnesota would only be too happy to pick them up. Trust me, you’d much rather have McCarthy & Thompson building your team than that of your rivals. And just who would Green Bay replace them with, anyway? Jim Schwartz? Josh McDaniels? A life-sized wax figure of Saint Vince?
Bottom line, you have every reason to be optimistic about this Packers team. Barring disaster, they should be in the playoffs, even without a great defense. And you’re right, if the defensive kids grow up and Julius Peppers hasn’t grown too old, then you might be looking at something special.
Time will tell, and there’s a lot of it between now and February. Fortunately, starting tonight, you’ve got a lot of games to keep you busy. Which gives you plenty of chances to go buy that wig.
DS: I’ll get back to you on that wig, but in the meantime…
GO PACK GO!