Previewing the Green Bay Packers 2021 season
By: Kyle McKee
What a few years it’s been for Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. From making back to back NFC championship games, to seeing your organization select your replacement in the first round. From winning an MVP award at 37 years old, to an Adam Schefter report coming out hours before the 2020 draft that Rodgers has played his last snap in Green Bay. Fast forward to the present day and all signs are pointing towards the 2021 NFL season being Aaron Rodgers last in Green Bay.
After the Packers NFC championship loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Rodgers had this to say in the postgame press conference: “A lot of guys’ futures, they’re uncertain, myself included… Just going to have to take some time away and clear my head and kind of see what’s going on with everything.“ That was the first real sign that Rodgers’ time in Green Bay may be coming to an end., which sent the NFL world in a frenzy. Then a few days later on the Pat McAfee show, Rodgers doubled down by saying that he’s simply not sure of his future with Green Bay, even saying “It was a realization that ultimately my future is not necessarily in my control.”
Then the off-season came and things got really weird. Before trading for Matthew Stafford, the Rams tried to kick the tires on acquiring Rodgers, but the Packers refused to deal him. Then Rodgers was a guest host on Jeopardy and seriously thought about retirement. Oh, and who could forget when ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported on draft day that Aaron Rodgers wants out of Green Bay, and has played his last snap with the team. Last, but certainly not least, seemingly out of nowhere engagement to actress Shailene Woodley and their vacation photos with Miles Teller.
Despite all of that Rodgers drama in the off-season and many more stories that I didn’t mention, Rodgers reported to training camp and is still the starting QB for Green Bay for one last season.
So what does all this drama mean for the Packers 2021 season? Well, before we discuss that, let’s first talk about Rodgers first press conference of the 2021 season.
In that press conference, Rodgers laid out all of his frustrations with the organization. When asked by a reporter, “what was this all about,” referring to Rodger’s displeasure with the direction of the organization, Rodgers said he wished to be more involved in organizational decisions. He also talked about “how some of the out-going veterans were treated and just the fact that we (Packers) didn’t retain a number of players that I felt were core players to our foundation, our locker room, high character guys. I’m talking about Charles Woodson, Jordy Nelson, Julius Peppers, Clay Matthews, Randall Cobb, James Jones, John Kuhn, Brett Goode, TJ Lang, Brian Bulaga, Casey Hayward, Micah Hyde… Many of whom weren’t offered a contract at all, or were extremely lowballed, or were not given the respect on their way out of their status and stature of high character deserved.”
The most damning line from the interview is when Rodgers says in his answer the question of what this was all about that he wanted to be in organizational conversations about free agents, “which has never happened in my career.” That’s crazy! How was Aaron Rodgers never been involved in organizational decisions? He’s a surefire hall of fame Quarterback. He’s one of the best to ever play the quarterback position, most important football. For goodness sakes, he just won an MVP award at the age of 37!
Sorry, I had to get that off my chest. The fact that organizations like the Packers think they’re the main reason for the team’s success and not the players that PLAY and the coaches that coach the games is ridiculous to me. Of course, a good front office is needed, but the players are the ones who do the heavy lifting. With that being said, I’d like to take a second to thank Rodgers for expressing what he feels in that press conference, and actually giving the media and fans real answers to the questions that we’ve all had. Whether you love him or hate him, you’ve got to respect him for speaking his mind and being so open. Now, back to your regularly scheduled program.
Despite all the drama with Rodgers and the Packers this off-season, I expect Green Bay to be just as good as they’ve been the last two seasons. They’re pretty much bringing back the same roster from that made back-to-back NFC championship games, so why can’t the Packers make it three in a row and maybe even get back to the Super Bowl? I mean, a healthy Aaron Rodgers is guaranteed 10 wins, and now with the extra game, probably at least 11 wins for Green Bay.
In all honesty, I could see the Packers 2021 season going one of two ways, that is assuming Rodgers is healthy all year. Either the Pack loses in the first round of the playoffs and the entire season is just a media frenzy with each week consisting of a news story related to Rodgers. Or everyone on the Packers buys into the one the last dance mentality, finishes the regular season with one of the best records in the league, and goes on to win the Super Bowl. I’m of the belief that the latter is more likely than the former. Here’s why:
According to Pro Football Focus, the Packers have the sixth-best roster heading into the 2021 season. On offense, they’ve Aaron Rodgers. What more needs to be said. They still have one of, if not the best receiver in the game in Davante Adams. Other than Adams, Rodgers still has Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Allen Lazard to work with, as well as newly required Randall Cobb, Devin Funchess, and Amari Rodgers. Rodgers has a solid backfield at his disposal in Aaron Jones and AJ Dillion, and the Packers offensive line finished the 2020 season as the second-ranked unit in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. Not too shabby.
On the other side of the ball is a different story. The Packers defense in 2020 was about an average unit. The one area where they excelled though is with Jaire Alexander and Adrian Amons who form one of the league’s best defensive back duos. However, one area where the Pack needs improvement is their defensive line.
Kenny Clark is the Packers best defensive lineman. Selected to the Pro Bowl in 2019, Clark has been the most consistent D-lineman for Green Bay. According to J.E. Barnett of SB Nation, “When healthy, Clark eats up blockers, demanding the attention of blocking schemes and making the edge rush more effective.” Other than Clark though, Green Bay needs someone to step up.
There’s Dean Lowry who’s been a solid, consistent D-lineman throughout his career, but has never really blossomed into a every down guy. There’s Kingsley Keke, who like Lowry, is another solid D-lineman who has yet to blossom into something more. Then there are guys like Tyler Lancaster, TJ Slaton, and Delonte Scott who are all just rotation lineman. Having said that, Green Bay’s hoping the consistency of returning players like Clark, Lowry, and Keke will contribute to an improved D-Line.
Looking at Green Bay’s linebackers, they bring back two-time Pro Bowl Edge rusher Za’Darius Smith also returns and will try to make it a third straight Pro Bowl. Preston Smith, Krys Barnes, and Rashan Gary also return. Plus, newly acquired De’Vondre Campbell will move right into the starting inside linebacker position.
Last season the Packers defense was an average unit, with some nice pieces in the secondary, a decent pass-rush and talented linebackers, but didn’t have any serious stars. However, Green Bay’s hoping that the consistency of returning players, the chemistry they built last season, will carry over into 2021, and morph into a top ten defense.
With all that being said, the Packers Super Bowl hopes all hinge on Aaron Rodgers. If he can duplicate the success he had last season, or even improve, if that’s even possible, then Green Bay will be sitting pretty atop the standings, looking to add another Lombardi trophy. But if the Packers get off to a rough start to the season, and reports start coming out early on in the season about Rodgers’ frustrations with the organization, then things could turn sour fast. However, I’m of the belief that Rodgers is more motivated than ever. In his last year in Green Bay, Rodgers has to be more motivated than ever to prove to the organization he’s been a part of for the past 17 seasons that they are making a huge mistake in moving on from him in a year’s time. It’s not going to be easy though.
According to CBSsports, the Packers have the fourth hardest strength of schedule for 2021, with their 2021 opponents combined 202 win percentage at .542. They’ll face difficult matchups such as going to Kansas City, Baltimore, Arizona, New Orleans, and San Francisco. Despite all of that though, and even with all the drama that happened this off-season between Rodgers and the Packers, don’t be surprised if Aaron is holding up the Lombardi trophy in February, laughing his way out of Green Bay.