The Green Bay Packers finally embraced change this offseason when they cut ties with longtime head coach Mike McCarthy after 13 seasons. Out went McCarthy, in came Matt LaFleur, who spent the 2018 season calling plays for the Tennessee Titans as their offensive coordinator.
LaFleur was a controversial and questionable hire, but Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson was once (Philadelphia won the Super Bowl in year two under Pederson). The relationship between LaFleur and franchise quarterback Aaron Rodgers will determine how far the Packers go in the head coach’s first season, especially since LaFleur has just one year of play-calling experience and Rodgers is one of the best quarterbacks of his era.
LaFleur may be inexperienced, but he was the quarterbacks coach in Atlanta when Matt Ryan went from having 16 interceptions in 2015 to his MVP season the following year. His next reclamation project with Jared Goff, working under Sean McVay as the Los Angeles Rams offensive coordinator. Goff went from five touchdowns and seven interceptions his rookie year to 28 touchdowns and seven interceptions in year two, leading the Rams to the NFC West title.
Whether LaFleur’s strategy will clash with Rodgers ideology at the line of scrimmage remains to be seen, but the Packers appear due for a bounce-back 2019 campaign after two consecutive disappointing seasons.
1. The Packers will win the NFC North
The Packers enter the 2019 season as the third-best team in this division, behind the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings. By January, they’ll be on top of the NFC North. Chicago is the most talented team in the division, but can the Bears make strikes in Mitchell Trubisky’s third season and overcome the “double doink” debacle? Not forgetting the Bears play a first-place schedule in 2019.
The Vikings are talented as well and will be better on the offensive line, but can Kirk Cousins erase his demons against over .500 teams? The Vikings should be in the playoff hunt, but the Week 16 game at Green Bay could determine the division.
At the end of the day, Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in the division and the Packers young defense is expected to take strides under Mike Pettine in year two. The Packers will win 10 games and the NFC North as Rodgers will be back in the MVP conversation.
2. Green Bay will have a top-five defense
The Packers defense was, putting it nicely, not good in Pettine’s first season as defensive coordinator. Green Bay finished 18th in yards allowed and 22nd in points allowed, but underwent major changes on that side of the ball. The Packers upgraded the defense in free agency with safety Adrian Amos, linebacker Za’Darius Smith and linebacker Preston Smith in free agency while using their first-round draft picks on linebacker Rashan Gary and safety Darrell Savage.
The Packers arguably boast the first linebacker group in the division (even potentially losing Owen Burks for the season with a torn pectoral muscle) and immensely upgraded the secondary with Amos and Savage to pair with cornerback Jaire Alexander and cornerback Kevin King.
Green Bay will need nose tackle Kenny Clark and defensive end Dean Lowry to take the next step in their development on the defensive line, but the Packers have the talent to have a top-five defense in 2019.
3. Jaire Alexander will have an All-Pro season
Alexander was one of the best rookies on the defensive side of the ball in 2018, showcasing his incredible potential at cornerback. In 2019, Alexander will establish himself as one of the best cornerbacks in the game.
Alexander finished with 66 tackles, half a sack, one interception, 11 passes defended, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in his rookie season (13 games), contesting 36.7 percent of the targets thrown his way in 2018. he ranked 25th-lowest in yards after catch average (3.73) among qualifying cornerbacks with at least 300 coverage snaps.
With an improved pass rush and better secondary players around Alexander, he’ll receive more opportunities for turnovers in 2019. The Packers defense will be significantly improved and Alexander will receive All-Pro accolades.
4. Davante Adams will have 15 touchdown catches this season
Adams has been a touchdown machine for Rodgers over the last three seasons, establishing himself as one of the best receivers in the league. Adams ended 2016 with 12 touchdowns, 2017 with 10 and 2018 with 13 (a career-high). Adams has 35 receiving touchdowns since 2016, which is No. 2 in the league over that span. He is also the only player to have 70-plus catches in 10-plus touchdowns over the past three years.
Coming off his first 1,000-yard season in 2018, Adams will cross the 1,000-yard plateau again as Rodgers’s top target, crossing the 15 touchdown mark as new head coach Matt LaFleur will have him more involved in the offense.
5. Aaron Jones will have a 1,000-yard campaign, be in the running for top-five in rushing yards
Jones had a breakthrough season for the Packers last year, racking up 728 yards and eight touchdowns while leading the league with 5.5 yards per carry. Expect the number of carries to go up in Matt LaFleur’s offense and the 1,000-yard season to come for Jones.
The 1,000-yard milestone won’t be it for Jones either. Green Bay has two of the top-10 tackles in the NFL in David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga while Cody Linsley is one of the top-five centers in the game. Running behind those three will only benefit Jones and the Packers run game as LaFleur will look to alleviate some pressure off Aaron Rodgers’s shoulders.
Don’t be surprised if Jones finishes in the top five in rushing yards this year.