The Green Bay Packers would like nothing more than to forget all about the disappointing 2005 season. The Packers made some changes in the off-season starting with a new coaching staff, key free agent acquisitions, and a very good draft. With a new coach, a veteran QB in Favre, a backfield where their first four people on the depth chart aren’t injured and an overall better defense, the Packers look to take advantage of a really weak schedule and are a great pick to improve to eight or more wins in 2006-07.
The Packers look to get back to the winning form they’ve enjoyed in the past and it starts at the top with a new Head Coach in Mike McCarthy. McCarthy was a smart choice as he was a highly successful offensive coordinator for the New Orleans Saints (2000-04), calling plays for the most prolific offensive era in that franchise's four decades. With McCarthy calling the shots, the Saints racked up ten offensive team records and twenty five individual marks. He was named NFC Assistant Coach of the Year by USA Today in 2000, and New Orleans led the league with 432 points and 49 touchdowns in 2002 under McCarthy. There won’t be a big transition time for Favre and the rest of the Packers offense because he was Green Bay’s QB coach in 1999 and a lot of the terminology and play calling will remain the same.
Packer fans may have been skeptical when they heard that QB Brett Favre will be returning for his 16th season in 2006 after his performance in 2005. From 2000-04, Favre averaged 28 Touchdown passes to 17 interceptions, showing last years 20 touchdowns to 29 interceptions was an aberration due to injuries and a poor supporting cast. The Packers suffered injuries to all four RB’s, Ahman Green, Najeh Davenport, Tony Fisher, and Samkon Gado at some point in the 2005 season. They also lost pro bowl WR Javon Walker for the season, in the first game of the year. With all of the running backs healthy and ready to step in at any time, it will definitely help the running game that struggled last year, in turn, taking pressure off Favre. Also, with the losses of his two pro bowl guards Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle, two years ago, he was forced out of the pocket more and holes were not open for the running backs. With more experience on the offensive line the running game will greatly improve and Favre won’t have to force everything and try to win games on his own.
The biggest acquisitions that the Packers made this off-season were on the defensive side of the ball as they improved each level of the defense drastically. They picked up DT Ryan Pickett who spent his first five seasons with the St. Louis Rams. Pickett will be a good run stuffer and add more depth on the Packers defensive line. He will be a reliable player as he started every game for the Rams the past four years. In the first round of the NFL Draft the Packers selected LB A.J. Hawk from Ohio State. Going into the draft experts felt Hawk was the most NFL ready player on the board and Packers were fortunate he was available to them. Hawk, a first team All-American two years in a row and the Lombardi winner in 2005 (Best LB), will be a starter and a difference maker in what was a relatively weak linebacking corps last season. In the secondary the Packers picked up S Marquand Manuel who started for the Seahawks last year and their Super Bowl caliber defense. Probably the biggest addition for Green Bay is CB and former 1st round selection Charles Woodson. Anyone who watches the Packers knows that the Packers secondary really needed another good corner to start opposite Al Harris. With the Packers improving and adding depth to all three levels of the defense we can only see them being better in 2006.
The final reason why Packers will improve greatly in 2006 is their weak schedule. The NFC North division is particularly weak with the Bears, Vikings and Lions all unpredictable and all very beatable. They also play the relatively weak NFC West teams, St Louis, Arizona, San Francisco, and Seattle. None of those teams had winning records other than Seattle. With nine of the Packers sixteen opponents winning less than six games last year the Packers have a great shot at a .500 or better record in 2006.