The Green Bay Packers have reached the postseason in each of the past seven seasons, and eight of the past nine. Aaron Rodgers has obviously played a huge role in that, having been the full-time starter since 2008. As long as he's the guy playing under center, the Packers have a good shot at making the playoffs.
However, despite reaching the postseason in 2015, Green Bay limped its way to a 10-6 record and failed to win the NFC North for the first time since 2010. As a wild-card team, the Packers reached the divisional round, only to come up short in overtime against the Arizona Cardinals.
It was somewhat surprising to see the Packers make it that far given their issues throughout the season, but there's a reason they nearly reached the NFC Championship game: Aaron Rodgers. If the Packers want to take the next step, though, it'll take more than No. 12 to make it happen.
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Reaching the Super Bowl is absolutely possible, and they're among the favorites to do so. Rodgers just needs help from his supporting cast. Here are six reasons why Green Bay can get back to the Super Bowl for the first time since winning it in 2010.
Jordy Nelson is healthy again
The Packers were dealt the biggest blow of the year before the season even started in 2015. Jordy Nelson tore his ACL in an August preseason game, just a few weeks before the regular season got underway. Aside from Rodgers, Nelson was the most important player to the Packers' offense, and it still holds true entering 2016. That's exactly why his return makes Green Bay's chances to return to the Super Bowl so great.
Without Nelson, Rodgers saw his numbers dip drastically. He posted his worst season yet, completing a career-low 60.7 percent of his passes for 3,821 yards, which were the fewest in his career, besides 2013 when he missed seven games. Of course, those numbers -- including 31 touchdowns and just eight interceptions -- are outstanding by the NFL's standards, but there's no question Nelson's absence impacted Rodgers greatly. That was especially evident in his downfield passing, which was almost non-existent. His 6.7 yards per attempt was not only the lowest of his career, but it was 30th out of 34 qualified quarterbacks. With Nelson back, the Packers will be able to attack downfield again and open up the middle of the field for guys like Richard Rodgers and Randall Cobb.
Eddie Lacy looks like his old (skinnier) self
Unlike Nelson, Eddie Lacy wasn't injured last season. Well, he did deal with ankle and groin injuries, but he only missed one game. Those injuries played a minimal role in his horrific year, as he rushed for just 758 yards and was set aside in favor of James Starks at one point. Lacy's weight was his biggest issue. He put on some serious pounds last year, and it impacted his play greatly. His quickness was nowhere to be found, and his trademark spin move was much less effective at his previous weight.
He and the Packers made a concerted effort to slim down again, and it seems to have worked. Lacy has showed plenty of progress with his weight loss this offseason, partly thanks to his decision to work out with the founder of P90X. As long as Lacy keeps the pounds off for the remainder of the summer and into the regular season, he should return to his 2013 form, when he rushed for 1,178 yards and 11 touchdowns as a rookie. It should bring some balance back to the offense, which will help everyone involved.
The secondary is on the verge of being elite
The Achilles' heel for the Packers in past years was their secondary. In 2011, they allowed the most passing yards in the NFL. After improving to 11th in 2012, they slipped back down to 24th in 2013. In the past two seasons, however, the Packers have been 10th and sixth, respectively, in passing yards allowed, showing just how improved the secondary is. Ted Thompson and the front office have made it very obvious that adding playmakers to the defensive backfield was a priority in the draft. In 2014, they took Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the first round, and in 2015, the Packers added Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins in the first two rounds.
With those three players, the secondary not only got much younger, but noticeably better, too. The Packers allowed just 3,642 yards through the air a year ago, and picked off 16 passes, which was ninth in the league. With Rodgers and Co. leading the show on offense, the Packers defense doesn't get nearly as much credit as it should. Add Morgan Burnett and Sam Shields to those three young studs, and the Packers have one of the best (and most underrated) secondaries in the NFL.
The offensive line is great when healthy
Nelson wasn't the only offensive player who missed substantial time in 2015. The offensive line did, too. A group that's filled with experience, the Packers' O-line couldn't stay on the field together last season. And it showed. They allowed 47 sacks on the year, which was the fifth-most in the NFL. Rodgers showed his frustration on the field as he was given minimal time to get rid of the ball, hurting his ability to make proper reads. Hopefully for the offense's sake, the group of starters can stay healthier than it did in 2015.
The starting five was only on the field together for eight games last season. By comparison, the starters played 17 of 18 games together in 2014. Tackles Bryan Bulaga and David Bakhtiari will anchor the offensive line and allow Rodgers to escape the pocket more easily than he did last season, which is something he obviously loves to do. If the road-grading offensive line can just stay on the field this season, the Packers will be in good shape, and it'll help the run game, too.
If there's one reason why the Packers will reach the Super Bowl this season, it's Mr. Rodgers. Without him, Green Bay is nowhere near the same team when he's on the field. Fortunately, he's remained relatively healthy in his career, missing just nine games in eight years as the starter. With Rodgers at the helm, the Packers are a Super Bowl contender each season. This year will be no different. After struggling a bit in 2015, Rodgers will come back as good as he's ever been with a bevy of weapons at his disposal.
A wide receiver corps of Nelson, Cobb, Davante Adams, Ty Montgomery, Jeff Janis and Jared Abbrederis bodes well for the likelihood that Rodgers returns to form from past seasons. A sure bet to make the Pro Bowl, Rodgers will undoubtedly improve upon his 2015 campaign and toss close to 40 touchdowns and have fewer than 10 picks, as he typically does. He could stand to improve on his postseason performance, though. His 7-6 record isn't overwhelmingly impressive, nor is his 63.8 completion percentage, which is down from 65.1 in the regular season.
Mike McCarthy will get the offense back to its 2014 form
The Packers offense was so inept at one point in 2015 that Mike McCarthy took back play-calling duties after previously relinquishing them to associate head coach Tom Clements in the offseason. After doing so, the offense clicked, scoring 28 points against the Cowboys in his first game back as the play caller. Green Bay scored 30 points against the Raiders the following week. A lull eight-point performance against the stout Cardinals defense brought the Packers back down to earth, as did a 13-point outing against the Vikings in the finale.
McCarthy should hold onto play-calling duties for 2016, and with a full offseason holding the "job," the offense should return to its form of 2014 when it led the league in points scored and was sixth in yards. Last season was the first in which Green Bay was outside the top 10 in points scored since 2006, when it was 22nd. If McCarthy can get Rodgers and the offense rolling again, the Packers will be on their way to another Super Bowl appearance.