Many of you quibbled with the idea that the San Diego Chargers might offer the Falcons a bit of a break, given the first seven weeks of their schedule, because no NFL team is easy and the Chargers are not pushovers. Given the rest of the slate, I stand by my appraisal, and the sledding immediately gets tougher the next week when the Falcons face the Packers.
Atlanta’s given Green Bay some good games during the Aaron Rodgers era, but they’ve tended to lose those games, including the excruciating 2010 playoff loss. Maybe this will be the year the Falcons reverse that trend!
Here’s more about the Packers from our friends at Acme Packing Company.
Notable free-agent additions:
- TE Jared Cook
- OLB Lerentee McCray
Notable free-agent departures:
- CB Casey Hayward (Chargers)
- DT B.J. Raji (retirement)
- WR James Jones (FA)
- QB Scott Tolzien (Colts)
- FB John Kuhn (ascended to heaven)
- Packers send Nos. 57, 125 and 248 picks in 2016 draft to Colts for No. 48 pick (OT Jason Spriggs)
Draft picks expected to contribute as rookies:
- DT Kenny Clark: With Raji retiring, Mike Pennel suspended for the first quarter of the season and Datone Jones moving to outside linebacker, the team expects Clark to play a lot early on, likely as the starting nose tackle or five-tech.
- ILB Blake Martinez: With Clay Matthews moving back to outside linebacker, veteran Sam Barrington and rookie Blake Martinez will battle for the starting inside spot next to second-year man Jake Ryan. Head coach Mike McCarthy already praised Martinez for his minicamp work, particularly his coverage ability. With Barrington still recovering from last year's foot injury, Martinez holds the early lead. Even if he doesn't win the job, Martinez should play extensively in the nickel, dime and sub packages.
Biggest offseason addition:
- DT Kenny Clark: While Jared Cook garnered plenty of attention given the Packers' offensive struggles last season, Clark should end up playing a more significant role in 2016 and in future years. If not immediately, Clark should at some point become the team's new starter at nose tackle, a critical position in Dom Capers' defense.
Biggest storyline heading into training camp:
- Eddie Lacy's weight loss: After playing most of the 2015 campaign visibly out of shape, Lacy has worked this offseason to remodel his body. Though hardly svelte, the running back looks closer to his 2013-14 figure. If his production can also return to form, the Packers offense should avoid the inconsistencies it dealt with most of last season.
Under-the-radar storyline heading into training camp:
- Defensive line depth: Mike Daniels and Letroy Guion have carved out niches along the defensive front, but the other starting spot as well as the depth behind them remains unsettled. Mike Pennel could become the starter at the five-tech once he returns from suspension, but until then the Packers have to decide between fourth-round rookie Dean Lowry, Datone Jones (who has mainly moved to an outside linebacker role) and a mostly faceless group of undrafted rookies and second-year players.
Notable injuries heading into training camp:
- Jared Cook's foot surgery: Just added this offseason as a street free agent, Jared Cook has already undergone surgery on his foot. Though he has expressed confidence that the situation should resolve itself by training camp, the offense could endure some hardships if his injury lingers. The Packers don't have another tight end with both his experience and athleticism on the roster, and they need as many big bodies capable of exploiting the middle of the field as possible.
Jordy Nelson’s knee: The Packers expects Nelson to return by the start of training camp, but after missing all of 2015 the team has taken a very cautious approach (you likely won't see him in the Hall of Fame game in August).