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The Green Bay Packers fell just short of reaching the Super Bowl as not even the great arm of Aaron Rodgers could propel the team beyond the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship game.
The 33-year-old and head coach Mike McCarthy came under criticism at the start of the season for the club’s underwhelming performances.
Green Bay were well off the pace for a place in the playoffs at the midway point, but Rodgers managed to take his game to another level to fire his team past the Detroit Lions in the NFC North to claim the number four seed in the post-season.
He made a number of astounding throws to guide the Packers past the New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys in the playoffs, but the trip to the Georgia Dome proved to be one step too far as defensive frailties reared their head, allowing the Falcons to advance to the NFL title game.
The club have a number of issues to address in the off-season and some have been taken care of to this point, although concerns remain about the future of the defense.
Their problems on that side of the ball may have cost the Packers at least two attempts at adding another Super Bowl. McCarthy needs to ensure that his team must not continue to waste the prime years of Rodgers’ career.
We’ll now look back at the 2016 season of the Packers and see what they can do to take the next step and advance to Super Bowl LII.
The Packers began the season with a trip on the road in tough conditions in Florida against the Jacksonville Jaguars. In the sweltering heat, Rodgers managed to find some early rhythm, connecting with Davante Adams and Jordy Nelson to send his side into the break with a lead.
A defensive struggle emerged in the second half, but Green Bay held out to win the contest. However, Rodgers failed to fire on the road against the Minnesota Vikings, throwing a costly interception late in the game to condemn his side to defeat.
Two strong offensive performances from Rodgers and company saw them past the Lions and the Giants, but issues began to emerge in a home defeat to the Cowboys. A comfortable victory over the Bears got back the club back on track, although a storm was on the horizon.
The Falcons had too much offensive firepower for Green Bay’s defense to cope again, with Matt Ryan outdueling Rodgers at the Georgia Dome – which would be the story later in the term.
McCarthy’s men were expected to get back on track against the Indianapolis Colts at home, only for the visitors to stifle their offense for three quarters before Rodgers led a futile attempt at a comeback in the fourth, losing 31-26 to the AFC South outfit.
The defense may as well have not turned up at Nissan Stadium for their clash against the Tennessee Titans. Marcus Mariota carved them apart with ease, while DeMarco Murray had a great game on the ground, with the home side putting 47 points on the board in a hammering victory.
Matters only got worse at the hands of the Washington Redskins. Like Mariota the week before, Kirk Cousins scythed through the Packers’ defense, throwing three touchdowns, while Rob Kelley added another three on the ground in another humiliating defeat for McCarthy’s men.
The franchise was under fire from all directions in the midst of their four-game losing streak, but Rodgers insisted that his side could run the table to reach the playoffs.
The 33-year-old was good on his promise as he found his peak form along with Nelson, Cobb and Adams to get the offense firing once again.
Green Bay brushed aside the Philadelphia Eagles and the Houston Texans before hammering the Seattle Seahawks, capitalising on Earl Thomas’ absence.
They needed a late show from Rodgers to overcome the Bears, but a victory over Chicago and the Vikings set up a showdown for the fourth seed with the Lions. The Packers claimed a seven-point win of the final day to clinch a home match against the Giants in the wildcard round.
Rodgers put on a clinic to defeat New York, throwing four touchdowns to help his side progress.
The 33-year-old was perhaps even better in the divisional round against the Cowboys, making a number of outrageous throws, including one late in the game to Jared Cook to set up a game-winning field goal from Mason Crosby.
The NFC Championship game proved to be one too many for Rodgers as not even he could keep pace with the Falcons and Ryan’s offensive power, with the porous defense once again haunting McCarthy’s men in the post-season.
The Packers have lost some key players during free agency, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Micah Hyde performed brilliantly in the secondary towards the end of last season and helped mask a lot of issues, with a number of his team-mates struggling.
However, he has left the club to join the Buffalo Bills, while veteran pass-rusher Julius Peppers has also departed to return to the Carolina Panthers. Although the defensive end was far from his best last term, he was still a valuable player on third down.
Problems are also afoot on the offensive line, with JC Tretter and TJ Jang leaving for pastures new, while tight end Cook penned a deal with the Oakland Raiders.
The addition of Martellus Bennett should provide an upgrade over Cook, while a contract extension handed to Nick Perry suggests that the club believe he is ready to become a consistent force at outside linebacker – rushing the passer.
General manager Ted Thompson will have to work some magic in the draft to bolster the secondary as Hyde’s departure is worrisome, especially due to Damarious Randall’s struggles and Quinten Rollins’ problems with injuries. Sam Shields chose to retire due to a series of concussions, meaning that the Packers have lost a lot of experience from their defense over the last year.
Adams took a step forward in his development last term, which is an excellent sign for the club, although they could do with adding another wideout given that Nelson will be 32 by the start of next term.
A running back should also be a priority following Eddie Lacy’s exit, with Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles still available on the free-agent market.
The Packers are always a threat to reach the Super Bowl with Rodgers at quarterback, but unless the rest of the roster give him support the 33-year-old’s quest for his second ring will go unrequited.
Green Bay’s defense were embarrassing at times last term, being extremely susceptible to the pass. In a passing league that level of incompetence is unacceptable, although the club have still stuck with defensive coordinator Dom Capers, despite multiple failings on his side of the ball.
The addition of Bennett should allow Rodgers to open up the passing game, freeing up room for Nelson, Cobb and Adams.
Montgomery may need to take a huge stride forward in his transition to running back for the offense to fire on all cylinders, although at least it should be an improvement on last term.
If the Packers play complementary football they should be able to power into the Super Bowl winning the NFC Conference at odds of 11/2 6.50 +550 5.50 5.50 -0.18 with TopBet sportsbook.
It would be a sweet victory for Rodgers and company to win the Vince Lombardi trophy in the home of their bitter rivals the Minnesota Vikings, and there’s a strong chance it could happen at odds of 12/1 13.00 +1200 12.00 12.00 -0.08 .
Green Bay Packers To Win NFC Conference
Odds: 11/2 6.50 +550 5.50 5.50 -0.18
Green Bay Packers To Win Super Bowl
Odds: 12/1 13.00 +1200 12.00 12.00 -0.08