Any discussion of this franchise has to begin with quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who just delivered what may have been the greatest individual campaign in the history of his position. He established a new single-season record for passer rating (122.5) while averaging 309.5 yards per game and protecting the ball as well any QB has ever protected it (just six total turnovers).
Rodgers not only possesses an elite quarterback's skill-set — arm strength, mobility, accuracy, quick-release — but he combines excellent physical tools with a rare ability to process information, pre- and post-snap. He's terrific at reading and manipulating defenses (<--Jaworski phrase! Drink!), plus he's freakishly precise, even on the most difficult throws. His weapons-grade accuracy enabled last year's absurd TD-to-INT ratio (45-to-6) and a league-leading yards-per-attempt average (9.2).
From the perspective of this Bears fan, Rodgers is disturbingly great. Equally disturbing: Green Bay's receiving corps is fantastic, and it's deep. Plus it has year-to-year continuity.
This is, simply put, a frightening offense, orchestrated by an all-time quarterback. The remorseless beatings should continue for another season in the NFC North, with no end in sight.
One of the most remarkable details about the Pack's passing attack is that no Green Bay receiver placed anywhere near the top of the target leader-board last season. This team did not have a single receiver who ranked among the top-30 in year-end targets. Ten different Packers caught touchdown passes in 2011. Here's a look at the way opportunities were distributed in this offense:
Greg Jennings — 101 targets
Jordy Nelson — 96
Jermichael Finley — 92
Donald Driver — 56
James Jones — 55
James Starks — 37
Randall Cobb — 31
Ryan Grant — 24
Despite their relatively modest target totals, Jennings and Nelson both finished as top-10 per-game scorers at wide receiver, and Finley — who seemed to disappoint everyone — ranked as the No. 7 tight end.
Again, this insane level of productivity is tied to Rodgers' greatness — his efficiency, his recognition, his precision. It also has something to do with the talent of the individual receivers, and the mind-melds they've established with their QB. I have no real issue with the prices that fantasy owners have paid to gain shares of this passing offense. Drafters obviously aren't expecting another 15-touchdown season from Jordy — not if his target and catch totals hold — but we're still valuing him (appropriately) as a back-end WR1 (ADP 34.2, WR11). Nelson has the physical traits to destroy single-coverage, and his quarterback never misses.
Jennings and Finley each suffered concussions early in training camp, but they'll be good to go in Week 1. Jennings has quickness to spare, reliable hands and he's a terrific route-runner with big-play ability. This is a player with an extremely high fantasy floor. Behind Jennings and Nelson on the depth chart, we find Jones (highly skilled, drop-prone), Driver (older than most fantasy experts, reliable, refuses to go away), and Cobb (electric). As we've discussed previously, Cobb is one of my favorite sleeper-ish wideouts in the player pool, a guy who should eventually be a monster from the slot.
Finley was finally available at a slight discount in drafts this season, because you're all mad at him for failing to reinvent a position that was instead reinvented by Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Whatever. Finley is still one of the better athletes among all NFL tight ends, a brutal match-up for any single defender. We all wish his hands worked just a bit better, but he's still only 25 years old. Improvement isn't out of the question. And take note of Finley's 2011 target total — just four less than Jordy. It shouldn't shock anyone if he gives us a top-three season.
Green Bay signed Cedric Benson to a one-year deal during the preseason, and he figures to open the year as the team's primary early-down ball-carrier. (This is basically a perfect storm of villainy if you're a Chicagoan, not that you asked). No defense will ever overload to stop Cedric, not while Rodgers is on the field, so Benson has a realistic shot to top 4.0 YPC for the first time since '09. We're not talking about an unusually efficient runner here — Benson needs volume if he's going to be a fantasy force — but he's tied to an elite offense, and he should see goal line work. At Cedric's draft price (ADP 57.9, RB25), he could prove to be a steal. You won't start him in Week 1 vs. San Francisco, but he'll usually find his way onto the approved list.
James Starks has been limited in camp by turf toe (and also by the fact of being James Starks), and Alex Green is returning from an ACL injury suffered in October. Green offers the sort of pass-catching aptitude that Benson has always lacked, but he likely won't have the third-down role to himself. John Kuhn (a notorious TD vulture) and Brandon Saine should appear in passing situations as well.
The Packers' defense features several interesting IDPs — linebackers Clay Matthews, DJ Smith and Nick Perry (a USC rookie), plus defensive backs Charles Woodson, Morgan Burnett and Tramon Williams — but collectively, this group was a disappointment in 2011. They ranked dead-last against the pass (299.8 YPG), last in total yards allowed (411.6), and just 27th in sacks (29.0). They allowed too many big plays, they missed too many tackles. To their credit, however, this defense topped the league in interceptions by a mile (31), leading the NFC for the fourth straight year. Green Bay had five defensive TDs and two return scores last season, so they remained a respectable fantasy commodity. It seems like there's too much talent here — and Dom Capers is too good at his job — for this defense to scuffle for another season.
That's all I've got, cheese eaters. Please join us in comments for bonus coverage...
2011 team stats: 35.0 PPG (NFL rank 1), 97.4 rush YPG (27), 322.6 pass YPG (3), 39.43 yards/drive (3), 0.065 turnovers/drive (2)
Previous Juggernaut posts: 32. Miami, 31. St. Louis, 30. Indianapolis, 29. Jacksonville, 28. Cleveland, 27. Arizona, 26. Seattle, 25. Minnesota, 24. Tampa Bay, 23. Buffalo, 22. New York Jets, 21. Washington, 20. Oakland, 19. San Francisco, 18. Kansas City, 17. Cincinnati, 16. Denver, 15. Tennessee, 14. San Diego, 13. Pittsburgh, 12. Baltimore, 11. Dallas, 10. Carolina, 9. Chicago, 8. Houston, 7. Detroit, 6. Atlanta, 5. New York Giants, 4. New England
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