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2020 NFC North Preview: Are the Packers due for a regression?

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With NFL Training Camps getting underway, we wanted to take a peek around the other NFC North teams to see what they’re thinking as they prepare for the 2020 season, and to do so we got some help from our friends at SB Nation.

NFC Championship - Green Bay Packers v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

The Green Bay Packers won the NFC North a year ago with a 13-3 record, and they made it to the Conference Championship game before being put down by the San Francisco 49ers, 37 to 20. This was the fourth time in the Aaron Rodgers era that they made it to the Conference Championship game, and they are 1-3 in those contests. This was also the 9th time in the last 11 years that Green Bay made the playoffs.

The Packers have been the measuring stick for the NFC North for over a quarter of a century, and they look to be the odds of favorite to take the division again in 2020.

With players starting to report to training camps this week we wanted to check in with our SB Nation sister sites that cover the other NFC North teams to get their take on what we should expect from them.

Acme Packing Company’s Training Camp Preview

(Everything in the blockqoutes is from our friends over at APC, with the italicized text being my thoughts on their takes.)

Notable free agency additions: ILB Christian Kirksey, RT Rick Wagner, WR Devin Funchess

Kirksey will try to replace the 155 tackles that Blake Martinez racked up a year ago before signing with the New York Giants, Wagner will try to step in for long time Packer Bryan Bulaga who has moved on to the Los Angeles Chargers, and Funches will look to get his career back on track after his lone season in Indianapolis ended after one game with a broken collarbone.

Over/under 10 wins? Push. The Packers overachieved in 2019, going 13-3 but with an 8-1 record in one-score games. That suggests a team due for some regression. Even if the team is objectively better, they could well have a worse record, particularly with what looks to be a tougher schedule in 2020. However, this is still a squad with a young, ascending defense and very good top-end talent at all of the critical positions on the roster, so ten wins sounds about right.

The offense will keep chugging along as long as Rodgers is under center and their defense improved from a 29th ranked DVOA in 2018 to 15th a year ago. If the defense is still ascending with Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith attacking quarterbacks off the edge that DVOA could keep trending upwards.

Rookie I’m most excited about: Packers fans desperately wanted a wide receiver in this year’s draft, but the team didn’t take a single one. Instead, they moved up in the first round for a quarterback, Jordan Love, who won’t play for a year or two if all goes well. That leaves bruising running back AJ Dillon, the team’s second-round pick, as the most exciting prospect as a rookie in 2020.

Dillon is a hulking 6-foot and 247 pounds, but he’s not just a bruising power back; he posted one of the best overall workouts at the scouting combine in Indianapolis, and his quick feet belie that label. He should be an intriguing complement to Aaron Jones, and a good rookie season could convince the Packers not to pay the veteran next offseason when his contract runs out.

Green Bay’s draft class was near unanimously panned by critics, but their approach could signal a shift in philosophy of being so reliant on Rodgers who will turn 37 this year towards a more run heavy offense. Under first year head coach Matt LaFleur in 2019 the Packers threw the ball 59.81% of the time, which ranked 16th, this after leading the league in 2018 by passing 67.54% of the time.

Best position battle heading into training camp: None

The Packers are a veteran team that is ready to defend their division title.

Biggest storyline heading into training camp: Who will catch the football? The Packers have a great WR1 in Davante Adams and a solid stable of running backs, but the tight ends and receivers behind Adams are all uncertainties. Allen Lazard had a nice second half in 2019, but can he maintain WR2 status? Devin Funchess arrives after missing almost all of last season to injury. There’s only one true deep threat in Marquez Valdes-Scantling, but he became a complete afterthought by the end of last year. And can Equanimeous St. Brown, perhaps the most naturally gifted athlete of the group, rebound from missing 2019 with a high ankle sprain? At tight end, the team appears ready to make second-year pro Jace Sternberger the starter, despite his missing the first half of last year on injured reserve and not catching a single pass in the regular season. It’s up to Aaron Rodgers to figure out how to work with these young, unproven pass-catchers.

Adams, a three-time Pro Bowler, is an absolute stud that has 6 touchdowns in his last eights games against the Bears, but the Packers haven’t had a number two wide out catch more than 38 balls a season the last two years. They need someone to solidify that WR2 spot. Tight end seemed like an afterthought for LaFleur’s offense last year, and Sternberger needs to prove himself after disappointing as a rookie.

Under-the-radar storyline heading into training camp: The Packers have several critical players scheduled to become free agents in the spring of 2021. That list starts with defensive tackle Kenny Clark, the league’s best pass-rushing nose tackle, then moves on to David Bakhtiari, the best pass-blocking left tackle in the game. Running back Aaron Jones, center Corey Linsley and cornerback Kevin King are all up as well, so the Packers will surely try to come to agreements on extensions with a couple of these players before they head into contract years.

According to Over the Cap, the Packers have $11,054,187 in cap space right now.

Notable injuries heading into training camp: WRs Devin Funchess and Equanimeous St. Brown and linebacker Christian Kirksey are all coming off season-ending injuries last fall but appear to be ready to go for training camp.

What do you guys think about APC’s takes on the Packers heading into training camp?