When Aaron Rodgers is healthy, the Packers are one of the best teams in the NFC. Without Rodgers, the Packers are not. Rodgers started nine games last season and was 6-3. In the seven games without Rodgers, three different quarterbacks were under center and were a combined 2-4-1. Rodgers was able to return from his collarbone injury in Week 17 at Chicago and clinch the NFC North division title on the last Sunday of the season.
Both sides of the ball have playmakers. Running back Eddie Lacy in his rookie season was 8th in the NFL in rushing yards and 3rd in rushing touchdowns. Wide receiver Jordy Nelson was in the top ten in receiving yards. Linebacker Clay Matthews led the team in with 7.5 sacks in 2013.
Already the offensive line is behind the eight-ball with two key injuries: center JC Tretter is out indefinitely and Don Barclay tore his ACL. Their primary job will be to keep Rodgers upright and injury free during the season. If they can do that, Green Bay will live up to the moniker of "The Greatest Show on Tundra."
Green Bay opens the season at Seattle for the kickoff game. Over a period of 11 days from 21 September to 2 October, the Packers will play their NFC North opponents: at Detroit, at Chicago, and home for the Week 5 Thursday Night game against Minnesota. Their last two games prior to their Week 9 bye week is against the NFC South's 2013 playoff teams: Carolina and at New Orleans for the Week 8 Sunday Night game.
The Eagles visit Lambeau Field in Week 11 followed by the much anticipated first meeting between Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay in Week 13. Green Bay and New England last met in 2010, but Rodgers was injured for that game. The Packers final four games include the Week 14 Monday Night against Atlanta followed by road games against the Bills and Buccaneers who will each be playing spoiler and the regular season finale against the Lions.
If the Packers encounter the same injury trouble that nearly derailed their season last year, there are two teams that are looking to take the spot as the top team in the division.
Detroit started last season 6-3 and then imploded with a 1-6 finish. Their lone win in that stretch was a 40-10 win over Green Bay on Thanksgiving Day. Jim Schwartz was fired and replaced with former Colts head coach Jim Caldwell who led the Colts to Super Bowl XLIV in the 2009 season.
Chicago was 8-6 and needed to win at least one of their final two games to make the playoffs. They were blown out by the Eagles in Week 16 and followed it up by losing to the Packers as mentioned above.
Both teams have quarterbacks. The Lions have Matthew Stafford who was third in the NFL in passing yards. While Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was injured, Chicago was 2nd in the league scoring 445 points.
Both teams have prolific wide receivers. Chicago has Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery has emerged as a deep threat who led the team in receiving yards. Detroit has Calvin Johnson and added Golden Tate from Seattle.
The Lions have the edge in defense with Ndamukong Suh, but the Bears have a slight edge in the running game with Matt Forte.
Detroit is scheduled to appeared in prime time once this season: the Monday Night opener in Week 1 at home against the Giants followed by at Carolina and then hosting Green Bay in Week 3. The Lions host the Saints in Week 7 followed by traveling to London to play the Falcons.
The Bears are scheduled for five prime time games: at San Francisco in Week 2, at the Jets in Week 3, at the Packers in Week 10, the Week 14 Thursday Night contest at home against Dallas, and hosting the Saints in Week 15 on Monday Night.
Both the Bears and Lions play at New England this season. The Bears are at the Patriots in Week 8 while the Lions travel to Foxboro in Week 12. Chicago will play at Detroit in the early slot on Thanksgiving Day. Chicago's final two games include their home finale against the Lions and close out the season in Minnesota while Detroit's last four games include home games against Tampa and Minnesota, and their final game of the season is at Green Bay.
Minnesota's offense goes through Pro Bowl running back Adrian Peterson who despite only playing in 14 games still was 5th in the NFL in rushing yards with 1,266 yards and tied for 4th in rushing touchdowns with 10. Once again the Vikings were in the market for a quarterback and drafted Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater late in the first round of the draft. While the Vikings are going with Matt Cassel as their starter, Bridgwater will be the starter sometime during this season and could be set up for the most success among the quarterbacks drafted in the 2014.
Since 1982, the Vikings called the Metrodome their home stadium. For the next two seasons, the Vikings will be playing their home games outdoors at the University of Minnesota while their new stadium is under construction. It is scheduled to open in 2016 and will be hosting Super Bowl LII in February 2018.
Minnesota's schedule could put them in an early hole. After the season opener in St. Louis, the Vikings host the Patriots, play at New Orleans, home against the Falcons, at the Packers, and home against the Lions in Week 6. There is another three game stretch that could be as brutal. After the Week 10 bye week, Minnesota is at Chicago followed by home against the Packers and Panthers. The timetable for Bridewater might be accelerated.
The NFC North may belong to Green Bay in 2014, but there are teams eyeing the top spot in this division.