It's 'championship or bust' this season for the Green Bay Packers. The historic franchise has big expectations from both fans and the team itself in 2021. Now that the Aaron Rodgers drama is seemingly over, the team can focus on reaching their first Super Bowl in over ten years.
After back-to-back NFC championship defeats, Packers head coach Matt LaFleur is desperate to take the next step in a Super Bowl appearance. Green Bay lost all three of three preseason games, with Rodgers and many starters not playing a single snap.
This conservative approach means the team is relatively healthy heading into Week 1 of the regular season against the New Orleans Saints.
The pressure is on the Green Bay Packers to deliver this season
All eyes will be on Aaron Rodgers and his star-studded team when they begin their campaign at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday, September 12. Here are the five biggest questions and talking points for the Green Bay Packers ahead of Week 1 of the 2021 NFL season:
#1 What is Aaron Rodgers' mindset?
Packers star quarterback and reigning league MVP Aaron Rodgers had quite the offseason. He didn’t participate in any of the team's OTAs, instead spending time with his fiancee in Hawaii, playing golf against Tom Brady and hosting Jeopardy.
Rodgers is a seasoned pro, so his conditioning shouldn’t be a problem, but what about his mental health?
The Packers QB has stressed how important his break this offseason was for him to recharge and relax. He restructured his contract with the team, which could lead to this being his final season in Green Bay.
Rodgers didn’t take a snap this preseason, so he will be entering the Saints game without any recent game time experience. It shouldn’t be an issue for the 17-year veteran, though, who will want to show everyone again that he is the best quarterback in the NFL.
#2 Will Za'Darius Smith be healthy?
Star defensive end Za’Darius Smith is in a race to be ready for the start of the Packers' regular season.
Smith has been dealing with a back injury all offseason, and it flared up during training camp. Head coach Matt La Fleur told reporters last week:
"I'm not quite sure when we'll get 'Z' back. He's injured right now. I know he wants to be out there, but we're going to be smart with him. He's obviously a big-time player for us and, yeah, it definitely is a concern."
The two-time NFL Pro Bowl defender would be a massive loss for the Green Bay defense in Week 1 if he can’t make it onto the field.
#3 Will the defense improve?
The Packers' front office allowed former defensive coordinator Mike Pettine to walk after his contract expired at the end of last season. Former Los Angeles Rams assistant head coach Joe Barry will take over the defense this season.
While Pettine improved the Packers' defense in 2020, some big lapses in the NFC championship game against Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers cost the team a victory. Barry has essentially the same squad as Pettine, so he will be measured in terms of the teams' performances in the previous two seasons.
Green Bay’s management team will expect to see Barry take the defense to another level in his first season in charge, though.
#4 Who will start at cornerback?
Jaire Alexander has one of the Packers' starting cornerback jobs sewn up. But the other side of the field is where things get interesting.
Last season’s starter Kevin King had a horrendous playoff outing, and has been injured this preseason. The team re-signed King on a one-year 'prove it' deal, and he will likely be allowed to start in Week 1.
If he again fails to perform, first-round draft pick CB Eric Stokes could be thrust into the starting lineup sooner rather than later this season.
#5 Is Davante Adams' new contract done?
Aaron Rodgers' situation in Green Bay dominated the news this offseason, but the Packers' star wide receiver is also looking for a new deal.
Davante Adams and his agent had been negotiating with the Packers for most of the offseason before they hit an impasse.
Now that Rodgers has restructured his deal, the expectations are the team will re-sign Adams on a lucrative extension this year. But so far, there has been no news of any deal, and it looks like Adams could play this season without a long-term contract in place.
It's hardly the news Packers fans wanted before the 2021 season.