September 5, 2023 at 7:01 a.m.

Shoutouts & Callouts

Packers fans have reason to R-E-L-A-X this fall

Sports Editor

I don’t know about you, but I’m less worked up about the start of a Green Bay Packers’ season than I’ve been in quite some time — and that’s a good thing.

Aaron Rodgers is gone, as is all the offseason drama and angst of the last several offseasons. Also gone is the “Super Bowl or bust” mentality of the past decade-plus, where anything short of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy at season’s end was considered a failure. 

The Packers have low expectations this season, and I’m quite OK with the team flying under the radar. 

It’s the Tuesday after Labor Day, which means the NFL season kicks off Thursday and I’ll reveal my annual predictions for the season later in this column. But, before we get there, let’s take a moment to appreciate what the upcoming season will be about for the Green and Gold. 

Ever since Rodgers was traded by the Packers, I’ve had coworkers and friends whose loyalties lie with other pro teams sarcastically ask what I think about the Packers chances this year. My answer has been consistent — I’ll be happy with a stress-free 6-11. 

Not many outside Wisconsin expect the Packers to do anything this year now that Rodgers, and seemingly a good chunk of his offensive weapons, have moved elsewhere. Aside from the inevitable noise the talking heads will make, proclaiming new quarterback Jordan Love a failure after one bad game, much more attention will be paid to how Rodgers gets on with the Jets and other key storylines. 

I’ll be interested to see how Love progresses this year. Between his second-half performance at Philadelphia last fall and how he has looked in the preseason, I’m confident that he’ll look like a competent NFL quarterback this fall, and that’s all he really needs to be this year.

People seem to forget that Rodgers went 6-10 in his first season as starter for the Packers in 2008. The team showed flashes that year but had a hard time closing out close games. That team started figuring it out and was Super Bowl champions two short years later.

That’s what I’ll be keeping my eye on this year. The Packers are young — with an average roster age of just over 24 years old. How do Love, and the young weapons around him, progress during the season? Can the defense show the late-season form that put the Packers in a position to have a chance to make the playoffs in Week 18? How will the new specialists perform?

If the Packers finish just below .500 but show signs building toward the future, I’ll chalk the season up as progress — playoffs or not. 

That being said, the team’s schedule is not exactly a gauntlet this year and looking at the start (at Chicago, at Atlanta, vs. New Orleans, vs. Detroit, at Las Vegas), there’s a decent chance the team could be above .500 by the Week 6 bye. The Packers will likely need to make hay early, with a tough stretch between Weeks 10-14 (at Pittsburgh, vs. L.A. Chargers, at Detroit on Thanksgiving, vs. Kansas City, at N.Y. Giants).

Taking it game-by-game, I see 8-9 as a distinct possibility. That, like last year, might be just good enough to keep the Packers in the playoff conversation until the end of the regular season. 

As for the rest of the league ...

NFC North

Here are a few words I never thought I’d type — the Detroit Lions are the favorites to win the NFC North. Somebody’s got to win it, right? The law of averages seems to dictate Minnesota will regress back to the mean after over-performing in a number of tight, one-score games last year. Some think Justin Fields is poised for a breakout year in Chicago, but I’ve got to see it to believe it. That leaves Detroit, which was one of the hottest teams at the end of the regular season last year. Are the Lions Super Bowl contenders? Let’s not get carried away, but someone’s got to step up and take control of the division, so why not the Lions? 

Detroit 10-7, Minnesota 8-9, Green Bay 8-9, Chicago 7-10.

NFC East

The Eagles looked like Super Bowl champs until they weren’t. Is there a hangover this year, or does Philly continue to roll behind Jalen Hurts? My money’s on the latter. 

Philadelphia 13-4, Dallas 12-5, N.Y. Giants 8-9, Washington 4-13.

NFC South

Tom Brady’s finally retired for good, I think. Like the NFC North, somebody’s got to step up and win this division, but there seem to be plenty of question marks. Perhaps a change of scenery for Derek Carr in New Orleans and Jon Gruden still helping out behind the scenes will be enough to push the Saints over the top in a mediocre division. 

New Orleans 10-7, Atlanta 7-10, Carolina 6-11, Tampa Bay 5-12.

NFC West

You would have been staring at long odds at this point last year if you said Brock Purdy was going to be San Francisco’s starting quarterback to begin 2023. He did well enough once he got his chance, however, that the Niners shipped off both Jimmy Garoppolo (Las Vegas) and Trey Lance (Dallas). Seattle is solid, but is a high floor, low ceiling team with Geno Smith. Matthew Stafford can’t seem to mesh with the Rams rebuild and Arizona, in two short years, has gone from Super Bowl contender to dumpster fire — and one could argue that a Rasul Douglas end zone interception started the Cardinals downfall. 

San Francisco 11-6, Seattle 9-8, L.A. Rams 6-11, Arizona 2-15.

AFC North

This could be the toughest division in pro football. However, once Joe Burrow is healthy and the offense is clicking, it will be hard for anyone to keep up with the Bengals. 

Cincinnati 13-4, Baltimore 10-7, Cleveland 9-8, Pittsburgh 9-8.

AFC East

So Aaron Rodgers and his assembled Dream Team are going to suddenly be the class of the AFC East? In the words of Lee Corso, “Not so fast, my friend.” If the Jets struggle early — and that’s a distinct possibility with Buffalo, Dallas, Kansas City and Philadelphia on the schedule in the first six weeks — Rodgers will quickly find out that the New York media, and fans, are a lot less patient than those in Green Bay. 

Buffalo 12-5, Miami 10-7, N.Y. Jets 9-8, New England 6-11.

AFC South

While the Jonathan Taylor trade talk is a distraction, don’t be surprised if the Anthony Richardson era in Indy gets off to a surprisingly good start thanks to a relatively weak schedule. Jacksonville seems to be the favorite here, but the question is can the Jaguars sustain success for more than one year? 

Jacksonville 11-6, Indianapolis 8-9, Tennessee 5-12, Houston 4-13.

AFC West

Until proven otherwise, this is Patrick Mahomes’ world, and we’re just living in it. But there’s at least enough talent in the division to keep the Chiefs honest. It looks like Sean Payton will continue to let Russell Wilson cook in Denver — even if his sous chef/personal trainer can’t be in the building. The jury is still out on whether it will turn out like “Iron Chef” or “Kitchen Nightmares.” 

Kansas City 13-4, L.A. Chargers, 11-6, Denver 9-8, Las Vegas 7-10.


In a sign that I likely have it all wrong, my playoff bracket looks eerily familiar to last year — with the same seven teams making it in the AFC with almost the exact same seeds (Cincinnati ahead of Buffalo for the No. 2 seed this time). There are two new participants in the NFC, with Detroit and New Orleans replacing Minnesota and Tampa Bay. 

So how about some alternative reality this year. What if the Chargers don’t blow 27-0 lead in Jacksonville and then go to Arrowhead and knockoff the Chiefs? What if San Francisco actually has a healthy quarterback when it faces Philadelphia? What if Buffalo leaves Cincinnati this year in jubilation, instead of fearing for a teammate’s life? And what if said teammate turns in the most incredible comeback story in pro football? 

That’s my dramatic ending to the season — Damar Hamlin intercepts Brock Purdy late in Super Bowl LVIII to secure a 34-28 win for the Buffalo Bills over the San Francisco 49ers. 

Jeremy Mayo may be reached at [email protected].


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