LAST YEAR: Packers bounced back from two straight losing seasons by sweeping through NFC North and beating Seattle Seahawks in playoffs before falling 37-20 to San Francisco 49ers, their third conference championship game loss in past six years. Packers made major strides in coach Matt LaFleur’s debut season thanks in part to free-agent acquisitions of Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith, who combined for 25½ sacks.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: TE Josiah Deguara, RB A.J. Dillon, WR Devin Funchess, LB Christian Kirksey, QB Jordan Love, LB Kamal Martin, OT Rick Wagner
IMPORTANT LOSSES: WR Geronimo Allison, OT Bryan Bulaga, LB Kyler Fackrell, TE Jimmy Graham, LB Blake Martinez
PANDEMIC CHALLENGES: QB Aaron Rodgers gets less time to work with Funchess, Packers’ lone major addition to receiving group. Does Love’s lack of rookie minicamp hinder how fast he adjusts to system? NFL protocols in place during pandemic mean Packers will hold entire training camp operations at Lambeau Field rather than sleeping and eating dinner at St. Norbert College, which had hosted team for training camp since 1958.
CAMP NEEDS: Packers must find way to improve run defense that got gashed by San Francisco 49ers in NFC championship game and lost their leading tackler when Martinez signed with New York Giants. They’re counting on Kirksey to rebound from two injury-shortened seasons to fill Martinez’s old spot. They must work in Wagner at right tackle as they attempt to replace Bulaga, a longtime starter who signed with Los Angeles Chargers. They need to figure out how Dillon fits in backfield that already includes Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams.
EXPECTATIONS: Packers made huge jump last year because they stayed healthy and won nearly all their close games. They’re unlikely to be quite as fortunate this year. They still should contend for NFC North title, but 9-7 or 10-6 seems like much more realistic possibility than repeat of last year’s 13-3 regular-season record.
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