I do it every year. I get the fever. I come down with a case of Packer-itis.
This season, the guarantee will be tested.
If I was filling out a Power Rankings in mid-June, I'd recognize the Packers as Super Bowl contenders, but not hand them the top slot. I'd rank the San Francisco 49ers, Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks slightly ahead. The NFC is going to be a dominant and exciting conference this year. And yes, I'd rank these four teams ahead of any squad in the AFC.
The Niners just made it to Super Bowl XLVII, pasting the Packers in the divisional round along the way. San Francisco is the most well-rounded team in the NFL. Seattle has a young star quarterback, a great defense and a swagger. Atlanta is ready to rock and roll, getting over a significant hump last season, with Matt Ryan winning his first playoff game.
Rodgers is the best quarterback in the NFL right now. Factor in age, talent, arm, leadership, touchdowns, touchdown-to-interception ratio, yards, wins, excellence when it matters the most -- whatever criteria you use to judge quarterbacks. With all due respect to future Hall of Famers Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, with all due respect to Super Bowl champs like Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Drew Brees, with all due respect to the young studs changing the way the position is played, the best QB in my world is always the assassin, Mr. Rodgers.
Then you factor in the coach.
In April, I penned a Schein Nine ranking the best coaches in the NFL today. Bill Belichick was an easy pick to sit atop my list. Two-time Super Bowl champ Tom Coughlin ranked second. The vastly underrated McCarthy was third. He's that special.
Do you realize McCarthy boasts a career record of 74-38 to go along with a ring? Green Bay is organized, focused and prepared to deal with adversity under McCarthy.
Together, Rodgers and McCarthy are 57-29, including the postseason.
I chatted with McCarthy on my SiriusXM radio show last Friday, and the coach stressed how great it is to have someone like Rodgers signed long term -- not just because of the QB's greatness, but also his incredible leadership. The team lost Greg Jennings in free agency and there's no reason to think the passing attack will skip a beat. Rodgers is that good. Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and James Jones are that good. McCarthy said Jermichael Finley was one of the standout performers at recent organized team activities; maybe there's hope the tight end can finally maximize his potential.
It pains me when critics disparage McCarthy for not running the ball enough or establishing offensive balance. You always want to establish some sort of run game, but why would you ever take the ball out of Aaron Rodgers' hands. That's illogical to me.
And one of the reasons I rank Rodgers and McCarthy ahead of Eli and Coughlin or Brady and Belichick is because the Packers' pair is attached at the hip. McCarthy calls the plays, but the coach shares a brain with his quarterback. McCarthy and Rodgers have the same philosophy, formed through years of quarterback school, offseason programs, training camps, practices and game-day experiences. They meet, they talk, they plan for the chess match. And then they dominate.
On the flip side, I was floored by the problems on the Packers' defense last season. During our conversation, McCarthy lamented the "big plays." They gave up huge, costly chunks to Colin Kaepernick and the Niners to end the season. I find the issues surprising, based upon the respect level I have for defensive coordinator Dom Capers. And if you think about it, they have the players to field a strong line, pass rush and defensive backfield. As one rival executive said to me, "I like their players. I like their youth. Loved the (Datone) Jones pick in the first round. Tramon Williams being healthy and playing up to his abilities is the key." Look, the Packers need to limit the big plays and stop the run. They must create turnovers.
But let's be honest: We know Green Bay will win the division. Print the T-shirts. It's over.
If the young kids contribute in the run game, the offensive line is solid and the defense is just improved and disciplined, the sky is again the limit for the Packers. With the best coach/QB combo in football, they just have to be respectable in those other areas.
I'm starting to sweat. I'm starting to itch. My heartbeat is quickening.
I might be coming down with another case of Packer-itis.