I've written quite a few of these “successful season” articles already this summer, but there is no doubt that this particular topic has the widest range of outcomes. Today’s topic is the Green Bay Packers.
On one hand, the Packers have finished 13-3 in each of the last two seasons. They’ve been back-to-back division champions and even earned the No. 1 overall seed in the NFC last year. From their first 13-win season to their second, they more than doubled their point differential from 63 to 140. However, in each of their previous two seasons, they have made it to the NFC Championship Game and lost—one game short of the Super Bowl.
For as incredible as quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been over the last 13 seasons—seasons which all spell out a first-ballot Hall of Fame career—the Packers’ legend has only played in one Super Bowl. Green Bay hoisted the Lombardi Trophy with Rodgers back in 2010, just his third year as the team’s starting quarterback. As we watched the confetti rain down, we thought this was going to be Rodgers’ era of titles and trophies for the next 10 years.
Part of that has been true. Rodgers has a lot of trophies over that time. He’s been the league’s MVP three times, the passer rating leader three times, and the passing touchdown leader twice. He’s also been a Pro Bowler in eight seasons since that Super Bowl win. But none of those individual awards and accolades have translated to his team reaching the final NFL game of the season.
But even now, at 39 years old, as long as Rodgers, who is coming off one of those MVP years in 2020, is on the Packers, the bar for a successful season will be a Super Bowl berth and nothing less. But will Rodgers be on the team? That’s the question.
A successful season for the Packers would start with retaining their franchise quarterback. No, Rodgers isn’t a free agent and he isn’t in a contract holdout, but over the past six months, Rodgers has been more and more vocal about how frustrated he has become with the decision-makers at the top of the organization. Rodgers seems to hint that the frustrations have come from not seeing eye-to-eye with his current general manager Brian Gutekunst about how the team has been built—which players they’ve drafted and signed, and which they’ve let go. But of course, the real reason for the growing part of the frustration is that Rodgers knows if he retires today he’ll be a Hall of Famer, and that lone Super Bowl he won in 2010 will be the only appearance he’s ever made—arguably before he even hit his stride as a passer.
If the Packers just won either of these last two NFC Championship games, would all have been forgotten? No, especially if they fell short of winning the Super Bowl. But I feel as though the frustrations and the demands would be more in-house. Instead, we have a generational passer on one of the most historic franchises in all of sports wanting out—or at least testing those waters—while still playing at an MVP level.
The Packers cannot let this happen.
To Green Bay’s defense, they have put a winning team around Rodgers. The only other team that can match the Packers’ win totals over the last two seasons is the Kansas City Chiefs at 26. They have a good offensive line, the best wide receiver in the game, two capable running backs, and a defense that, while not perfect, has had resources thrown into it every offseason.
If Rodgers is still on the Packers, the measure of a successful season has to be a Super Bowl berth. That’s it. It doesn't matter how it happens. They don’t have to get the No. 1 seed (though it will help). Heck, they don’t even have to win their division (they did when they won the Super Bowl in 2010). They just need to be in the final game of the year.
On the other side, if Rodgers says he’s done as a Packer, a successful season will be about damage control. It will be about the progression of their young quarterback Jordan Love, and it will be about convincing the rest of the locker room that Green Bay is still the place they want to be playing, even though their Hall of Fame quarterback just walked out. The Packers’ roster is good enough that if they lose Rodgers, they don’t have to go into a total rebuild. But a successful season will be about rebounding.
Whether it’s bound for the Super Bowl or rebounding as an organization, the range of a successful season goes as Rodgers does.