Believe It: 2016 Is Super Bowl or Bust
Not every year can be “your” year. Many factors contribute to a team’s success or failure, and the timing of those factors can affect a particular team’s definition of success from year to year.
For example, the 2015 Packers started the season behind the eight ball already, facing the loss of Jordy Nelson. As other injuries piled up throughout the season, the overall expectation lowered accordingly. I think it’s reasonable to say that no one viewed the 2015 Packers as serious Super Bowl contenders, and winning a road playoff game probably constituted about as much success as you could hope for.
However, 2016 is much different. This season is as close to “all-in” as any Ted Thompson team can really get, for at least two significant reasons.
First, barring any in-season contract extensions, 13 Packers players are set to become unrestricted free agents at the end of the year. That includes seven projected starters, with three fifths of the offensive line (David Bakhtiari, Josh Sitton, and T.J. Lang) among them. No matter what happens in 2016, there’s a good chance the 2017 roster will be markedly different.
Second, dating back to 1997, the winning quarterback in the Super Bowl has only been over the age of 33 five times: John Elway (twice), Brad Johnson, Tom Brady, and Peyton Manning. While the illustrious names on that list (except Brad Johnson. Sorry Brad.) might give Packers fans hope, consider that a solid four of those five wins saw the starting quarterback acting more as a mascot than as a contributing player.
It’s true: in their combined Super Bowl victories, Elway, Johnson, and Manning collectively threw just three touchdowns against four interceptions, completing a total of 61 passes in four games between them. Not a single one of them completed more than 18 passes in a game.
My point is this: the Packers’ championship window is by no means closed, but this could be their last, best shot with this group of players. On top of that, the road forward historically becomes much more difficult with Aaron Rodgers after this point.
The Packers recognize this, and the national media is beginning to recognize this too. Eric Edholm of Yahoo Sports postulates that the Packers’ title chances may have died in Seattle in 2013. He recognizes the steps the Packers have taken to shore up their defense and points out that Jordy Nelson should be a big boost to the offense, but the fact that he’s even asking if the moment has passed is telling.
Peter King of The Monday Morning Quarterback picked up on some of the same sort of feelings during his trip to Packers camp last week. He reports a heightened sense of urgency from Aaron Rodgers, wondering if he sees “his football mortality staring him in the face.” Then, King lays it all on the table, saying Rodgers sounded very “Super-Bowl-or-bust this week.”
If that’s as close as anyone else will come to saying it, I’ll just spell it out: 2016 is Super Bowl or bust for the Green Bay Packers. This is their best shot with this group of players, and if they can’t get it done this season, it may be a while before they get another good shot again.
I’m not saying that if it doesn’t happen this year, Aaron Rodgers won’t ever get another shot at a title or that we should run the coaching staff out of town. But for this group of players, this is it, and no injuries or personnel moves or missed opportunities will be a satisfactory excuse.