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Green Bay Packers season preview: Missing Nelson

Around The NFL's season preview goes to the NFC North.

Change we can believe in

The Packers annually make fewer changes than any other team. Of the players in their regular rotation, only veterans Julius Peppers, Letroy Guion and John Kuhn originally came from outside the organization. One difference this season is an increased role for younger skill-position players such as rookie wideout Ty Montgomery and a trio of 2014 draft picks in Davante Adams, Jeff Janis and Richard Rodgers.

Adams is one of our favorite breakout candidates as the starter opposite Randall Cobb, while Rodgers is a good bet to double his rookie production of 20 receptions and 225 yards. The coaching staff is high on Montgomery, who has shown explosive athleticism after the catch.

Even without Jordy Nelson, this should be one of the NFL's best offenses.

Biggest concern

After the Packers surrendered 39 points to the Eagles in the first half of the third preseason game, Mike Daniels was asked why fans should be excited about Green Bay's defense once the games count in the regular season. The fourth-year pass rusher struggled for a response:

This unit is riddled with question marks. The best edge rusher is moving inside on early downs. Recent early-round picks such as Datone Jones, Nick Perry and Jerel Worthy have been either busts or disappointments, leaving holes in the front seven. The back end has issues of its own with Micah Hyde nursing a neck injury and presumptive starting cornerback Casey Haywardbeing pushed by a trio of rookies.

Training camp surprise

The biggest surprise was the season-ending loss of Nelson, one of the NFL's premier playmakers. Aaron Rodgers' passer rating on throws intended for Nelson has been 150.2, 130.3, 111.6 and 128.2 over the past four seasons, per Pro Football Focus.

With a healthy Nelson, coach Mike McCarthy believed his offense boasted the potential to become the greatest in NFL history. Without benefit of Rodgers' go-to receiver, the ceiling is considerably lower.

What we'll be saying in February

Rodgers' magnificence is enough to lead the Packers to another division title, but they don't have the firepower to keep up with the Seahawks. Nelson's injury magnifies the collapse in the 2014 NFC Championship Game. NFL teams must capitalize when the opportunity presents itself because there's no guarantee that the roster will be at full strength in the future.

Predicted finish: First place in NFC North, No. 2 in NFC, No. 2 overall in Around The NFL's Power Poll.

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