Updated: September 2, 2012, 1:40 PM ET
Brace Hemmelgarn/US Presswire JOHN CLAYTON QB RANKING (1): Aaron Rodgers was an easy choice for MVP in 2011 (4,643 passing yards, 45 TDs). He has a 131-37 TD-INT ratio in four years as the Packers' starter.

Expert Picks (Consensus: first)

Intelligence Report

Five things you need to know about the Packers:

1. Rodgers factor: No matter what else is happening around them, the Packers can take solace in knowing they have the NFL's best player on their team. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the reigning MVP, is 28 and entering the prime of his career. Everything the Packers are doing revolves around maximizing their window with him behind center. One way that has manifested itself: General manager Ted Thompson dipped several times into the free-agency waters to find immediate help from players he previously would not have considered adding to his draft-and-development program, from center Jeff Saturday to tailback Cedric Benson.

2. Running game: The Packers took a calculated risk in counting on James Starks as their primary tailback entering training camp. Starks has never been able to stay healthy dating to his college career, and a turf toe injury in the first week of the preseason set in motion a series of events that brought Benson to the roster. It wouldn't be surprising if Benson were the Packers' leading rusher in 2012. The Packers aren't about to rebalance their offense away from the passing game, but they had hoped to get more explosive plays from their running game. Benson is a good runner, but he doesn't bring a high threat to routinely break the line of scrimmage.

3. Line consistency: For the first time since Mike McCarthy became the head coach, the Packers opened training camp with their offensive line set. There were no competitions, and the Packers have combined a nice mix of experience and youth. Guards Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang, along with right tackle Bryan Bulaga, are long-term starters. Left tackle Marshall Newhouse is on his way toward becoming the same. An early-summer concussion, however, made clear the Packers don't have much in the way of depth behind Newhouse -- a scary proposition for securing Rodgers' safety.

4. Pass-rush elevation: Linebacker Clay Matthews declared midway through camp that the pass rush was back to 2010 standards after a concerted effort to add juice through new players. Two rookies, linebacker Nick Perry and defensive lineman Jerel Worthy, are among the players the Packers hope will help reach that goal. Overall, the Packers' defense will probably use four rookies in its rotation -- Perry, Worthy, cornerback Casey Hayward and safety Jerron McMillian -- at some point this season.

5. Woodson's role: After much offseason consternation, we learned that future Hall of Famer Charles Woodson will probably spend 25-30 percent of his time as a safety this season and the rest as a nickel cornerback. The move will give the Packers an extra cover man when they are in their base defense but isn't a dramatic change from what we've seen in recent years.

-- Kevin Seifert, ESPN.com

Inside The Numbers

Ever since his nine-reception, 140-yard breakout performance in Super Bowl XLV, Jordy Nelson has been a favorite target of Aaron Rodgers. In 2011, the duo flashed big-play production, especially after Greg Jennings' Week 15 injury. Nelson had 17 catches for 306 yards in the last three games of the season.

Nelson, whose rookie year was Rodgers' first as starter, has developed a strong chemistry with his quarterback. When Rodgers targeted Nelson last season, the pass was completed 75.6 percent of the time. Among quarterback-wide receiver duos with 50 attempts, only two tandems were better (Christian Ponder-Percy Harvin, Drew Brees-Marques Colston).

Nelson was Rodgers' favorite target on deep throws last season as well, with the QB targeting Nelson on 17 throws more than 20 air yards downfield. Rodgers was 13-of-17 (76.5 percent) when targeting Nelson, but completed just 50 percent of his attempts (17-of-34) to all other Packers receivers.

• Including playoffs, James Starks averaged a 20-plus-yard run once every 23.2 rushes, the eighth-best rate among running backs with 100 rushes last season. The rest of the Packers had two 20-plus-yard runs on 195 rushes.

• The Packers averaged a sack once every 34.3 drop backs when rushing four or fewer defenders last season, the third-worst rate in the NFL. The league average on such pass rushes was a sack once every 18.8 drop backs.

-- ESPN Stats & Information


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