The Green Bay Packers have stood atop the NFC North/Central for the better part of the last 25 years. With back to back Hall of Fame quarterbacks in Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay has been the preseason favorite to win the division in most every season since early in the Bill Clinton Presidency, and they’ve made the post-season an incredible 19 times since 1993, winning the division 12 times.
But after watching them lose to Seattle 27-24 last night, it feels like the Green Bay dynasty is close to the end. Rodgers, who signed a $100 million extension, is going to be 36, and doesn’t seem to be the incredible Aaron Rodgers of days gone by. He still makes ridiculously amazing throws, but I came across this tweet earlier from NFL analyst Ross Tucker, and it’s a remarkably accurate description of Rodgers lately:
Last night perfectly encapsulated Aaron Rodgers career:— Ross Tucker (@RossTuckerNFL) November 16, 2018
Makes the spectacular look routine but too often doesn't make the routine play.
Rodgers still ‘wows’ you (or makes you curse if you’re a Vikings/Bears/Lions fan) with remarkable throws, like his 54 yard ‘how the hell did that happen’ TD throw to 28th string TE Robert Tonyan. But take a closer look at what Rodgers does, or doesn’t do anymore. He had trouble completing screen passes last night, he held onto the ball and took sacks he never used to take, and he flat out missed a couple of guys who were wide open. His mobility is now an issue, and it’s fair to wonder if that won’t be more the norm than the exception moving forward.
In short, he’s not Aaron Rodgers anymore, at least not this year, and he’s only getting older. The supporting cast around him has seemingly gotten weaker, too. Outside of Davante Adams, who is a legitimate star, his receiving corps is just okay. They might have a really good RB in Aaron Jones, but the Packers coaching staff ignores him for large chunks of time and does more to take him out of a game than any opposing defense has done.
Speaking of defense and coaching, Mike McCarthy seems to be on the way out, and the Green Bay defense can’t stop anyone on the ground. Their secondary has improved, but they gave up big plays at the worst time. At 4-5-1, the Packers will most like miss the playoffs for the second year in a row, which is something that hasn’t happened since the 2005-06 seasons. And with all the talk about McCarthy getting fired, and the subsequent personnel and assistant coaching moves that happen in the wake of a coach getting fired, it feels like the Packers will be undergoing some wholesale changes in the off-season.
So if the King is Dead (long live the King) for now, who takes the reigns atop the NFC North? Since this is a Vikings blog, you probably think you know what I’m going to say, but I’m going to throw a bit of a curveball.
No, I don’t know for certain that it will be the Vikings. I’d like to believe that, because VIkings GM Rick Spielman has built a fantastic roster, top to bottom, and they are primed for a really good run for the next 4-5 years. He hired a great coach in Mike Zimmer, and the Vikings have a balanced team, with both sides of the ball able to compete with the best the NFL has to offer.
But Bears GM Ryan Pace has done a very good job of rebuilding their roster, and the Bears and Vikings seem like remarkably similar teams to me. On offense, they have QB’s that have shown great talent but leave questions about whether or not they’re the real deal, and the lines are both in a state of flux with key injuries. I would argue the Vikings have a better receiving corps and can throw the ball more effectively, but the Bears can move the ball better on the ground (although a lot of that has to do with Dalvin Cook being injured, I think).
On defense, these teams seem to be the mirror image of one another. The Bears have the best defense in the NFL, and the Vikings are right there. Take out that Rams debacle (I know, I know, you can’t) and the Vikings are the best statistical defense in the NFL again, which has become commonplace under Zimmer. And since that Rams game, they’re playing like it again. I think the Vikings have the edge on the defensive line, Khalil Mack gives the Bears the edge at linebacker, but overall, the front sevens are about as evenly matched as there is. Same for the secondaries, but the Bears are better at taking the ball away than the Vikings are.
Heck, even Kody Parker missed four kicks for the Bears last week, so neither team trusts their kicker right now, although Dan Bailey has me feeling a lot better these days.
I’ll be honest here—even with the Mack trade, I thought the Bears were still a year away, and all of that depended on the development of Mitchell Trubisky. I’m still not sold on him, but his play has improved dramatically in 2018, and for all the credit Ryan Pace gets in the roster rebuild, hiring Matt Nagy to develop Trubisky could prove to be his best move.
But here we are. The Vikings have won two of the last three division titles, have the more experienced team, and were the pre-season pick by a lot of folks to win the division, if not go all the way to the Super Bowl. Yet the Bears sit at 6-3 and are atop the division, with an opportunity to make a statement to the country Sunday Night. The winner takes an inside track to the NFC North title Sunday night, with the loser scoreboard watching and hoping for redemption in week 17.
As to Detroit in all of this? Sorry, I’m not sitting up straight as I write this, nor am I respecting their process. When the coach looks like a laid off UAW worker and acts like the know it all dumbass at the end of the bar, they can’t be taken seriously. Matt Patricia is an evolving disaster in Detroit, and it looks like that hire will set them back for several years.
As to the Vikings and the Bears, the only thing I know for sure? The division has been rerouted from Green Bay for the time being, and I think that’s something both Bears and Vikings fans can appreciate.