This article is part of a series previewing the 2018-2019 NFL season where we will cover quick notes on all 32 NFL teams, favorite potential storylines, win-loss predictions, the playoff picture, and my picks to compete in Super Bowl LIII.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers are the Steelers of the NFC. When Aaron Rodgers is healthy, you can pencil them into a playoff spot. Tom Brady is considered to be the best quarterback in the NFL, but from a raw talent perspective, Rodgers is unlike any other quarterback we have ever seen. When Rodgers is in the lineup, the Packers can beat anyone around the league, no matter who else is on the roster. When he is out, the team does not stand much of a chance– last season being the prime example. Rodgers received the richest contract in NFL history on Wednesday, averaging $33.5 million a season over four years with $98.2 million of it being guaranteed. The pressure is now on Rodgers. The team has also gone through a major shakeup in the front office, with general manager Brian Gutekunst taking over for the long tenured Ted Thompson. The Packers traditionally have not pursued major free agents in the past, but with a new regime, they decided to dip their foot in the water, signing TE’s Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis, DE Muhammad Wilkerson, and brought back veteran CB Tramon Williams. The Packers are also coming back fully healthy in 2018, something the team struggled with beyond Rodgers last season.
Rodgers is the man that runs the rodeo, but the big guys up front, when healthy, give him an ample amount of time to mosey along the pocket until one of his targets gets open. LT David Bakhtiari and RT Brian Bulaga are both returning from injury and are one of the best tackles duos in football, and center Corey Linsley and LG Lane Taylor are consistent performers up the middle. The running back by committee strategy has always been utilized in Green Bay, and that will continue to be the case in 2018 with the trio of Jamaal Williams, Aaron Jones, and Ty Montgomery all getting touches throughout the game. WR DaVante Adams will officially replace long time Packer Jordy Nelson as Rodgers top target and hope to get Randall Cobb back to form after an off year in 2017. The X-factor to this offense will be Graham. Rodgers loves throwing to his tight ends, even when the talent is not necessarily there. Former Packer Jermichael Finley was the closest thing Rodgers has had to an elite tight end, but his career was shortened by injuries. Graham could flourish in his partnership with Rodgers and could send Graham to his sixth Pro Bowl.
Ever since the Packers Super Bowl victory over the Steelers in 2009, the Packers have not been able to get back to the big game. A major contributor to that has been the underwhelming defense. I think this is the year that all changes. Defensive line has three studs with DE Mike Daniels, DT Kenny Clark, and Wilkerson. Linebackers Nick Perry and Clay Matthews are returning healthy after dealing with injuries for most of 2017. The loss of MLB Jake Ryan hurts, but now it is time for Blake Martinez to take command of the middle of the defense. The kryptonite of the Packers in the previous couple seasons has been the secondary, and I believe this has become a strength of this team. The cornerback room has talent all over the place. The team used their first two picks in the 2018 draft to select CB’s Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson to add to second year corner Kevin King and veteran Williams. With FS HaHa Clinton-Dix roaming in the back of the defense, and a great pass rush up front, it will be hard for teams to pass all over the Packers like in previous years (the most recent example being the NFC Championship two years ago when the team was shit-pumped by the Atlanta Falcons).
Aaron Rodgers is arguably the most talented quarterback we have ever seen, but not even he can win a Super Bowl if the defense cannot make stops. This year’s defense Is the closest thing to the 2009 Super Bowl winning squad, and barring injuries, this Packer squad should be able to sneak into a loaded NFC playoff race.
Favorite Potential Storyline: Aaron Rodgers and Danica Patrick break up during the season, Rodgers loses the next game after the news breaks, and the Big J journalists all wonder if Rodgers love life is a distraction for him off the field. Would be a cool story that would generate all sorts of shitty click bait.
Prediction: 11-5 (2nd in NFC North, 5th Seed in NFC Playoffs)
Was there a more Viking way for the Vikings season to end last year than winning the NFC Divisional playoff on a fluky touchdown on the last play of the game against the New Orleans Saints, and then go to Philadelphia the next week and get completely smoked with a chance to play in the first home Super Bowl in NFL history. They got one of the biggest breaks in league history but could not get past the Eagles without their starting quarterback. So Vikings it hurts. But good news Vikings fans—you have the most complete roster in the NFL going into 2018.
The Vikings were led by Case Keenum last season, and despite his career season, the team decided to go all out on former Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins, giving him a three-year, $84 million deal, fully guaranteed. NFL players rarely get a fully guaranteed deal, but it is also rare for a franchise quarterback to hit free agency (the Redskins continue to Redskin). Cousins is expected to be the piece to push the Vikings over the top into the Super Bowl, and there is no reason why they could not accomplish this. Cousins never had the kind of supporting cast in Washington that he now has in Minnesota. The Vikings have two Pro Bowl receivers in Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, one of the most dependable tight ends in the league in Kyle Rudolph, and a potential star at running back in Dalvin Cook, who is returning from an ACL injury. The Vikings have an insurance policy at running back with Latavius Murray, and if the team can get anything out of former first-round pick WR Laquon Treadwell, Cousins is going to have a field day against opposing defenses. The potential pitfall of this entire season in Minnesota are the guys up front protecting Cousins. The front office emphasized the offensive line in the 2017 offseason, adding LT Reilly Reiff and RG Mike Remmers in free agency, and drafting center Pat Elflein. The unit improved from 2016 to 2017, but not by much. The Vikings were a fringe top ten offense in 2017, but if the offensive line can play well enough to not be a liability, new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo should be able to mesh all these pieces into a top six to seven offense. That is a scary thought given that the defense is going to be stacked once again.
The Vikings defense was the glue of the franchise last season, ranking first in total yards allowed per game, and points allowed per game. This same defense returns everyone from 2017, and added free agent DT Sheldon Richardson, and safety George Iloka, who was recently cut from the Bengals. The team also used their 2018 first round draft pick on CB Mike Hughes, who slid due to off-the-field concerns but has the talent to be the best cornerback to come out of this class. This defense has the potential to go down as one of the best this century, and I do not think that is an over exaggeration. The defensive line of DE Everson Griffin, DE Danielle Hunter, DT Linval Joseph, and Richardson is the best overall group in the league. LB’s Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr are Pro Bowl caliber players. SS Harrison Smith is the best player at his position, and his counterpart, FS Anthony Sendejo, is looking to make football violent again, so you have got to appreciate his passion I guess. The only position group that is a cause for concern is the secondary, and that is a reach. CB Xavier Rhodes is one of the best lockdown 1 on 1 corners in the game, and the team can throw out Trae Waynes, Mackenzie Alexander, old man Terrence Newman, or Hughes to fill out the rest of the lineup. There are no major holes, and no reason to think the Vikings do not rank in the top three in the categories they led the league in last year.
I wrote a blog a few months back trying to decipher which sports franchise that has not won a championship in the past 20 years has the best chance to win next after the Washington Capitals ended their drought (do not know if you can call it that if they never won before, but a conversation for another day) by winning the Stanley Cup this year. The Vikings were my choice in the NFL, and this might be the year they break through. Defense wins championships, and when you can pair a great defense with a top ten offense, and a great coaching staff, that is a hard combination to deny. This is the Minnesota Vikings though, so who knows what is going to happen. One thing is for sure though, the Vikings are going to win a lot of games in 2018. We will see what happens in January and if they’re lucky, February.
Favorite Potential Storyline: Cousins starts to shit the bed early, and the Vikings fans curse his name, starting “We Want Keenum!” chants from the stands. Cousins has never been respected in his NFL career after being RGIII’s backup plan, and it would only be fitting for the team that gave his $84 million guaranteed to hate his guts. That are what sports is all about.
Prediction: 13-3 (1st in NFC North, 2nd Seed in NFC Playoffs)