After a long off-season of a heart-wrenching combination of hype and hand-wringing, the rubber finally met the road this past weekend (if you consider Thursday to be the weekend like me (which is one reason of 100 that I don’t drink anymore)). Speaking of 100, the 100th season of the NFL kicked off on Thursday night and the NFL pulled out all the stops, putting together a relatively intriguing and exciting match-up for the general NFL fan, and a particularly intriguing one for the purple faithful in the Chicago Bears vs. Green Bay Packers.
The outcome of that game was anything but exciting (although it was intriguing, albeit for different reasons), though, as both teams struggled on offense, which may seem surprising to some that pegged the Packers as the best team in the NFL to start the season (see below). However, for those of not stuck in a time-loop in 2014, the outcome came as no surprise as some of us have been saying for a while that not only are the Packers, not a contender this season but that Aaron Rodgers just isn’t “Aaron Rodgers” (a la 2014) anymore.
I actually started writing this article Friday but got distracted (as I often do), and instead wanted to wait until we saw the outcome of the Vikings game to state the above/obvious, as initially,I wanted to write about the Vikings being the class of the NFC North. I’ve said all off-season (while knocking on wood until my knuckles bled) that the Vikings are the team to beat in the division this season. Now, that should go without saying after this weekend’s festivities, and honestly, in my opinion, shouldn’t have been that earth-shattering before week 1.
I say that aggressively because for reasons I can’t begin to fathom, national NFL writers have been enamored with the “New Look” Green Bay Packers and multiple respected outlets had them as the top team in the entire NFL going into Thursday night, and as I prepared to write that article it dawned on me that I really needed to verbalize something I’ve been feeling for a while and that’s that the reason the pre-season lauding of the Packers irritates me most (outside of the fact that it’s the Packers) is that it’s based on nothing, like a mortgage loan in the mid-aughts. The Packers haven’t been good in a while, and while there’s a lot of reasons for that, the reality is that they’ve always been as good as Rodgers and he’s just not the quarterback he once was.
There’s a lot of statistical and anecdotal data and proof to back up that claim. But the NFL and the people that follow it LOVE “Elite” quarterbacks, so I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that multiple sites yet again picked the Pack to win the division/NFC Championship Game. I’m not just talking about bettings sites like https://promocodeusa.com/ , that take into account the sentiment of the betting public when making their lines, but other sites that focus on the written (and spoken) word (like CBSsports.com) also were really into the Packers.
Now, the author of the piece on CBSSports.com did start his article by pointing out that it’s become a running joke that he always “pick[s] the Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots to play in the Super Bowl every year”. So at least he’s aware of his bias, but considering all the question marks on both sides of the ball the Packers had and have, as well as the fact that this is the first complete offensive overhaul in Aaron Rodgers’ career (… AND he also didn’t play in the pre-season), you’d think that he’d have started them a bit lower until the Pack have time to figure things out? And that’s above and beyond how mediocre to subpar the Packers have been in recent years.
I mean, even the General Manager of the Packers Brian Gutekunst (there’s a joke in there somewhere) was attempting to temper expectations for the start of the season when he said, and I’m paraphrasing here, that people should wait until mid-season to assess the Packers as they really won’t know what they have or where they’re at until then. So, with that, I’m sure we’ll hear that the Packers still won and that Rodgers is “figuring things out”. But, I think the issues go MUCH deeper than that.
Now, his is just a relatively convoluted way for me to show that really the only reason that people perpetually picked the Packers as a (lazy) Super Bowl favorite coming out of the NFC is that they’re lead by Aaron Rodgers. Now, as much as I dislike the Packers and Aaron Rodgers generally, I’m not SO biased that I can’t see that Rodgers once was the best quarterback in the NFL. Even other elite quarterbacks like Tom Brady have (recently) said that Rodgers is/was on another level, with Brady saying essentially that if the Patriots had Rodgers at the helm he’d throw for “7,000 yards a season“.
I don’t want to spend a ton of time picking apart that one statement but I do feel like it’s a good example of this perpetuation of the idea of “Aaron Rodgers”. It’s doesn’t take a rocket scientist (or the Green Bay version of a rocket scientist which’d be… A Cheese factory foreman?) to point out that that statement doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
Sure, Brady was probably just being humble, but what has made Brady (and the Patriots as a whole this century) so legendary is that he’s been able to maintain a high level of success despite having a rotating cast of (mostly otherwise mediocre) skill-players around him. Sure, he has Antonio Brown now and had those years with Randy Moss, but still, he’s mostly elevated the guys around him (and I’m not just talking about in terms of Fantasy Football).
Oh yeah, he’s also had the greatest coach in the history of the NFL in Bill Belichick while Rodgers had Mike McCarthy. That’s fair, but Rodgers clearly succeeded with McCarthy at one point and that’s the point, that under similar-to-same circumstances (or as close as you can get in the NFL), Rodgers has gone from elite to just okay.
Case in point… A lot of people pointed out that 2018 was Rodgers’ worst year statistically since his rookie season, but the mediocrity extends much further back than that. In fact, outside of the stretch of games in 2016 where Rodgers and the Pack made a run that ended in a blowout loss in the NFC Championship game to the Atlanta Falcons, he’s been remarkably blah for the past four seasons. As an article by Rob Reischel on Forbes.com points out; Rodgers (who is the NFL’s all-time regular-season passer rating leader (103.1)) has “only” surpassed a QB-rating of 100 in 40% of his last 50 regular-season games, which means that he’s done that in 20 out of 50 games.
Rodgers and the Pack went 25-24-1 in those 50 games, which showed the obvious, that the Packers success is tied to Rodgers’ performance. For comparison’s sake, between 2009 and 2014, he topped a 100 rating in 62.1% of the 88 games over that span and had a streak of 12 games in which he topped that rating in each contest. The Pack also went 65-23 in those games (a nearly 75% win percentage), winning the Super Bowl in 2010 (with Rodgers winning the MVP in 2011 and 2014) and were perennial Super Bowl favorites coming out of the NFC (which, I know, hasn’t changed much, but at least back then it was based on results).
So, while football is a team game and the leadership in Green Bay arguably has wasted Rodgers’ talent with insane decisions like running an NFL team without bringing in any free agents, the theory that the Packers are always a contender because Rodgers is still this elite-entity that like Tom Brady can make a run each season regardless of what surrounds him, is clearly no longer the case.
Before you send me death threats Packers fans, realize that I got some of the above narratives from your online griping. During the waning years of the McCarthy/Thompson era, fans in Wisconsin were basically saying what I just did, that it’s a shame that a quarterback of Rodgers’ “quality” had “only” one Super Bowl win to show for all of his years in the NFL. So, I do think that it’d be a bridge too far to not include the nonsense that was McCarthy/Thompson in that era, but at the same time, it’s not like Rodgers was playing impeccably while the Packers’ maligned defense lost games for him/them, either.
I am sure that some will say that as the Vikings saw in 2018, a quarterback without a decent offensive line can’t do much and the Packers have had the 23rd, 11th, 28th, and 21st “best” lines over those four seasons. But, they also had the 30th-ranked pass-blocking offensive line in 2009, the 21st in 2010, 23rd in 2011 and so on. So, it’s not as if Rodgers hasn’t overcome these things in the past either by putting up obscene stats or by, you know, winning games.
Those offensive line rankings also are contingent on stats like sacks allowed. It was widely reported in 2018 that Rodgers struggled with both accuracy and holding onto the ball too long, the latter of which lead to him being sacked almost 50 times (the fifth-highest number in the NFL and the type of thing that hurts O-line rankings (Yes, those things are tied to one another both ways, but the point is that Rodgers has at least some fault across the board). His 2018 completion percentage (62.3%) was the second-lowest of his career and he also had wonky mechanics (namely throwing off of his back foot more than he used to), some of which had to be tied to pressure, but again, he’s done amazing things with worse lines.
Tie Thursday Night’s “win” into the fold, a game/performance that was the impetus for the following quotes from Rodgers:
“Obviously I missed a couple throws”
“I told (head coach Matt LaFleur) I’m going to be a lot better moving forward”
and perhaps you see where I’m coming from?
Against the Bears, Rodgers looked a lot more like the Rodgers of the past few seasons than the MVP(s)-era Rodgers. Perhaps it’s the “new offense” that have people thinking that vintage Rodgers will come back with a vengeance, riding a golden stallion made of cheese. But if Thursday night was any indication, the Vikings have nothing to worry about Sunday or the rest of the season (at least as far as things from Green Bay are concerned (as long as things don’t come down to a field goal Sunday… Or three)) and really, neither do most decent teams in the NFL.