In the past 10 years, Green Bay hasn’t had much to worry about in making the playoffs – they’ve won the division five out of seven times from 2010 through 2016. That’s ancient history now.
It’s a dark purple cloud that hangs over Green Bay and its near future. The Minnesota Vikings have gone in the space of a year from a coming-of-age team to a dominant force in the NFL. I don’t expect the Packers to be favored to win the division for at least the next three years. Several of those recent Packers teams that won the NFC North, despite being little better than average, would not make the playoffs at all in the coming years.
Never mind, for now, the Vikings’ offense. Their defense is among the league’s best. Statistically, it is the league’s best. Their players are still young and getting better, and it has no obvious weaknesses.
The Packers’ present roster isn’t equipped to score points against the Vikings’ defense. Back on October 15, without Aaron Rodgers, the Packers could manage only 227 yards and 10 points. Then on December 23, at home and again without Rodgers, the Packers totaled 236 yards and no points.
In week 2 of 2016, with a healthy Rodgers, the Packers still only gained 263 yards and scored only 14 points. Three months later, Green Bay broke through for 348 yards and 38 points – though the Vikings outgained the Packers by 98 yards. It took one of Rodgers’ finest games – and a 136.6 passer rating – to get this one win out of the last four contests versus Minnesota.
Vikings’ defenders who have been named to the Pro Bowl in the past few years are: LB Anthony Barr (2015-17); DE Everson Griffen (2015-17); DT Linval Joseph (2016); S Harrison Smith (2015-16); and CB Xavier Rhodes (2016-17). Their respective ages are 25, 30, 29, 28, and 27, so they’re not going anywhere for a while.
In 2017, the Packers had no receiver, including tight ends, who displayed game-breaking ability or were close to all-star status. Their running game consisted essentially of two rookies drafted in the mid-rounds – they aren’t about to strike fear in Vikings’ defenders.
You might have watched the Vikings miraculous win over the Saints on Sunday, which advances them to the NFC Championship game. Drew Brees and his offense, second-ranked in the NFL, managed to score 24 points after going scoreless in the first half. Even so, they were aided by a Case Keenum interception and a blocked Vikings’ punt. It took pinpoint passing by Brees to almost win the game, as the Vikings’ coverage was tight throughout the game.
Green Bay, and in particular new GM Brian Gutekunst, faces a daunting task in late April. They don’t just need to draft well and wisely, they need to select some players who can play and make a difference right away. To have much of a chance of scoring against Minnesota, Aaron Rodgers needs both a new wide receiver and a tight end who are ready to play from week 1.
The only other option is to pick up one or two very good free agent receivers. I expect them to try to do this – and to release either Jordy Nelson or Randall Cobb to make money available under the salary cap for such signings.