For my money, the Green Bay Packers are unquestionably the most fascinating team in the NFL right now.
If we’ve learned anything over the past decade-plus about the Pack, with a healthy Aaron Rodgers they are a legit playoff contender almost irrespective of who they line up with him ... or at least they were from 2009 through 2016, making eight straight playoff appearances and winning one Super Bowl.
In none of those seasons were they the most talented team in the league.
Rodgers was supported by a few, true superstars like Charles Woodson, Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers, and a few other really good receivers, including Jordy Nelson, Greg Jennings, Donald Driver and Randall Cobb.
But for the most part, as Rodgers went so went the Pack.
And things haven’t gone all that well over the past two seasons, in which Rodgers has put up very good numbers by mortal quarterbacking standards while missing nine games with a bum shoulder in 2017 and playing all season with a bad wheel in 2018, but noticeably below his own standards in part because of injuries and in part because of the mediocre supporting cast around him.
Then there was the massive expose from Bleacher Report surrounding Rodgers and his now-departed head coach – the only head coach he has known in Green Bay – Mike McCarthy.
Some believe the story left McCarthy a failed head coach in spite of one of the best head coaching records in NFL history, and some believe it showed Rodgers to be a coach-killing pox upon Packer nation, and still, many see it as questionable reporting and much ado about something, but very little.
So are the 2019 Packers stronger contenders for the NFC North title or its basement?
Much of the focus is on rookie head coach Matt LaFleur and how he will handle Rodgers, but I believe that’s a mistake.
Whatever the truth is about the McCarthy-Rodgers tandem, together they carried the second most successful team in the NFL, trailing only the untouchable Patriots.
Where the spotlight belongs is on the possibility this is one of the least talented groups Rodgers has had to work with since accepting his scepter from Brett Favre.
Davante Adams is a stud at wideout, but he and Rodgers are the only players close to the realm of death and taxes on the current roster.
Adams is joined by promising but completely unknown entities in Geronimo Allison, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Equanimeous St. Brown, J'Mon Moore, Jake Kumerow and Trevor Davis. Jimmy Graham is a shadow of himself at tight end, where Marcedes Lewis has become a journeyman and third-round rookie Jace Sternberger is just a prospect.
Likewise, Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams and Dexter Williams are interesting but still unproven over a full season at running back.
On the O-line, David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga are one of the best pairs of bookend tackles in the league but are rarely healthy enough to be on the field together, and on the interior, Corey Linsley is a “nice,” center while guards Lane Taylor and Billy Turner are about as average as it gets.
There is a ton more of the same on defense, where Kenny Clark is really good and Mike Daniels can be when healthy, but other than that you find a lot of hopes and dreams.
Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith and Adrian Amos are average football players that second-year GM Brian Gutekunst paid like stars in free agency because he thinks they can become them — moves which are great if they work out but based on recent NFL history are just as likely to have him looking for work elsewhere soon.
This is a team loaded with prospects, and if a high percentage hit, and Rodgers can be Rodgers again for the first time since 2016, they will contend.
But based on what we “know” today, this is a roster not nearly as talented as the Bears and Vikings and only the “Rodgers factor” ranks them ahead of the Lions in the division.
I’d bet on Rodgers’ talent if it wasn’t just common sense to bet against his personality.
I can’t wait to see how this story unfolds.