GREEN BAY, Wis. – From the British to the Romans, to the Mongol to the Inca, all the great powers eventually crumble. The same fate will strike the Green Bay Packers.
Of course, those four empires dominated vast swaths of the planet. The Packers with Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers as quarterbacks the past three decades have won two Super Bowls. That’s nothing to sneeze at – ask the Detroit Lions – but the Packers have underachieved from the grand perspective. Since winning the Super Bowl in 2010, Rodgers and Co. lost NFC Championship Games in 2014, 2016, 2019 and 2020, and lost in the divisional round at home as the top seed in 2011 and 2021.
Did last year’s stunning loss to San Francisco spell the end of Green Bay’s time as a championship contender? Our NFC North insiders – Bill Huber of Packer Central, Will Ragatz of Inside the Vikings, Gene Chamberlain of Bear Digest and John Maakaron of All Lions – get you ready for the 2022 NFL season with a 12-piece roundtable discussion. In Part 6 of this series, we focus on each team’s worst-case scenario.
Green Bay Packers: The ‘Dynasty’ Is Dead
Photo: Aaron Rodgers trudges off the field after the playoff loss to the 49ers.
Tom Brady’s hoarding of Lombardi Trophies make Aaron Rodgers seem like a failure with his one Super Bowl win now more than a decade in the rear-view mirror. The 38-year-old Rodgers will go into NFL history as one of the great quarterbacks of all-time, but he’s running out of time to get that coveted second ring.
On paper, with star players at most positions, the 2022 team is going to be really good. But there are some potentially fatal flaws.
Following the trade of Davante Adams, Green Bay has one of the worst receiver corps in the NFL. It will be counting on Sammy Watkins to turn back the clock or one of the draft picks to turn ahead the clock. On third-and-10 in a critical moment of a playoff game, will anyone get open?
David Bakhtiari, the team’s five-time All-Pro left tackle, suffered a torn ACL on New Year’s Eve 2020. He missed almost all of last season – including the playoff loss to the 49ers. The Packers expect him to be ready for Day 1 of training camp, but it’s worth wondering if the soon-to-be 31-year-old will ever return to form. If not, the Packers will have an average (or worse) left tackle with cap charges of $29.1 million in 2023 and $33.1 million in 2024.
The defense could be fantastic but what are the backup plans at outside linebacker, cornerback and safety? Last year’s backups to outside linebackers Rashan Gary and Preston Smith contributed next to nothing. Behind the stud cornerback trio of Jaire Alexander, Rasul Douglas and Eric Stokes, the backups have broken up one pass in the NFL. The candidates to be the top backup to safeties Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage didn’t play a single defensive snap in the NFL last year.
This is the ultimate worst-case scenario: Another season goes down the drain without Rodgers winning a championship and he rides off into the sunset, leaving behind an asinine amount of dead money on the cap. On top of that, Bakhtiari’s career as a high-level player is over.
At this point, a dynasty that never got off the ground has officially crashed and burned. From there, the Jordan Love era begins, the salary-cap credit card comes due and the Packers enter what could be an extended rebuild. Welcome to life as a football fan in Detroit and Chicago, Packers fans.
Minnesota Vikings: Another Losing Season Throws Future Into Question
Photo: Former Packers assistants Mike Smith (center) and Mike Pettine watch Za’Darius Smith (55) at Vikings minicamp.
When the Vikings replaced Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman this offseason with young, collaborative, analytics-friendly leaders in Kevin O'Connell and Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, the new duo had a chance to hit the reset button. They could've traded away aging core players like Adam Thielen and Harrison Smith for draft picks and targeted a rookie quarterback to take over in 2023 when Kirk Cousins hits free agency. That would've been an understandable approach after the Vikings went 15-18 over the last two seasons under the previous regime.
Instead, they decided to run it back with this current core in an effort to contend right away. That meant extending Cousins again, restructuring Thielen and Smith's contracts for cap space, and signing players like Za'Darius Smith.
What if it doesn't work out? Cousins is a career .500 quarterback. The offensive line is still a question mark, particularly on the interior. Dalvin Cook or Thielen or — in a true worst-case scenario — Cousins or Justin Jefferson could get hurt. There's no guarantee this offense is great in O'Connell's first year as a play-caller.
Defensively, losing Zimmer might not be a good thing. How quickly will the personnel effectively transition to the new 3-4 scheme? Minnesota's only two proven pass rushers, Danielle Hunter and Za'Darius Smith, are coming off major injuries. If either misses time, who's going to get to the quarterback? Then there's the secondary, which will likely have a rookie starter at safety to go with an iffy group of cornerbacks led by post-prime Patrick Peterson and the inconsistent Cameron Dantzler.
Another losing season would lead to a lot of questions about the approach taken by the team this offseason — and could lead to a much different approach next offseason, perhaps involving a search for a new quarterback.
Chicago Bears: New Leadership, Same Results
Photo: Jonathan Garvin and Kenny Clark celebrate a sack of Bears quarterback Justin Fields.
The nightmare scenario is the same as everyone else’s, from broadcasters and journalists to NFL analysts and fans outside of Chicago expect: They're going to play like an expansion team.
In many ways they are like one and in this scenaro they win three games.
It's an offensive line with three or four new players on the front. The secondary could be manned by three different players in Tavon Young and rookies Jaquan Brisker and Kyler Gordon. They're relying on cheaper, lesser-known receivers alongside wide receiver Darnell Mooney, much the way expansion teams use spare players drafted from other teams.
They're coached by a new head coach, and quarterback Justin Fields gained very little from starting 10 games in a bad offense last year, so he struggles again with consistency.
The first key for every team defensively is how well they stop the run, and this is an issue for the Bears’ front line with Justin Jones, Trevis Gipson and Angelo Blackson all question marks in a 4-3 front against the run. Robert Quinn hasn't exactly been a strong run-stopper, so expect opponents to come in and mash the Bears defensive front with old-style power running.
The secondary is aiming for more takeaways and think their Cover-2 scheme supports it because it's simple and helps players go faster. While this is true, it's also a simpler scheme for opposing quarterbacks to read.
The Bears have an easier schedule but it's full of teams on their level. Expect them to handle weak opponents like the Texans, Falcons and Jets, but the Lions are rising and a year ahead of the Bears in a rebuild, and the Giants, Falcons, Jets and Texans are among weaker teams the Bears could beat but also lose against.
A 3-14 season would be the pits but, on the other hand, they might wind up with one of the top three picks in the next draft.
Detroit Lions: Slow Start
Jared Goff is sacked and stripped by Rashan Gary last season at Lambeau Field.
With expectations the team will win more games in coach Dan Campbell's second season on the job, the team must take advantage of a favorable schedule.
Detroit has the fifth-easiest schedule as a result of its 3-13-1 record in 2021. The team is scheduled to face the last-place teams from the AFC and NFC South.
If the team struggles out of the gate, supporters will slowly begin to lose hope and start to question if Campbell and Co. are just social-media darlings.
In the first four weeks, Detroit takes on Philadelphia (9-8), Washington (7-10), Minnesota (8-9) and Seattle (7-10), with only the Vikings away from Ford Field. It is fairly reasonable to believe Detroit has an opportunity to win at least two games in the first month of the season.
Should the team start 1-3 or 0-4, it could spell the end of the honeymoon period for Detroit's new regime.
Supporters are looking for any reason to jump off the bandwagon, and a slow start would certainly increase the level of skepticism that typically permeates the organization.
Winning at home to start the season against the Eagles would go a long way to instill confidence the rebuild is headed in the right direction.
NFC North Insiders
Get ready for the 2022 NFL season with our 12-part NFC North Insiders series, with stories running every Saturday and Sunday until training camp.
Part 3: Most overrated player for each team.
Part 4: Most underrated player for each team.
Part 5: Best-case scenarios
Countdown to Packers Training Camp