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Packers Face Challenging Future in NFC North

In the 20 years of the NFC North, the Packers have 12 division titles and only one last-place finish. The immediate future, however, looks bleak.
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers’ bellyflop from the NFL high-dive was bound to happen sometime. Just not at this time.

After three consecutive seasons of 13 victories, the Packers entered this season on the short list of Super Bowl contenders but are a shocking 4-8 entering Sunday’s game at the rival Chicago Bears. After losing a total of 10 regular-season games during coach Matt LaFleur’s first three seasons, they seem destined to lose at least that many games this season.

Every offseason is a big offseason, but this will be an especially important one for general manger Brian Gutekunst. Rather than trying to put the finishing touches on a Super Bowl contender, as has been the mission, Gutekunst must figure out how to keep the Packers relevant in the NFC North.

This season, the Packers have been exposed for what they’ve been for years: a team only as good as its quarterback. Aaron Rodgers is one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. With his overwhelming dominance in most quarterback vs. quarterback matchups over the years, the Packers have won game after game for season after season.

Whether it’s age – Rodgers will turn 39 on Friday – or the broken thumb, he’s been just another quarterback this year. The defense is surprisingly bad, special teams are typically bad and LaFleur has been unable to navigate the team through stormy seas.

In the NFC North, the Vikings have run away from the pack with their 9-2 record. They aren’t a dominant team – they’ve outscored their opponents by just five points – but they are the team that everyone will be chasing entering next year.

The real problem for Green Bay – and when’s the last time this has been said? – is the rise of the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears.

The Lions are 4-7, their three-game winning streak snapped on Thursday by powerhouse Buffalo. They’ve got a potentially great trio of receivers and a decent base of talent at just about every position.

Last year, the Lions traded franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford to the Rams for a pair of first-round picks. It’s going to be a win-win trade. The Rams won the Super Bowl but have cratered this year with a 3-8 record. As it stands, the No. 3 pick in the 2023 draft is going to belong to Detroit. Along with the Lions’ own pick (currently No. 13), they’re going to be in prime position to add two high-quality players to a solid roster.

The Bears are 3-9 and on track to own the No. 2 pick of the upcoming draft. Second-year quarterback Justin Fields appears to be on the rise, there is additional draft capital after trading linebacker Roquan Smith to Baltimore for second- and fifth-round picks and pass rusher Robert Quinn to the Eagles for a fourth-round pick, and there is money. Lots of money. According to, the Bears won’t just enter the offseason with more cap space than any team in the league, they’ll have almost as much cap space as the next two teams combined.

The Packers, if the season were to end today, would have the eighth pick of the draft. They haven’t had a top-10 pick since B.J. Raji was taken at No. 9 in 2009. They haven’t had a pick in the top five since A.J. Hawk at No. 5 in 2006, the one and only time they finished in last place in the 20-year history of the NFC North.

Finances are the larger issue. According to Over the Cap, the Packers will enter the offseason about $4 million over the salary cap. So, while Chicago will be able to aggressively shop and Detroit will be able to make a move or two, Gutekunst will be scrambling just to keep the status quo.

For Green Bay, the chickens are coming home to roost. They’ve picked toward the bottom of every round for years. They netted only three starters in the 2020 and 2021 drafts. Highlighted by Rodgers’ contract, they’ve pushed millions upon millions of dollars onto future salary caps to win today. Today is over. Tomorrow is coming, and the view from the standings might not be pretty.

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