For nearly 30 years, the Green Bay Packers have been the rulers of the NFC North. Since 1993, there have been just seven instances in which the Packers didn’t finish at the top of the division or clinch a Wild Card berth. In each of the three years Matt LaFleur has been their head coach, Green Bay has won 13 games and finished the regular season in familiar territory—atop their division. But that could change this year thanks to the Minnesota Vikings.
It’s an impressive feat considering how hard it is to have sustained success of that level in the NFL. To that end, even during this impressive stretch that goes back to 1993, the Packers have never won their division more than four years straight. Is there a team that can knock Green Bay off of their perch, even after these last three incredibly successful years?
There’s a reason it’s so hard to sustain success year after year in the NFL. Aging players can play a role. So can expiring contracts, coaching changes and even a rising level of competition as divisional rivals make their own roster improvements.
The Packers have already seen a big change come their way this offseason, as star receiver Davante Adams headed to Las Vegas to reunite with his college quarterback. Though the Packers were able to negotiate a new contract with quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay will still have to face the challenges that come with the departure of a key player in their offense.
Receivers Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb are back, and the Packers added Sammy Watkins in free agency along with drafting three receivers. Considering how big a part Adams played in Green Bay’s success, the new receivers on the roster will have to try to fill some very big shoes.
Green Bay’s defense saw some key departures as well this offseason. Their 2020 sack leader, edge rusher Za’Darius Smith, left the team but stayed within the division by signing with Minnesota. Cornerback Chandon Sullivan did the same, and defensive tackle Kingsley Keke signed with the Cardinals.
Looking elsewhere in the division, there isn’t a high level of competition for the top of the NFC North. The Bears have a brand new coaching staff and general manager, a second-year quarterback and some big roster questions on both sides of the ball with receiver Allen Robinson and edge rusher Khalil Mack gone. The Lions, despite being candidates to take a leap forward this season, are still very much in a rebuilding stage and won’t be competing for that divisional title just yet.
That leaves the Vikings with the best chance to dethrone the Packers from their active, three-year streak as champions of the NFC North.
Minnesota’s made some nice moves so far this offseason, even besides those aforementioned acquisitions of former Packers. They brought back cornerback Patrick Peterson and added edge rusher Jordan Hicks and defensive tackle Harrison Phillips to their defensive front. In the draft, they further improved their secondary with safety Lewis Cine in the first round and cornerback Andrew Booth Jr. just 10 picks later.
Offensively, the Vikings didn’t make any splash free agent acquisitions, but they didn’t really have to. Wide receivers Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen and K.J. Osborn make up one of the best starting receiving trios in the NFL, running back Dalvin Cook is one of today’s best backs and quarterback Kirk Cousins has performed exactly how the Vikings have hoped he would.
Still, Minnesota drafted some depth on the offensive line with guard Ed Ingram and tackle Vederian Lowe. Later in the draft, they added skill depth with running back Ty Chandler, receiver Jalen Nailor and tight end Nick Muse.
Also of note is the addition of Sean McVay disciple and offensive guru Kevin O’Connell as head coach after their former head coach, Mike Zimmer, led the 2021 Vikings to a disappointing 8-9 finish in his final season.
On paper, especially defensively, it looks like the Vikings are a better team than they were last year. At the same time, the Packers, at least offensively, look weaker. Considering the frustratingly mediocre season Minnesota is coming off — all but one loss were by one score—and the changes they’ve made to their coaching staff and roster, they’re bound to improve on their 8-9 record in 2022.
Whether it’ll be enough to take home a divisional title is too hard to say for certain before the Vikings and Packers have even played a game. Green Bay could still be great with Rodgers and without Adams. But if there’s any team in the NFC North that has a chance at dethroning Rodgers and the Packers, it’s the Vikings.
- Jun 22, 2022
- Jun 22, 2022