If I said that this part of the offseason is boring, I'd be understating the facts of the master. Drastically.
There's not much fun at this point in time. Our players have gone home to rest up and do individual work before training camp at the end of July, at which point football season starts in earnest. But until the Packers start moving into St. Norbert's, there's little for us to do here at APC other than making predictions and looking back at 2013. And while neither of these tasks are unworthy of being undertaken, this spare time is an opportunity for us to keep an eye on the teams around us in the Black and Blue Division. Since ranting is almost my official pastime, I've decided to parlay it into a once-a-week editorial/linkfest, offering you, as the title might suggest, the best of the rest of the teams in the division. (And if you caught the rhyme, good for you, sir.) Without further ado...
The Team That's Based In The State Where The Lakers Used To Play
This is clearly bigger than football, and regardless of my feelings on the manner in which Jennings departed Green Bay, he's a class act off the field, as is Larry Fitzgerald, who is also in Tanzania. The men, women, and children he is helping face enormous tribulations on a daily basis. To get water. We can complain all we want about our lack of a good middle linebacker, but at least we're not worried about a life-and-death battle on a daily basis. To get water. A series chronicling the work is airing on the Oprah Winfrey Network. While I'm not necessarily a fan on splurging on a premium package to watch this, it might be worth DVRing if (for whatever reason) you've got the channel anyway.
Due respect to Peterson, Vegas is right to label him as a dark horse at best, despite his phenomenal 2012 season. He's 29 and will be 30 by the next draft. Now, Peterson is no normal running back, that's true. I think an Ancestry.com search would yield a Norse god somewhere in the lineage. At the same time, he's had more wear and tear, both from carries and from injuries, than pretty much anyone else currently considered a top-five running back. His stats weren't all that impressive last year - no, scratch that. They were highly impressive for most running backs. But for Peterson, they were a cut below the usual, and miles below what we knew would be an impossible-to-top 2012 campaign in which All Day literally dragged Minnesota (and something like eight Packers defenders) into the playoffs. It happened once, but especially at a position like running back, it isn't going to happen again.
So what he's saying is that he has no idea who's going to be starting quarterback, so he'll make everyone sound like a starter. In all seriousness, it's a sign of the dark zone that NFL.com believes this to be newsworthy. (I also thought that an article about how Datone Jones was motivated to be the best was unnecessary.) I don't blame Turner for speaking highly of his quarterbacks, and I don't blame NFL.com since there's really nothing else to cover other than Josh Gordon. I guess I blame July. Take that, July.
Even though Gordon was mentioned in Cheese Curds a few days ago, I want to touch on that subject. A Vikings fan over at DN created a FanPost suggesting the possibility of trading for Gordon, and former Vikes great Cris Carter has voiced his opinion on the subject, so it's tangentially related to the Vikings, Yeah, I can make this work! Anyway, I'm not sure what he'd attract if the Browns made him available. On one hand, you have a receiver whose talent might be rivaled by only Calvin Johnson. He's in his prime, he's produced extraordinarily with mediocre QB play, he's dealt with a rugged division, and so on and so forth. If this is Madden, you're probably dangling at least a couple of first-round picks and maybe a player of some value as well. But this isn't a video game, and if the Browns trade away Gordon, the team that acquires him will have to deal with his character issues, a trail that leads all the way back to college. Remember that this guy needed to be entered into the supplementary draft after getting kicked off the Baylor football team. If I'm bullish, I'm betting that a solid locker room causes him to pull a Tyrann Mathieu and play at a high level without any off-field trouble. If I'm remotely on the hot seat, though, Gordon is the player who could make me or break me. This might be a moot point, and the Browns might just give the oh-so-talented wideout a year to recover from what seems to be a litany of issues, but should he get put on the trade block, I think writers across the league will have new and highly exciting material. Speaking of tragic cases...
I agree, if only it means that we can agree to take the Packers-Bengals game off that list. The Vikings-Ravens contest was honestly an epic one, and it set a record for lead changes within the final two minutes. As Tex mentioned, the Packers-Bengals game is really only memorable for the total ineptitude on both sides (it was Christmas in September, as far as turnovers were concerned) and the thirty unanswered points the Pack put up only to let the game slip away on - just guess - another turnover. I'm really not sure why arguably the most back-and-forth game of the season wasn't so much as twentieth. Like every list, the 'Top Games' countdown had its stunning inclusions and glaring omissions. This one fit into the latter category.
The Team That Just Subscribed To Six More Years of Jay Cutler
This article is particularly interesting because the author acknowledged at the beginning of last season that Julius Peppers had very little help around him in Chicago. Corey Wootton was supposed to built on an impressive 2012, but his measly 3 sacks certainly didn't help matters for Peppers. (Wootton, by the way, was signed by the Vikings, while the Bears opted to sign free agents Lamarr Houston, Willie Young and Jared Allen to create a pass rush. In my conversations with fans over at Windy City Gridiron, I often hear that Peppers played unmotivated in 2013, looking like he was 'giving up' on the team. I am prone to believe that having no one around him capable of generating heat on the quarterback didn't help. Peppers' days of serving as a highly effective primary pass rusher are over, and we can't delude ourselves. Perhaps the money that the team is paying to the guy is out of line for his anticipated role. It's definitely possible that the position change and another year of age will have slowed him down further. With guys like Clay Matthews and Mike Daniels around him, however, it's also possible that he becomes a valuable cog, perhaps notching five or six sacks and, more importantly, keeping Clay Matthews from facing eternal double- and triple-teams.
The really interesting part here isn't the article, but the comments section. Bears fans took offense to the Packers being ranked second, and a fellow Packers fan and I responded. The result was a 500-plus comments section and an entertaining read in retrospect. (For best effect, read the threads in order.)
There are definitely aspects of the Bears that work favorably. The team has two big, physical receivers who will likely match up positively against Sherman/Maxwell. I'm not sure that increasing their girth on the defensive line is necessarily a sign that they're ready to match up against Seattle, though. In fact, the Packers have seemed to make a conscious effort to trim down the front, moving Raji back to the center and using Datone Jones and Mike Daniels on either side. The comments section is again an interesting one.
The Home of 'Stompgate'
If you're wondering, 'Tier 1' is comprised of Rodgers, Brady, Manning, Brees and Luck (not necessarily in that order.) Mike Sando has suggested Stafford as the most likely 'Tier 2' candidate to move up. According to an anonymous coach, Stafford was 'raised by wolves' in Detroit. That might be the gem of this article, but there's no doubt that Caldwell could and really should help with Stafford's development. He's got all the physical tools; his weaknesses in the past have included mechanics and being supremely dependent on Calvin Johnson. With Golden "What push-off?" Tate and Eric Ebron offering potential offensive output, however, it's definitely possible (and perhaps expected, based on his contract) to see Stafford move up in the ranks, even if it takes multiple seasons.
So, if the next Josh Gordon was entered into this year's draft, he's waiting for someone to sign him right now. I'm looking at you, Lakendrick Ross. SB Nation compares his story to Michael Oher's, as do his teammates, but he sounds more like a RaShede Hageman-type player to me. Ross is a physical freak who dealt with a tough childhood. Academic eligibility issues kept him out of the May draft. He's also pretty good at basketball. I'd love to have this guy on our team. Make it happen, TT.
The main question mark on this Lions team seems to be its secondary. When the cornerbacks and safeties have got to defend against Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Greg Jennings and Cordarelle Patterson on a frequent basis, it's not a good problem to have. Eric Ebron will certainly help Matt Stafford, but the team is now officially dependent on Rashean Mathis to have another age-defying season. Slay will be matched up against Brandon Marshall, Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings. This should prove to be, y'know, fairly interesting.
Well, that brings our first iteration of "Best of the Rest" to an end. Please sound off in the comments section and let me know what I can do better! Enjoy your week.