clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Cautiously Optimistic 2: Trash Fire Conference, Trash Fire Division.

No one knows how good or bad the Packers will be, but we have a pretty solid idea about the conference, and division as a whole.

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Chicago Bears Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports

The Milwaukee Brewers aren’t particularly good. Their starting pitching has been undercut by injuries to Brandon Woodruff and Wade Miley, and Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta are having off years, though Burnes has shown some positive signs of late. Their offense is, by any metric, putrid.

But they’re currently in first place, or close to it, because their division is just a dumpster fire. The one great legacy team, the Cardinals, are experiencing a rare downturn, and the division’s one big market team, the Cubs, refuse to act like a big market team. And so, the Brewers are able to “compete.”

The Packers find themselves in a similar situation, as a member of the weakest division, in one of the weakest conferences in NFL history. If the Packers wanted to try some pragmatic tanking in the hopes of landing Caleb Williams or Drake Maye, they might actually find it difficult to do so. It’s going to be downright difficult to avoid winning several games, and as a result, there’s actually a pretty good chance this team can “compete.”

The baseline for any team starts with their quarterback, and here, the NFC as a conference is frankly amazing in lack of star power. A part of that is due to the departing Aaron Rodgers, yes, but using Ben Baldwin’s DAKOTA, which combines EPA per Play and CPOE into a single metric, the top quarterbacks in the NFC last year were Jalen Hurts (3rd overall), Geno Smith (6th overall), Dak Prescott (7th overall), Jared Goff (8th overall), and Daniel Jones (11th overall). Jimmy Garoppolo would have been 5th with more attempts, but he was hurt.

All credit to Geno Smith for having the season that he did, but I don’t think that, in the grand scheme of things, Hurts/Smith/Dak/Goff stack up that well against Mahomes/Tua/Allen/Burrow. The quality of NFC quarterbacks is quite a bit worse, and while there may be some lingering potential in Justin Fields, Jordan Love, and Bryce Young, as there was with Jalen Hurts, it’s a long shot. Within the division, in addition to Goff’s 9th place finish, Kirk Cousins finished 17th, Rodgers 20th, and Fields 24th.

The NFC North is undergoing a huge transition, and it’s anything but clear who will wind up on top. While the Vikings finished an absurd 13-4 last season, they were actually outscored by 3 points in the aggregate, and set a modern record for their success in one-score games. Overperforming in one score games in one year one of the surest signs of regression the following year, and so the Vikings were in reality a .500 team in wolf’s clothing, but it’s hard to argue that their .500 base is still there. Gone are Adam Thielen (Panthers), Za’Darius Smith (Browns), Dalvin Cook (TBD), Dalvin Tomlinson (Browns), Eric Kendricks (Chargers), Patrick Peterson (Steelers), Cameron Dantzler (Bills), and to make matters worse, they signed Dean Lowry. This looks like a team that’s about to rebuild taking one more crack with Kirk Cousins and Justin Jefferson in a weak division, but there’s no depth, and there’s a real possibility they finish last in the division.

The Lions are seen as the big up-and-comers, and I’m a big believer in offensive coordinator Ben Johnson, but they were 28th in defensive DVOA last season, and second worst to only the Bears in defensive EPA per play last year. That defense is a problem, and it’s hard to say they made any upgrades on that side of the ball. They did spend three early picks on defensive players, but Iowa’s Jack Campbell plays inside linebacker, Alabama safety Brian Branch posted this RAS, and defensive tackle Brodric Martin?

Maybe he helps with the run?

In fairness, they did add corners Emmanuel Moseley and Cameron Sutton, who may help to solidify things in the back end, but not spending any picks on corner in particular, is egregious for a team expecting to take a step forward. The weird trade up for running back Jahmyr Gibbs at 12th overall is the kind of think a cocky juggernaut does. The Lions have too many holes for that.

And then we have the Bears, who brought up the rear last season, and plan to spend this one trying to figure out if Justin Fields is the guy, or not. The Bears are in a similar spot to the Packers with Jordan Love, and will need to figure out if they should contend or tank. I actually like the Bears quite a bit and outside of their trade for Chase Claypool last season, I think they’ve improved from a front office process perspective. I like their draft, their steady improvement along the offensive line, and DJ Moore. All of that said, this was a team rebuilding from scratch that still has plenty of holes, and while Fields has impressed as a runner, there are, so far, no indications that he can be an NFL passer.

There is a good chance that every one of these teams, including the Packers, will be bad. But that huge mass of badness also presents opportunity. If the Packers do have something in Love, there is no reason at all that they can’t be instantly good again. It’s unlikely anyone steps up to stop them. And it’s also not like the division is their only path to the playoffs. While the NFC East is likely to have a few good teams, the NFC South is as bad, and quite possibly worse than the NFC North. Out West, the only team you can actually count on is the Shanahan 49ers (and even they have more issues than usual due to quarterback injuries) as per usual, but unless Matthew Stafford’s elbow heals extremely well, or Geno Smith keeps up his good play, or Arizona has an unprecedented turn around, there aren’t a ton of playoff teams available for the wild cards.

Compounding everything else, the Packers get to play the NFC South (and vice versa), the Rams, the Steelers. They do have the AFC West as well, and have to face the Chiefs and Chargers, and the Giants are well run, but it’s hard to see the schedule being particularly difficult.

Jordan Love couldn’t have a better set-up for success in his first season as a starter, and everyone predicting nothing but doom and gloom for Green Bay needs to take a long look at the rest of the NFC first.