Packers’ hopes, J.C. Jackson injury, NFL power rankings and more


Despite losing Davante Adams this offseason, the Green Bay Packers might well be the NFC’s best with a stifling defense and Aaron Rodgers.

Not one man does a team make. The Green Bay Packers are out to prove the notion true.

In March, Green Bay shockingly traded All-Pro receiver Davante Adams to the Las Vegas Raiders for first- and second-round picks. The void left by Adams is yet to be filled, with general manager Brian Gutekunst deciding on youth in rookies Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs, and veteran flier Sammy Watkins.

Still, Green Bay’s receivers are underwhelming. Full of long-term potential with ample short-term questions.

And for some reason, myriad pundits are allowing themselves to believe the Packers are sunk without Adams. Due respect given, they’ll be fine.

Green Bay has a two-time reigning MVP in Aaron Rodgers under center, and his offensive line is terrific. With the pending return of left tackle David Bakhtiari, the Packers will soon have a sturdy group including guard Elgton Jenkins, center Josh Myers and rookie right tackle Zach Tom. At running back, Green Bay has an elite tandem in Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon.

But most importantly — outside of Rodgers, of course — is the defense. Gutekunst has loaded up with that unit, investing an incredible seven first-round picks into the current starters. They range from corners Eric Stokes and Jaire Alexander, edge rusher Rashan Gary and safety Darnell Savage to linebacker Quay Walker, and defensive tackles Kenny Clark and Devonte Wyatt.

Additionally, Green Bay has a First-Team All-Pro in linebacker DeVondre Campbell, a free-agency find in corner Rasul Douglas and star edge rusher Preston Smith.

All told, the Packers have one of the league’s most-talented defenses to pair with Rodgers, a terrific offensive line, two excellent backs and a head coach in Matt LaFleur who enjoys a 39-10 record.

While Adams is a great player who will be missed, he’s far from the tipping point of a contender. The Packers saw Adams miss 10 games during his career in Green Bay, in which Rodgers played a majority of the snaps. They went 10-0.

Finally, consider the circumstances. The Packers do play a first-place schedule, but they also get a weak NFC North which provides four games against the rebuilding Detroit Lions and moribund Chicago Bears. They also draw the AFC East, a division they can easily go 3-1 against.

For Green Bay, the sting of losing Adams largely won’t be felt in the regular season. It’ll be felt come the postseason, when the Packers face excellent teams with the ability to take away primary reads and force Rodgers into uncomfortable downs with unproven talent around him. We saw the San Francisco 49ers win this way at Lambeau in the Divisional round last season, and it remains the blueprint until proven otherwise.

But for all the chatter about Adams’ departure scuttling the Packers, it’s nonsense. What’ll determine the success of Green Bay’s upcoming campaign is the defensive prowess, Rodgers’ play come January and the ability of a horrific special teams unit from a year ago to improve.

If those factors work out for the Packers, they’ll prove a team is far more than one man.

Power rankings

Worst 10 offenses entering the 2022 season

1. Chicago Bears – Where are the playmakers? Where is the OL?
2. Atlanta Falcons – Kyle Pitts and Drake London to the rescue?
3. Houston Texans – Davis Mills has potential, and Brandin Cooks is good, but that’s it
4. New York Jets – Zach Wilson and the rest of his crew have plenty to prove
5. Seattle Seahawks – Love the receivers, but what else is there?
6. New York Giants – Daniel Jones hasn’t lived up to expectations
7. New England Patriots – Who is the go-to playmaker? Who is the coordinator?
8. Pittsburgh Steelers – Uncertainty at QB, horrific OL
9. Tennessee Titans – If Derrick Henry isn’t healthy at any point …
10. Washington Commanders – Questions at QB, decent OL, limited weapons

Quotable

“He’s going to start the opener. He’s earned it. He won the job.”

– Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll on Geno Smith being named Week 1 starter

And the end of a trying quarterback battle is upon us. Smith it is.

Podcast

Random stat

Super Bowl XII between the Dallas Cowboys and Denver Broncos is the only Super Sunday to feature co-MVPs. In Dallas’ 27-10 victory, defensive linemen Harvey Martin and Randy White shared the honors.

Info learned this week

1. J.C. Jackson’s potential absence could loom large for Chargers

The Los Angeles Chargers always seem to have bad luck with injuries. Let’s hope they get some luck with corner J.C. Jackson, because they need it.

Last week, Jackson underwent a minor ankle injury, shelving him for 2-4 weeks. By that timetable, he could be ready for Week 1,  or not return until Week 3. Normally, not a big deal. But for the Chargers, it’s very significant. They open the season with a pair of divisional games, first hosting the Las Vegas Raiders before visiting the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday Night Football.

Trying to stop two of the league’s most explosive offenses, Los Angeles will be hampered. Additionally, in what is expected to be a phenomenal division, the Chargers can’t afford to drop key games, and being without Jackson obviously increases the chances of that happening.

Hopefully Jackson is back in time for Week 1. If he’s not, the injury could be quite impactful.

2. Donald slams Bengals’ player with helmet, but no suspension coming?

Last week, the football world went wild when video of Los Angeles Rams star defensive tackle Aaron Donald swung and struck an opponent with the helmet of a Cincinnati Bengals player during a joint practice.

The immediate reaction of many was wondering whether Donald would be suspended. However, because the NFL typically doesn’t suspend or fine players for issues in practice — instead relying on team discipline — it should come as no surprise Donald won’t be penalized.

The bigger question is, with joint practices becoming increasingly popular, is that the current stance for the league to take? I wrote a few weeks ago about how many within NFL teams believe joint practices are worth more than preseason games, and prefer them in general. Well, if a player on one team violently attacks an opponent, should that carry some kid of league sanction?

For now, it’s only a question to consider. Donald, unsurprisingly to those familiar with the league’s long-time precedent, wasn’t suspended. The guess here is the NFL wouldn’t reverse course any time soon, but the notion is worth debating.

3. Bills’ Matt Ariaza released amid allegation of gang-rape

The Buffalo Bills released rookie punter Matt Ariaza on Saturday afternoon. Frankly, it shouldn’t have taken that long.

On Wednesday, a civil suit was filed against Ariaza and two of his former college teammates for an alleged gang rape of a 17-year-old girl while Ariaza played at San Diego State in Oct. 2021. The details are horrific, and although no criminal charges have been brought yet, that remains in play.

When announcing Buffalo’s decision to move on from its sixth-round pick, general manager Brandon Beane said, in part, the following:

“I would say the last 48 hours has been very difficult for a lot of people. It’s been tough and we sympathize with this whole situation, all of the parties involved. This young woman, what she went through. You really feel bad for that whole situation, and ultimately this is a legal situation and we don’t know all of the facts. That’s what makes it hard, but at this time we just think it’s the best move for everyone to move on from Matt, and let him take care of this situation and focus on that. So, we’re going to part ways there.

While the Bills ultimately made the correct decision, it’s incredibly short-sighted to have never spoke with the accuser or her attorney once the allegation became public. We saw the same situation play out in Cleveland, when the Browns traded for quarterback Deshaun Watson despite facing 24 civil suits for sexual assault and/or misconduct at the time. Yet the team reached out to zero accusers or their collective attorney, Tony Buzbee.

The NFL loves to market its game to women, but it consistently shows how little the league actually cares about them.

4. NFC South injuries are piling up after ugly week

The NFC South is turning into an infirmary ward.

Last week alone, the Carolina Panthers saw backup quarterback Sam Darnold lost for 4-6 weeks with a high-ankle sprain. Then there’s the New Orleans Saints, who will be without left tackle Trevor Penning for an extended period after he tore a ligament in his foot against the Chargers.

Finally, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers continued to lose men on the interior of their offensive line. After watching All-Pro center Ryan Jensen and guard Aaron Stinnie either lost for most or all of the season with injuries, Tampa Bay watched new starting center Robert Hainsey (ankle) and reserve-turned-potential-starting guard Nick Leverett (shoulder) leave Saturday’s game against the Colts with injuries.

Of course, the most notable situation is in Tampa. The Bucs are dealing with an incredible crush of injuries directly in front of the immobile Tom Brady. If Leverett and Hainsey are out for any amount of time, Tampa might have to execute a trade or hope the waiver wire is friendly this week.

5. Dawson leaves behind an indelible legacy on pro football

On Wednesday morning, football lost a legend in Len Dawson.

Dawson, 87, passed last week after a short stay in hospice. The legacy he leaves behind is immense. On the field, Dawson was three American Football League titles with the Dallas Texans and Kansas City Chiefs, before taking home Super Bowl IV and the game’s MVP honors. After retiring following the 1975 season, Dawson was enshrined into the Hall of Fame in ’87.

However, Dawson was more than a great player. He also became a broadcaster, a field he enters while playing with the Chiefs. He worked as a color commentator on NBC in the 1970s and ’80s, before taking the same role in the Chiefs’ radio booth from 1985-2017. Then there’s his stint with HBO working Inside The NFL, which he did for 25 years.

But most importantly, Dawson was a community-driven individual. He made lives better and by all accounts, was a man of integrity and generosity.

Kansas City will honor Dawson by wearing “16” decals on the backs of its helmets this season. Frankly, the Chiefs should go further. Outside of founder Lamar Hunt, nobody has meant more to the franchise and arguably, to Kansas City sports.

At Arrowhead Stadium, there’s a statue of Hunt one on side. The other side should have Dawson immortalized for all time. His life earned such a tribute.

Two cents

How can you watch HBO’s Hard Knocks and not love the Detroit Lions?

Often, the show feels played out and boring. Not this year. The Lions are full of personality, led by their head coach in Dan Campbell. In a league filled with coaches who project their personalities to be what they feel they’re supposed to be, Campbell is authentically nuts. He’s a wild man, and his players know they aren’t being given a line. The coaching staff as a whole is enjoyable, with coordinators Aaron Glenn and Duce Staley constantly teaching.

Speaking of the players, running back Jamaal Williams is a riot. Aidan Hutchinson and Malcolm Rodriguez are a blast to watch as rookies in the front seven. It’s a fun group.

The Lions aren’t winning the Super Bowl this year. Probably not next year, either. But they seem to believe in each other, and believe in their coach. It’s a good start.

Inside the league

Talking to those around the NFL, there’s considerable buzz around the Minnesota Vikings, specifically new head coach Kevin O’Connell.

O’Connell is the latest new face off the Sean McVay, coming to Minnesota after working as the Rams offensive coordinator for two seasons. Only 37 years old, he’s viewed by some as the best hope of unlocking a Minnesota offense with real talent, ranging from quarterback Kirk Cousins and running back Dalvin Cook to receivers Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson.

For that to happen, the Vikings must evolve from their plodding, archaic offenses of years past. In that regard, O’Connell’s modern scheme seems a perfect match, allowing Jefferson to work in space while giving Cousins defined, easy throws.

In the NFC where so much is unsettled, perhaps Minnesota can become a fun story.

History lesson

When we talk about the greatest quarterbacked seasons of all-time, we often forget about Y.A. Tittle in 1963.

Tittle was nearing the end of a 15-year career spanning the Baltimore Colts, San Francisco 49ers and New York Giants. In ’63, Tittle was on Big Blue, trying to win a championship before retirement. It proved the finest campaign of his Hall of Fame career, with Tittle throwing for 3,145 yards on 8.2 yards per attempt and 36 touchdowns, while completing 60.2 percent of his throws. The latter three figures all led the NFL that season.

While those numbers constitute a good campaign now, it was astounding then. The numbers earned him MVP and reset the single-season passing touchdowns mark, held previously by Tittle.

Parting shot

We’re going to find out plenty about who the Miami Dolphins truly are over the first month of the season.

Miami opens with a winnable home date against the Patriots, but then takes on Baltimore Ravens away before hosting the Bills and then visiting the Bengals on Thursday night. Four tough, conference games with a pair of divisional contests.

The Dolphins are a tough team to figure. They have two elite, speedy weapons in Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. They have an improved offensive line. The defense has pass rushers and corners. And yet, there’s a first-year head coach in Mike McDaniel and a massive question at quarterback in Tua Tagovailoa.

The projections are scattered for Miami, but we should have a damn good idea of what the Dolphins are, and what their ceiling is, after the first four games.



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