Is Minnesota Suddenly the Best Team in the NFC North?

Photo Credit: Jeff Hanisch (USA TODAY Sports)

The Minnesota Vikings were focused on getting back to the playoffs when the offseason began. They spent big in free agency to fix the defense and used the draft to solve many of their flaws. But the biggest win for the Vikings came this past weekend with the news that Aaron Rodgers wants out of Green Bay.

With Rodgers at the helm, the Packers are a Super Bowl contender and the best team in the NFC North. If Rodgers is traded out of the division, it becomes a free-for-all in which the Vikings, Packers, and Chicago Bears all have a legitimate claim to take over the division.

Why are we considering the Vikings here? Well, their draft helped them take a big step forward. The defense received a $40 million overhaul in free agency, but even with the addition of Patrick Peterson, Dalvin Tomlinson, and co., there was still work to be done. Minnesota started by solving their decade-long problem across the offensive line. With Mike Zimmer issuing a directive to get bigger in the trenches, the Vikings targeted one of the top offensive linemen in the draft but came up short.

Instead of taking Alijah Vera-Tucker or Christian Darrisaw at pick No. 14, the Vikings traded down with the New York Jets. This allowed them to select Darrisaw with pick 23 and gave them the flexibility to add Wyatt Davis. By adding the 322 lb. Darrisaw and the 315 lb. Davis, the Vikings gave themselves a pair of monsters who can go up against some of the top pass-rushers in the division.

The rest of the draft was dedicated to providing depth. Running back Kene Nwangwu and wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette are playmakers who can also contribute on special teams. Patrick Jones II and Janarius Robinson are edge-rusher projects who can learn under Andre Patterson.

The Vikings improved on draft day, but so did the Bears. Ryan Pace entered this weekend as a dead man walking after the failed Mitchell Trubisky experiment, but he wasn’t going to go down without a fight. With Justin Fields falling to the 11th-overall pick, Pace took a swing and landed a quarterback who could have been the first-overall pick in next year’s class.

With Fields saving Bears fans from QB1 Andy Dalton, Chicago added Teven Jenkins in the second round. With Allen Robinson and second-year breakout candidate Darnell Mooney at receiver and David Montgomery in the backfield, the Bears’ offense looks a lot better than it did before the draft. That’s a problem because their defense is still really good. Even though Chicago fell to 11th in yards allowed and 14th in points allowed last season, they still have a front seven that could test Minnesota’s new offensive line.

Darrisaw mentioned in his introductory press conference that he was excited to face Khalil Mack. Odds are Mack is also excited to go up against a rookie left tackle. The addition of Davis should also help against Akiem Hicks, who has taken Minnesota’s lunch money, prom dates, and overall self-esteem recently.

The Bears are looking strong on both sides of the ball, and they have a stronger case to take over the NFC North. Of course, that’s pending whatever is going on in Green Bay.

The drama between Rodgers and the Packers has been there since they took Jordan Love in the first round of last year’s draft. With general manager Brian Gutenkunst refusing to take a receiver in a draft class that featured 10 wideouts who had 500 or more yards last year, it’s not a surprise that Rodgers has placed him in the same regard as his immediate family.

Even with the Rodgers drama unfolding, Gutenkunst drafted cornerback Eric Stokes in the first round, center Josh Myers in the second, and an undersized slot receiver, Amari Rodgers, who Aaron Rodgers may mistake for a distant relative.

Despite the Packers operating like this is the MLB Draft, where upside trumps short-term production, they still have elite talent throughout the roster. Davante Adams might be the best receiver in the NFL no matter who he’s playing next to and Aaron Jones still has a couple years of high-quality production at running back. Their defense is also loaded, with Kenny Clark, Za’Darius Smith, and Jaire Alexander all returning. And Preston Smith and Rashan Gary could be better than they were last year, giving Green Bay a solid floor.

However, it all depends on who is playing quarterback. With Rodgers, the Packers are a Super Bowl contender and favorites to win the NFC North. Even if he’s traded, it’s not a given that Jordan Love would immediately be named the starting quarterback.

The Denver Broncos are rumored to be a top candidate to acquire Rodgers if the Packers want to make a move. With the acquisition of Teddy Bridgewater, the Broncos could send him as part of the package to get Rodgers and give Green Bay a bridge to Love in 2022. We’ve seen Bridgewater be a quality quarterback in the right environment, and the Packers have enough to help him be successful. While the ceiling may only be 10 or 11 wins, that would put the Packers near the top of the division.

But the Vikings have enough to compete with Chicago and Green Bay. The only issue is that their new parts need to come together quickly, and that could happen with a full training camp and preseason next year. If they’re able to do that, the Vikings should be back in playoff contention this season. It’s just a reach to think they’ll be kings of the north.

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