It was a glorious Thanksgiving at the Smolenski household in Appleton, Wisconsin.
The turkey was on the table. They had cooked circus peanuts. The Miller Lite was flowing like wine. The Green Bay Packers were demolishing the Detroit Lions. Packers fans could have simply reveled in their victory, but there was something more to this win.
Jordan Love looked like the quarterback who they had waited three years to see. Coming off his first 300-yard passing game, some believe that Green Bay has found its next predecessor in the hierarchy of Hall of Fame QBs
However, there was something going on outside the window of the Smolenski home.
“Yes … Ha ha ha,” laughed a man in a Vikings shirt. “YES!!!!”
The Smolenskis were confused. Why did this man want Love to be good? Why was he laughing at them? Most importantly, why was this man in their window?
It’s because the Love situation is playing out perfectly for the Minnesota Vikings. And if it continues this way, it could send the Packers to the same threshold of hell the Vikings have been in for the past 60 years.
That begins with Minnesota’s biggest fear when it comes to Love and the Packers. Fifteen years ago, Green Bay moved on from Brett Favre and had Minnesotans licking their chops over what the Packers would look like with Aaron Rodgers.
Fate would have it that the Vikings would be screwed from the first game. Rodgers threw for 178 yards and a touchdown in his debut, a 24-19 victory at Lambeau Field on September 9, 2008. His first season was imperfect. The Packers finished 6-10, but Rodgers laid the groundwork to become the second straight Hall of Fame quarterback to roll through Green Bay.
Love appears to be on the same path through 11 games. The Packers haven’t been a perfect team, but Love and Rodgers have nearly identical stats at this point of their first season as a full-time starter.
A Vikings fan could look at that and say, “Oh, jeez.” But there are a few details that make a difference.
For starters, Rodgers played a gauntlet of winning teams in his inaugural run as a starter. In the first 11 games, the Packers played opponents with a combined winning percentage of .482. However, that number rose to .531 when you took out the historical outlier of the 0-16 Lions.
Love’s opponents through the first seven games have a combined winning percentage of .432 and only rises to .437 when you take out the 3-8 Chicago Bears that the Packers faced in Week 1.
Love also has issues that are particular to his season. While he looked great against a Lions team that was 8-2 coming into Thursday afternoon, he had struggled against winning teams this season. Even after Thursday’s win, Love has thrown for 1,717 yards, 11 touchdowns, and nine interceptions, with a 60% completion rate in seven games against winning teams this season.
In five games against losing teams, Love has looked much better. He posted a 62.1% completion rate with 1,128 passing yards, nine touchdowns, and three interceptions in five games against teams under .500.
If Love was doing this in the first or second year of a rookie quarterback window, the Packers would have a lot more confidence that they found their guy. But Love is already in his third season and signed a one-year, $13 million extension last summer that keeps him under contract through 2024.
That means that extension talks could come sooner for Love, especially if he finishes the season in the same way Rodgers did in 2008. Rodgers threw for 1,439 yards, 11 touchdowns, four interceptions, and a 100.5 quarterback rating over his final five games.
If Love follows a similar path, his first season projects to have 4,016 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions. Those numbers would be significant ammo at the negotiation table in a league that gave Daniel Jones $40 million per season after he threw for 3,205 yards, 15 touchdowns, and five interceptions before his big payday last season.
The Packers could still take advantage of Love’s $7.7 million cap number for next season. However, they don’t have the massive cap space that other teams have had during their quarterback’s rookie window, with just $22.8 million available for 2024.
That’s a problem for a roster that has played better over the last two weeks but still has significant holes to fill. With the youngest roster in the league, the Packers could use some veteran leadership. Still, it’s hard to execute considering their cap situation and the possibility of paying Love $45 to $50 million next season.
The Packers have done a good job of adding to their core with a draft-and-develop strategy. However, regression usually swings the other way, much as it did in Minnesota with Rick Spielman after his 2015 draft class.
Still, there’s the question of what this does for the Vikings. While a lucrative extension for Love could price themselves out of the Kirk Cousins negotiations next March, it could also entice them to move on and start their own rookie quarterback window by selecting one in the draft.
If Love is simply good enough, it also keeps the Packers in the same 7-to-10 win threshold the Vikings have been in, where they don’t have a draft pick to significantly upgrade their roster. It also plays out nicely even if the Packers decide to have Love play out the final year of his contract because they won’t have a pick high enough to draft his replacement such as Caleb Williams, Drake Maye, or Bo Nix.
Perhaps all of this is wishful thinking for a Vikings team that has been held under nearly 30 years of Hall of Fame quarterback play across the river. However, if Love continues to be inconsistent down the stretch, it could mean good things for the Vikings moving forward.