Packers Don't Need Aaron Rodgers to Win NFC North in 2021May 26, 2021
How many wins is Aaron Rodgers worth compared to potential 2021 replacement Jordan Love? "Wins above replacement" isn't really a popular metric in the NFL advanced statistics realm, and a lack of pro-level tape on Love complicates matters.
What we do know is the Green Bay Packers won the NFC North by a five-game margin in 2020. Only the Kansas City Chiefs cruised to a more lopsided divisional crown. Green Bay's huge cushion came thanks in part to the 8-8 Chicago Bears, 7-9 Minnesota Vikings and 5-11 Detroit Lions getting outscored by a combined 185 points and all posting negative DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) figures at Football Outsiders.
So don't be so sure the Packers will simply hand the North to one of their rivals if Rodgers is traded. Even with Rodgers trade buzz swirling, DraftKings lists Green Bay as the third-heaviest favorite to win its division, behind only the Chiefs in the AFC West and the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC South.
To be clear, a shift from Rodgers to Love (or anyone else, for that matter) would significantly hurt the Packers' Super Bowl chances. Only two quarterbacks have ever won the Super Bowl in their first year as a starter, and without Rodgers it would be extremely difficult for Green Bay to beat out the Buccaneers, San Francisco 49ers, Los Angeles Rams and Seattle Seahawks in the NFC, let alone the AFC's Chiefs, Baltimore Ravens and Buffalo Bills in the unlikely event the Packers make their first Super Bowl in more than a decade.
But anything can happen in a single-elimination format in January and February, and the Packers could still easily host at least one playoff game without Rodgers.
How could a team lose the reigning MVP and still be viewed as a contender? Some thoughts:
1. The Packers will likely get a lot back
Don't expect them to make a post-draft deal without getting plenty of 2021 assets back from the team that acquires Rodgers.
The Denver Broncos have been the favorites to land Rodgers ever since ESPN's Adam Schefter reported on draft day that the three-time MVP does not want to return to the Packers, and KOA Colorado's Benjamin Allbright tweeted last week that a ballpark return for Rodgers from Denver could include quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, an offensive lineman like Graham Glasgow or Lloyd Cushenberry III and "an ascending defensive player" on a rookie contract.
Imagine how much better that could make the Packers in spots other than quarterback. Bridgewater and Love could compete, one of those linemen would help whoever wins that QB1 job and Bradley Chubb, Dre'Mont Jones or Josey Jewell would further bolster the defense.
Even if you believe Rodgers is worth five more wins than Love or Bridgewater, those other guys count for something.
2. Rodgers didn't singlehandedly carry the Packers
Well, he did on a few occasions, but let's not pretend this is a bad team without him.
The Packers offense had the league's fifth-best DVOA on the ground last season, and they ranked in the middle of the pack defensively.
They might have had Rodgers' potential departure in mind when they re-signed star running back Aaron Jones. All-Pro wide receiver Davante Adams also remains under contract in his prime, and Pro Football Focus ranked Green Bay's offensive line No. 1 in the NFC in 2020. That unit might miss All-Pro center Corey Linsley, but the Packers are still pretty deep there after using a second-round pick on potential Week 1 starter Josh Myers—and they could potentially have more coming back for Rodgers.
Even without Rodgers and Linsley, they'd have four first- or second-team All-Pros from 2020 (including elite pass-rusher Za'Darius Smith and shutdown cornerback Jaire Alexander on defense) and six Pro Bowlers.
3. The rest of the division continues to be loaded with question marks
The Bears had two All-Pros and two Pro Bowlers, just like the Vikings. The Lions had three Pro Bowlers (one of whom was the punter) and a single second-team All-Pro.
All three teams were busy this offseason, but was it enough for any of them?
Chicago fans should be excited about the fact their team traded up for quarterback Justin Fields in the first round of the draft, but the team is looking for backup-caliber veteran Andy Dalton to hold down that spot until Fields is ready. Growing pains can't be ruled out in this scenario.
The Bears had limited capital this offseason and could really miss two-time Pro Bowl corner Kyle Fuller. They could make a run at a double-digit-win season if all goes right, but there's just as much room for all to go wrong.
Minnesota still has offensive line questions and the secondary is low on proven talent and experience. The Vikings were again strapped for cash in free agency and lost key veterans Anthony Harris, Eric Wilson and Ifeadi Odenigbo on defense. Star pass-rusher Danielle Hunter's return could help, but they're just 25-22-1 in the Kirk Cousins era and there's little reason to believe they'll suddenly win more than 10 games in 2021.
The Lions shook things up more than anyone, but new quarterback Jared Goff has been worse on paper the past couple of seasons than the man he's replacing, Matthew Stafford, and he won't have either of Stafford's top two receivers to work with after they lost Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr. in free agency. The defense also doesn't look significantly better after ranking dead-last in DVOA last season, when they won six or fewer games for the third year in a row.
So don't be fooled into believing that these teams would be on Green Bay's level just by taking away Rodgers and replacing him with Bridgewater or Love, especially considering that the Packers would get better elsewhere.
Maybe Love will bomb and they won't bring in Bridgewater or another viable option, or they will and whoever comes on will bomb as well. And it's possible a Rodgers trade will kill morale in Green Bay because of what it would do to the team's Super Bowl chances. It's even possible Adams will try to force his way out.
Still, there's a chance Love or Bridgewater or [fill in the blank] excels in a good system with plenty of support, and the reality is they can offer their quarterback more support than any of their division rivals can.
With that in mind, I don't see how Dalton or Fields, Cousins or Goff can give anyone enough confidence to pick anybody but Green Bay in that division.
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Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012. Follow him on Twitter: @Brad_Gagnon.