GREEN BAY – The Packers have their share of questions this offseason, but so does every team in the NFL. It’s life in the league.
After examining some of the top issues facing Green Bay’s NFC North foes, here’s a quick-hit rundown of a key question facing each of the Packers’ other 10 opponents on the 2018 schedule.
(The order of the games has not been determined, as the full schedule won’t be released until April. The order below begins with the four NFC West teams, followed by the four AFC East teams, and the two third-place teams from the other two NFC divisions whom the Packers will play.)
Seattle Seahawks – What’s the status of the Legion of Boom?
Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman are trying to come back from significant injuries, while Earl Thomas is threatening a holdout if he doesn’t get a new contract. It could all come together and be like old times in Seattle’s secondary, but then again, it might not.
The Seahawks’ question on the other side of the ball remains on the offensive line, as Russell Wilson seems to never stop running. Something will have to be done.
Los Angeles Rams – How much better are they going to get?
The Rams stormed to the NFC West title under first-year coach Sean McVay but then promptly lost a home playoff game in the wild-card round. QB Jared Goff and RB Todd Gurley might be the best of the young 1-2 offensive punches developing in the league right now.
LA’s top defensive backs, corner Trumaine Johnson and safety LaMarcus Joyner, are pending free agents. If either or both depart, the Rams will spend the offseason rebuilding their secondary. If both return, they’ll focus on finding another disrupter up front to pair with reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald.
San Francisco 49ers – Is Jimmy Garoppolo the real deal?
He’s certainly being paid like it after winning all five of his starts for the 49ers, who were 1-10 when the former New England Patriot took over. Garoppolo threw for 290 or more yards in four of those five starts to pull San Francisco up to 12th in total offense by season’s end.
The Rodgers-Garoppolo matchup could be one of the more intriguing ones at Lambeau Field in 2018.
Arizona Cardinals – What will their offense look like?
QB Carson Palmer has retired, Adrian Peterson is not a long-term answer at running back, and no receiver other than Larry Fitzgerald caught more than 33 passes last season. Fitzgerald, the future Hall of Famer, has announced he’ll continue playing, which will help whoever steps in at quarterback, whether an early draft pick or a veteran signee.
The return to health of David Johnson will change the outlook on offense, but whether or not he’ll be the explosive, all-purpose threat he was before his knee injury remains to be seen.
New England Patriots – How much longer can the dynasty last?
Probably as long as Tom Brady and Bill Belichick remain in place, but everyone will continue to look for signs of decline.
The Packers-Patriots matchup in 2018 will be just the second time Brady and Aaron Rodgers go head-to-head. Regardless of other storylines, that makes it a must-see.
Buffalo Bills – Are they a one-hit wonder?
The Bills made the playoffs last season for the first time since 1999, thanks in part to a near-miracle by Cincinnati against Baltimore in the regular-season finale. The question now is whether they can build on a promising start under Sean McDermott.
For a 9-7 team, the Bills have plenty of holes. They ranked in the bottom half-dozen in the league in yardage on both sides of the ball. But they’ll get a chance for two major additions with back-to-back first-round draft picks, at No. 21 and 22 (a pick acquired from the Chiefs last year). Their first round of the draft could have a huge impact on 2018.
Miami Dolphins – Will returning QB Ryan Tannehill’s top target come back?
Tannehill is returning from a knee injury that led to Jay Cutler taking most of the snaps in Adam Gase’s offense last season. Regardless of who was throwing the ball, Jarvis Landry was far and away Miami’s most productive receiver, but he’s a pending free agent who could get re-signed, tagged or not retained.
It’s strange to say with a quarterback coming back from a whole year off, but it’s really Landry’s future that will factor most into Miami’s offensive outlook.
New York Jets – How far away are they?
The Jets surprised many by winning five games in 2017 and losing six other contests by just one score. It was considered a significant overachievement given their roster, which was paring payroll a year ago at this time, fueling the impression they couldn’t compete.
They’re still in search of a franchise QB and more playmakers, primarily on offense, so they’ll be grabbing the best weapons they can in the draft. The rebuild under Todd Bowles may not take as long as projected.
Atlanta Falcons – Are they still close to a championship?
Atlanta should have won a title a little less than 13 months ago. Everyone knows that. But were the Falcons one goal-to-go pass completion in Philadelphia away from another Super Bowl run? Or was the earlier exit this year an indication of a drop-off?
Atlanta’s offense didn’t look the same in 2017 after coordinator Kyle Shanahan departed to become the head coach in San Francisco. More offensive assistants were brought in by head coach Dan Quinn, but while they’re support for Shanahan’s successor, Steve Sarkisian, some are seeing them as potential replacements.
Washington Redskins – Can Alex Smith produce for his third team?
The former No. 1 overall pick from 2005 took San Francisco to an NFC title game and led Kansas City to multiple playoff berths. Now he’s been traded to Washington to take over for Kirk Cousins, who always put up pretty good numbers considering the Redskins’ lack of game-breaking receivers.
If Josh Doctson continues to develop into that type of player, Smith will be in good shape, with Jamison Crowder in the slot, Jordan Reed at tight end, and Samaje Perine in the backfield. But a big investment at receiver, through free agency or the draft, could be coming to help Smith.