2018 Football Preview: Going the Distance?
Packers can be contenders as long as Rodgers stays healthy
One summer ago, while on the radio previewing the 2017 Green Bay Packers season, I recall saying that if Aaron Rodgers ever were to get injured, any upgrades to the rest of the team would not matter for a Super Bowl run. A Rodgers injury would essentially eliminate the team from title contention. Lo and behold, in an October Vikings game, Rodgers had his collarbone broken, and the Packers summarily plummeted in offensive quality, while a suspect defense was exposed. The line separating Green Bay from championship territory to the realm of the also-rans was more stark than most of us dared to comprehend.
Last year, the line separating Green Bay from championship territory to the realm of the also-rans was more stark than most of us dared to comprehend.
As Athletic Aesthetic previews the 2018 football season, we begin with the Packers – and the aforementioned line is as bright as we came to understand it last autumn. The team has a new backup, as they acquired DeShone Kizer from the Cleveland Browns and eventually traded away last year’s fill-in, Brett Hundley. Kizer was the starting quarterback for last season’s 0-16 Browns campaign, so Packers fans understandably lack confidence that he, if forced to start for a hurt Rodgers, would keep the Pack on the path to another Lombardi Trophy.
The good news for fans of the Green and Gold is that the player at the top of their depth chart will most likely play the entire season; as long as Rodgers is the starting QB, the Packers will be a contender to go the distance. With Rodgers’s newly signed contract extension, this may be the default Packer playoff prediction into the early 2020s.
The key question for this season is the revitalization of the defense under new D Coordinator Mike Pettine; we will not truly observe his approach until the regular season commences. With the Rams, Vikings, Falcons, and defending champion Eagles all predicted to have the best records in the NFC, I see an 11-5 season ahead for Green Bay, winning the North Division while coming up short of the conference title match. Even with the new contract at hand, the clock is ticking on the Rodgers era: He turns 35 this December, and another year without a Super Bowl will make that clock sound louder than ever.
Perhaps 2018 marks the season that the Wisconsin Badgers have a high-quality quarterback who came up through the program, the likes of which most of us have not seen in our lifetimes. Alex Hornibrook has been considered “highly-touted” for a few years; while he had rocky moments last season, his breakout Orange Bowl performance and offseason upgrades have increased expectations for the Badgers; for the second time ever, they enter a season ranked fourth in the nation.
Part of the reason for this optimism is the quality of the wide receivers – although two of them have been suspended for varying lengths due to an alleged sexual assault. The remainder of that receiver squad could bail out some possibly sketchy Hornibrook throws, though his margin of error is now smaller. However, an offensive line with three potential first-round NFL draft picks, and a Heisman Trophy-contending running back in Jonathan Taylor, will keep Bucky around the national Top 10 rankings. Look for Wisconsin to once again come up just short of the College Football Playoff while returning to the Rose Bowl – a precursor to a potential National Championship run next season.
All indications from Blugolds football practice are that a brightened outlook has come across the team during the past few months. Will UW-Eau Claire get past one or two wins this time around? Likely so, and while the Blugolds may well not have a winning record, look for closer games this season as more of the lineup features veteran experience. I expect three or four victories in Coach Dan Larson’s third year at the helm.
On the prep scene, Regis may be in line for another run to Camp Randall, and Bloomer could well join them traveling south on I-94 in November. Memorial and North are in different stages of rebuilds, but with reason to believe both projects are making progress.
A single player can drastically change any team’s outcome. Will one of those teams cross the line mid-season from success to extensive re-assessment? Watch and find out.