Six stories to watch as NFL training camps kick into high gear

Beating an old Wisconsin bully currently ranks high on the to-do list for a new Vikings regime that takes a fresh look at how the hell a Minnesota team can finally win a Super Bowl.

It would help, of course, if Purple’s 38-year-old nemesis played his NFL age as he entered his 18th birthday.e season. But no, Aaron Rodgers, the two-time reigning MVP and four-time league MVP, stole the opening bell of NFL training camps this week as he arrived in Green Bay on Monday looking happy, healthy and exactly like a Nicolas Cage buff in “Air Conditioning.”

“The first way to get into the game is to win your division,” Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah said when asked how much of his “competitive rebuild” was focused on A-Rodg and the Cheeseheads.

As Rodgers’ enemy fans in NFC North know all too well, the Vikings, Bears and Lions generally fare just as well against Rodgers as the villains do against Cage in “Con Air.”

Rodgers is 58-21-1 in the division, including 17-10-1 against the Vikings. Since becoming a starter in 2008, he has won eight of 14 division titles, including the last three, in seasons in which Anthony Barr did not break his collarbone in Week 7.

Rodgers, of course, has a bigger goal that has eluded him and shaken his legacy a bit over the past 12 seasons: a return to the Super Bowl for the first time since winning his only ring that season. 2010.

He and 42-year-old coach Matt LaFleur – now entering his fourth season as the division’s longest-serving coach – have had three consecutive 13-win seasons, two consecutive No. 1 seeds and still no appearances. at the Super Bowl. And they head into this year after trading All-Pro receiver Davante Adams to Las Vegas and losing Marquez Valdes-Scantling via free agency.

It will take another MVP-caliber performance from Rodgers for the Packers to finally break through. If Rodgers wins again, he’ll tie Peyton Manning’s record of five in a row and Brett Favre’s mark of three in a row.

First up for Rodgers this season is a trip to US Bank Stadium to face a new 3-4 Vikings defense led by former Packers defensive coordinator Ed Donatell. So, Vikings safety Harrison Smith, how will that defense fare against Rodgers compared to former coach Mike Zimmer’s defense that went 8-7-1 against Rodgers?

“I guess we’ll find out very soon,” Smith said. “He’s going to be tough against any defense you throw at him. You obviously know that, and we all know that. He’s kind of seen it all, and he’s got the tools, the conscience and the arm to make things happen against n anything.”

And?

“I saw his look when he showed up at camp [Monday]”, continued Smith. “I appreciate, because I myself am a fan of Nic Cage, as we have already discussed. So that’s a good look. It adds a little more, even.”

Here are five more stories to watch during NFL training camps:

1. Will the Rams’ risky formula work elsewhere?

Les Snead, the happiest general manager the NFL has ever seen, used a swashbuckling plan that won the Rams the Super Bowl while providing the rest of us with the most exciting offseason ever. league history. Now is the time to find out if Los Angeles’ all-in, future-be-sarned ethos will reap another immediate Lombardi Trophy. Denver sent two first-rounders, two second-rounders, one fifth-rounder and three players to Seattle for quarterback Russell Wilson. Miami handed the Chiefs five draft picks — including first- and second-rounders this year — for 28-year-old wide receiver Tyreek Hill. The Raiders gave the Packers a first- and second-round pick for 29-year-old receiver Davante Adams. And, of course, the Browns gave up six picks, including three first-round picks, for Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson, a guy who hasn’t played since 2020 and was still facing 22 civil lawsuits for sexual misconduct. at the time of the exchange.

2. Is Watson Really Worth It?

The Browns basically sold their souls to get Watson at some point this season. In addition to mortgaging their plan for the future, they handed Watson a fully guaranteed, five-year, $230 million contract. Now they are waiting for the NFL to announce the length of his suspension. He settled down with 20 of the women who accused him of sexual misconduct. Not an ideal look for Cleveland. But, hey, this is the NFL, and Watson is a 26-year-old three-time Pro Bowler who led the league with 4,823 passing yards in 2020. And two separate grand juries declined to indict criminal charges. Since returning to the NFL in 1999, the Browns have started 32 quarterbacks. No. 33 should be Jacoby Brissett. He’ll likely start Week 1 against Carolina’s Baker Mayfield, who 14 months ago led the Browns to their first playoff win in 26 years.

3. Can the Bengals stay atop the tougher AFC?

Remember about five minutes ago when Bengals coach Zac Taylor was in the hot seat in Cincinnati? Remember about four minutes ago when Bengals owner Mike Brown was just a cheapskate for not firing Taylor when he was 6-25-1 at the end of the 2020 season? Well, after Cincinnati’s first Super Bowl appearance in 33 years, Taylor is overseeing a rise with the league’s most dynamic young tandem of quarterback Joe Burrow and wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase. The offseason was spent rebuilding an offensive line that gave up a Super Bowl record seven sacks. Is it enough to take the next step and win the Super Bowl? First of all, is it enough to take over an AFC that has become much more talented with the addition of players like Adams, Von Miller, Russell Wilson, Khalil Mack, Terron Armstead, Amari Cooper, Brandon Scherff and Matt Ryan?

4. Brady is back…again…and again…

Personal note: The next time Tom Brady retires, tell your editors to wait 41 days before writing your version of the “Ode to the Goat” farewell. Yes, Brady’s “retirement” only lasted 40 days before he decided that winning seven of 10 Super Bowls, including one in his rookie season at Tampa in 2020, wasn’t satisfying enough. He turns 45 in August and will play for his second head coach in three years at Tampa after 20 in a row with Bill Belichick at New England. Bruce Arians stepped into the front office to allow another very good TB (defensive coordinator Todd Bowles) a golden opportunity to take control of a team that once again became Super Bowl contenders the moment Brady didn’t. retired. At 44, Brady finished second in MVP voting while leading the league in completions (485), attempts (719), passing yards (5,316) and passing touchdowns (43).

5. Nice to meet you, Mr. McCarthy

The hottest seat in the country belongs to the guy who coaches “Team America.” Mike McCarthy is 18-16 after two years as Cowboys coach. It’s no secret that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has a thing for Sean Payton, the former Saints coach who is out of football and is under contract with New Orleans for three years. It’s also no secret that Jones would trade draft picks to get Payton. Another figure lurking over McCarthy’s shoulder is his own defensive coordinator, Dan Quinn. The former Falcons head coach dropped his name from the race for head coaching positions, including the Vikings, to sign a multi-year contract with the Cowboys. In 2020, McCarthy went 6-10. Last year he went 12-5 but was the only manager to lose at home in the wildcard round. McCarthy needs a playoff run at a time when the Cowboys have parted ways with La’el Collins, Randy Gregory and Amari Cooper.

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