Packers will face tough NFC competition in 2018

GREEN BAY, WI - SEPTEMBER 28: Jahri Evans /

We’ve heard it before. As long as Aaron Rodgers is around, the Green Bay Packers will be a force in the NFC. But this year will be the toughest road to the Super Bowl Mike McCarthy’s group has faced during his tenure.

The Packers are going to look a little different in 2018. Jordy Nelson is now wearing the silver and black, while Muhammad Wilkerson and Jimmy Graham are wearing the green and gold. With holes at receiver and cornerback yet to be filled, the team is likely to face more turnover as the offseason progresses.

As the Packers make changes to the roster, the rest of the NFC has made considerable overtures to make the conference as saturated with talent as possible. The Packers will be facing stiff competition from their own division this season, while the rest of the NFC will be even tougher to deal with.

For starters, the Philadelphia Eagles will be significantly better this coming season than they were a year ago. The team is coming off of a playoff run and Super Bowl victory despite losing its starting quarterback, most dynamic running back, left tackle, middle linebacker and one of its cornerbacks.

Now that Carson Wentz, Darren Sproles, Jason Peters, Jordan Hicks and Sidney Jones will all be on the field again in 2018, the Packers will already have a superior opponent out east. The Eagles also added Michael Bennett and Haloti Ngata to an already-impressive defensive line.

Their divisional round playoff opponent, the Falcons, will also be a lot to handle. Matt Ryan and the Falcons have dominated the Packers in recent years, and it’s not like Green Bay’s suspect pass defense will have any answers the next go around given the current lack of depth. Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman and Ryan alone is enough to make them a safer pick against a poor Green Bay defense.

The Los Angeles Rams have formed a nearly complete roster under second year head coach Sean McVay. Jared Goff has made significant progress since entering the league, while being helped out by superstar running back Todd Gurley. The team needs to improve at receiver and tight end, but the Rams will be supported by their star-studded defense coordinated by Wade Phillips.

Aaron Donald alone will give opposing offensive lines fits. But it’s the team’s elite secondary that will make them a tough out come playoff time. Two separate trades that brought in both Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters combined with slot supreme Nickell Robey-Coleman have comprised what will likely be the league’s best secondary. While the team lost both Alec Ogletree and Robert Quinn in other deals, the unit will still be elite.

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The New Orleans Saints would have been in the NFC Championship Game if it weren’t for an unexplainable error by safety Marcus Williams. Drew Brees and Michael Thomas is a deadly combination along with Alvin Kamara, who in only one season established himself as one of the league’s top running backs.

The defense is improving rapidly, and second-year player Marshon Lattimore will be more familiar with press coverage than he was during his promising rookie campaign. Williams made himself look like an amateur Madden player pressing X instead of Y on the last play of the playoff game against Minnesota, but otherwise had an equally impressive rookie year.

The Packers will also be facing a very tough challenge within their own division. The Vikings are right up there with the Eagles in having the league’s most complete roster and will be a steep hurdle for the Packers to clear. While Case Keenum was a brilliant scheme fit and earned the unwavering trust of his teammates, Kirk Cousins is a substantial upgrade.

Making the move for Cousins will likely hurt the Vikings in the long run as they try to retain as many pieces of their defense as possible, but the team now has a quarterback that can make every throw in the playbook and provides real balance to the offense. Rookie phenom Dalvin Cook will also be returning from his ACL injury, giving the Vikings a strong combination of running backs with Latavius Murray.

There won’t be any cakewalks for the Packers either in 2018. The Bears, while still inferior to the Packers, will have some competent receivers and tight ends unlike last year after adding Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Trey Burton in free agency. The Lions still possess one of the league’s better quarterbacks and always seem to be a challenge for the Packers, particularly at Ford Field.

The San Fransisco 49ers are a legitimate candidate for the playoffs this coming year. Jimmy Garoppolo was a steal in a trade with the Patriots. John Lynch made an awful move when he splurged a cash-raining contract on Jerick McKinnon, but Richard Sherman, Solomon Thomas, and Arik Armstead make a nice defensive core for the team to build around.

Even the Carolina Panthers with former MVP Cam Newton are nothing to shrug at. The Dallas Cowboys will be more competitive than they were a year ago with a full season from Ezekiel Elliott, and the Giants will probably not be picking second overall this time next year.

The Giants aren’t close to being a Super Bowl threat, but they are a dark-horse playoff candidate. A new offensive philosophy under head coach Pat Shurmur will go a long way towards getting away from Ben McAdoo’s stale offense. Nate Solder‘s arrival is a huge sigh of relief for the Giants who have been needing a strong left tackle for too long.

The NFC is deep with talented teams. Only the Cardinals, Redskins, Buccaneers and Seahawks look like teams that could be couch potatoes come playoff time. The Seahawks will be able to make a push as long as Russell Wilson is under center, but there are simply too many other holes for the team to fill.

The Packers will have to find several cornerbacks to help contend with the deep group of receivers across the rest of the conference. The arrivals of defensive coordinator Mike Pettine and Muhammad Wilkerson will improve the defense, but it won’t make the unit good enough to compete for a Super Bowl.

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The Packers will have to round out their roster considerably between now and the preseason in order to get up to par with the rest of the NFC.