Welcome to the War Room, where Yahoo Sports’ football minds kick around the big topics of the day. Today, we’re talking Green Bay—what do the Packers do now that Aaron Rodgers is out for the year? Plus: with a New England Patriots/Atlanta Falcons rematch on the horizon, what are the chances for a Super Bowl repeat? All this and more, this week in the War Room.
Question 1: Congratulations, you’re the Packers’ general manager! What the hell do you do now that your Hall of Fame quarterback is out for the year?
First things first, I’m *gasp* holding steady with what I’ve got in Brett Hundley as my starter. Following his sophomore season at UCLA, pundits thought Hundley could be a first-rounder. But he stayed in college and dropped amid accuracy issues and pocket awareness concerns. He’s a very very good athlete, a dual-threat, and he’ll be surrounded by talented playmakers. The Packers get the Saints at Lambeau on Sunday and then a bye. I’m not one to make rash decisions. I’ll trust my coaching staff to give Hundley a game plan that emphasizes his strengths — getting him out of the pocket via play-action and maximizing opportunities to use his legs — and masks his weaknesses.
But if Hundley struggles, I’m looking to trade. The Packers will have a boatload of picks in 2018, and there are plenty of guys available. Look at Scott Tolzien, who will soon be the third-stringer in Indy but knows the Green Bay system very well. What about Colt McCoy in Washington? The Redskins love having him around as an insurance policy, but the market is opening up for Kirk Cousins this offseason. McCoy’s days in Washington could be numbered if the Redskins have to go in a completely new direction there. The Dolphins have said they won’t go with Matt Moore no matter how much Jay Cutler struggles. Could he be an option? I’m making calls soon, but not until after Hundley makes his first-ever NFL start.
The Packers have developed Brett Hundley for three seasons. He has looked good in the preseason. He has looked so good in those preseason games, he has been a subject of trade rumors. It would be absolute madness to travel down any other road. The Dolphins’ experience with Jay Cutler should tell us that grabbing a guy out of retirement isn’t always smart (I’m not sure why Tony Romo would leave his job anyway; he’s pretty good at it). Anyone available in trade, like Scott Tolzien, just gives everyone a newer face than Hundley to complain about. We know Tolzien is bad; we’re not sure if Hundley is good or bad yet. No good quarterback is available in a trade in mid-October. Teams aren’t trading a good backup quarterback in Week 7, unless it’s for a ransom. Anyone available in free agency is available for a reason. Even Colin Kaepernick would need time to learn the offense and get comfortable, whereas Hundley knows all of that and has shown potential. When fans come up with fantasy scenarios at quarterback, they rarely acknowledge how difficult it would be for any quarterback to learn a brand new system in the middle of a season (or that the names they throw out aren’t any better than a team’s current options). The Packers might want to upgrade the backup position behind Hundley, but the Packers can’t consider anyone other than Hundley to start. Why develop him, watch him perform well in the preseason, then go find a probably worse option when Aaron Rodgers goes down?
After I’m done crying myself to sleep, I’m waking up and standing pat with my quarterbacks right now. There’s no possible way Green Bay can replace Aaron Rodgers, but the quarterback trade market is woefully thin and none of the available options represent a significant enough upgrade from Brett Hundley for me to make a panicked move. I’m not prepared to give up any worthwhile assets (remember, Sam Bradford fetched a first-round pick last year) for what essentially amounts to a 10-game rental at the very least. Assuming the rest of the team can get/stay healthy, Hundley might be able to survive as a game manager and keep the Packers afloat in the NFC North, leaning on an improved running game with Aaron Jones and Ty Montgomery and a defense that can hopefully continue to be a bend-but-not-break unit.
The Packers don’t have the luxury of playing in, say, the AFC South, where a 9-7 record might be good enough to get in the playoffs. Detroit and Minnesota look stronger than Green Bay right now, and even Chicago could give the Packers a run if Mitchell Trubisky continues his upward trajectory. What’s the upside? This is one year that you just have to accept reality. There’s no “L” in Packers, but there’s a big one right there at the front of Lambeau Field.
I’m calling Colin Kaepernick! Brett Hundley has been in our system three years and STILL looks like a deer in the head lights. Here’s the thing: Aaron Rodgers covers up a ton of holes on our roster. Our offensive line is battered right now and we rank 18th in the league in points allowed. That number will only worsen with our battered secondary. Come to think of it, we have no running game to speak of: sixth-worst in pro football to be precise. And that is precisely why a 29-year-old Kap makes so much sense. We can dumb things down for him while he gets accustomed to the playbook. Read-option, quick hitters, designed QB draws: the things he does well.
So much is made about Rodgers’ ability outside the pocket. Make no mistake: Kap isn’t in that class. But we know we can roll him out. He certainly possesses that skill set. How many available quarterbacks on the street—right now—can say the same thing? Remember too, Colin is from Milwaukee; he grew up a huge Packer fan. No free agent or backup will be hungrier to achieve success either. And, despite all the talk of him being a potential distraction, this was someone whom his 49ers teammates awarded the Len Eshmont Award for his “inspirational and courageous play” last season. LAST SEASON! Not 5 years ago.
Look, we’ve been to the postseason eight straight years. We have three terrific receivers in Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams. We essentially know Aaron is shut down for the duration of this season. Kaepernick is far from perfect, but he’s ideal for us: Remember, he compiled 18 total touchdowns and just four interceptions, along with nearly 500 yards rushing, in part-time duty for a really bad 49ers team last year. If you’re asking me which quarterback gives us the best possible chance to win football games, it’s Colin Kaepernick, and I’m not sure it’s even close.
I suddenly feel a bit better about talking myself out of taking Rodgers as my QB for the next 10 years. As for the actual Packers, I’m sticking with Hundley. This guy has been in the system for a few years and had the privilege of working with Rodgers for all of them. I have to think Mike McCarthy walking into the locker room and saying “this is our guy” would help boost confidence and get the team to rally around him. The NFC North isn’t exactly a murderers row right now. It’s totally possible for the Packers to win the division and give Rodgers a chance to gut it out in the playoffs if it comes to that. Green Bay just needs to trust that it already has their quarterback.
Question 2: The Patriots and the Falcons have their Super Bowl rematch this weekend. Give your assessment of these two teams’ fortunes, fates, and likelihood for a February rematch at this point in the season.
I’ll be shocked if we see Atlanta back in the Super Bowl. Not because it doesn’t have the talent, but because it’s clear this isn’t the same team as last year. Maybe it’s the dreaded hangover or maybe it’s the loss of Kyle Shanahan. Either way, this team is trending in the wrong direction after opening the season with so much promise. So you can expect New England to jump on the opportunity to twist the knife a bit more in the rematch this week. What better way to prove to the team that almost beat you that they were frauds than to blow them out the next time you see them? Atlanta may think the Super Bowl was a game that got away from them but the Patriots get the chance to show that 25-point lead was more of a fluke than anything. –Schuster
I’m actually more disappointed in New England. The defense is slow—really slow. The surprise is how unsound that unit is. I can’t remember seeing a Patriot defense miss so many tackles. The Stephon Gilmore and Malcolm Butler duo at corner has been a disaster. Gilmore has looked lost and confused. Butler has been a shell of the Second-Team All-Pro player he was a year ago. He looks soft and unsure of himself, which is why he’s not pressing well either. Their ineptitude is a big reason why the Pats rank dead last in both total defense and passing defense.
Tom Brady has been excellent for the most part, and I’m not sure he can’t bail the defense out the rest of the season. You almost forget that he’s 40 years old. Then again, the running game has been virtually nonexistent. They miss LeGarrette Blount more than I thought they would. His physicality and ability in short yardage down the stretch of games cannot be replicated. A healthy Dion Lewis offers a new dimension and I think he will ultimately become a really key part of this offense, but he’s a smaller guy, not a 15-touch type of player.
I thought Atlanta would struggle. Everything went so well in 2016: Matt Ryan played out of his mind, Julio Jones stayed healthy, the offensive line was strong and the defense overachieved when Desmond Trufant went down. Don’t get me wrong: This is still a very good football team. But the NFC South is brutal and if Ryan —six interceptions the last three games—doesn’t stop turning the ball over, the offense will only continue to sputter. Not scoring a single second half point at home against Miami has to be a huge wake-up call internally. This is a new season and the Falcons’ 3-2 record could just as easily be 1-4. –Schultz
I’m amazed at the mediocrity of both teams so far. The Patriots have played about one great half all season, against New Orleans in Week 2. The Falcons haven’t been much better. They’re a couple of late Bears drops and a few inches on Golden Tate’s final catch from being 1-4. That said, I still think these are two good rosters. There’s no reason they will be stuck playing like average teams all season. The rosters are way too good. Also, there are no favorites in the NFL right now. Every team is beatable. I’m figuring on both teams getting hot in the second half and going into the playoffs as a dangerous opponent. I can’t say it’s likely they both make the Super Bowl, but it could still happen. –Schwab
I’m far more concerned about Atlanta than I am about New England. Sure, the Patriots’ defense is among the league’s worst, but they have looked just as powerful as ever on offense. I’m betting on Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia to figure out a way to improve this defense before the playoffs, which in a down AFC, I’m expecting New England will make. Atlanta, however, is in a whole heap of trouble. The NFC South is better than anyone expected and as Frank mentioned, the Falcons are a couple of plays away from being 1-4 instead of 3-2. As Miami proved in Week 6, since the Super Bowl, no lead is safe for the Falcons, Matt Ryan is looking like a far cry from his MVP form from last year, and Julio Jones has yet to find the endzone. I think it’s safe to say that barring something wild, we won’t be seeing a Super Bowl rematch in February. –Sulla
I don’t think it’s unfair to say both of these teams have been underwhelming thus far. The Pats are far from the juggernaut we expected as their secondary continues to give up big plays. The Falcons are missing Kyle Shanahan and continue to lose games in which they lead in the second half (sound familiar?). The thing here is the Patriots are virtually guaranteed a playoff spot. The division — despite the Bills and Jets overachieving and the Dolphins somehow above .500 — stinks. They’re in. I’m not so sure about the Falcons, though. The Saints just put up 52 points despite a very pedestrian day by Drew Brees, and the Panthers are a solid, solid football team, too. You can’t even count the Buccaneers out just yet. Atlanta’s November stretch — at Carolina, versus Dallas, at Seattle and versus Tampa Bay — will be telling. I definitely don’t think we’re in for a Super Bowl rematch. –Pereles
I still don’t want to talk about it. –Busbee
That’ll do it for this week. Got a question for the War Room? Hit us up via email right here. See you next week!
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.