Welcome to The Big Take, where we comb through our drafts folders for the boldest, potentially irresponsible predictions. The ones we might feel confident enough to share in Slack but have real reservations airing in public. The ones that are more likely to be Old Takes Exposed fodder than an opportunity to beat our chests. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Leading us off today are two white-hot assessments of the upcoming NFL season.
The Minnesota Vikings Will Win the NFC North
Let's not mince words here. Aaron Rodgers is perhaps the most physically gifted quarterback to ever sling footballs around the yard. The Green Bay Packers have exercised a chokehold on the NFC North, winning eight of the last 11 titles, including three straight. Minnesota has Kirk Cousins, the perpetual butt of jokes and someone with very clear limitations. But here's the thing. The Vikings are blessed with a significant advantage at the offensive skill positions and Cousins' production wasn't that far afield from Rodgers' MVP-winning numbers last season. Don't believe me? Look it up. Losing Davante Adams will sting and make winning a third consecutive award that much harder.
We'll find out a lot more about these two teams when they square off in the opener. Minnesota gets to play at home. Following that, the Vikings travel to Philadelphia and get three straight at U.S. Bank against extremely beatable competition (Detroit, New Orleans, Chicago). It's entirely conceivable they catapult out of the gates at 4-1 and with the tiebreaker in hand. First-year coach Kevin O'Connell could sidestep any learning curve and ride the good vibes.
Cousins excels when he can be a game manager who makes a few good throws. His fate is obviously tied to the defense, which needs to improve greatly from last year. Crazier things have happened.
Bill Belichick Has Coached His Last Playoff Game
The New England Patriots bowed out of last year's postseason in embarrassing fashion, losing to the Buffalo Bills by a cool 30 points and provided very little resistance throughout. The shots of Bill Belichick's stony demeanor on the sideline as the clock wound down on the worst loss of his career will live on in the joyful memories of the Bills faithful. It will also be the last time we see the all-time great coach in the postseason.
This year's Patriots team inspires very little confidence in basically every realm. They didn't do much to alter the roster heading into 2022 but lost Josh McDaniels. Belichick, in what appears to be the greatest test of his football acumen yet, has decided to replace him with the tag-team of Joe Judge and Matt Patricia. Neither man has called plays for an NFL offense in their careers and it will be a challenge to create big plays with zero legitimate playmakers outside the running back position. The defense will nearly always be solid at worst in Foxborough but it lacks game-changers. The division got significantly better while the Pats stood still. It's a .500 roster that everybody assumes will be elevated by Belichick's football mind, but even he cannot do everything all at once.
The one person who could change that is Mac Jones. Yet even for all the optimism surrounding the young QB after a surprisingly successful rookie season, he's still a few years away from becoming a quarterback who can elevate the players around him as opposed to simply playing within the system. The system, as it stands, is not very good. Which means the offense won't be very good. And in today's NFL, that means the team won't be very good.
The Patriots will not bottom out with Belichick on the sideline but they're entirely reliant on Jones breaking out to be anything better than mediocre. How long will that take? Belichick is 70 years-old and appears to be experimenting for fun at this point, what with the lack of an actual offensive coordinator and having his son as the unofficial defensive coordinator. As things stand, the Patriots are set up to hover at the edge of the playoff picture for the next three or so years and pick 15th in the draft every offseason. That is fine and could be borderline impressive with the players being trotted out. There is nothing out there, though, to suggest the sleeping giant we've all become accustomed to is still there. Belichick is great. A coach can only do so much. The next time New England ends up in the playoffs, Belichick will be happily retired on his boat.