Sports Opinion: Midwest NFL teams face tricks, treats at season midpoints

Minnesota Vikings 

Record: 4-3-1

Treat: Kirk Cousins and the recieving core

Even after Case Keenum’s standout year that led the Vikings to the NFC Championship last year, the Vikings reached out and signed former Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins to a three year, $84 million deal that solidified Minnesota’s win now mentality. He has done nothing less than produced for the Vikings, utilizing his offensive weapons at a record pace. 

His connection with wide reciever Adam Thielen has led to Thielen breaking the NFL record for most consecutive 100-yard receiving games to start the season. Cousins is second in the NFL in passing yards and bolsters a quarterback rating of 101.8 through the first half of the season. Cousins is also working with an offensive line that is ranked 25th in the league and has suffered multiple injuries. 

Cousins looks to be the long lost franchise quarterback the Vikings have been searching for.

Trick: Lack-luster running game

While Cousins and the passing game continue their tear, the running game has been struggling to keep up. The Vikings rank 29th in the league with a measly 87.1 rushing yards per game. The weak and injured offensive line definitely doesn’t help, but having second year running back Dalvin Cook out due to injuries for most of the season makes it hard to produce. 

While this allows the passing attack to shine in the spotlight, it makes it hard for the Vikings to seal late game leads because of their inability to gain yards on the ground and chew the clock. If the Vikings want any shot at their first Lombardi, Trophy they are going to have to get the run game figured out.

Green Bay Packers

Record: 3-3-1

Treat: Aaron Rodgers

If there was any question, Aaron Rodgers is one of the only positives going for the Packers. Even with a banged up knee and not playing for a significant part of last year’s campaign, Rodgers is out on the field slinging the ball at the top of his game. With a quarterback rating of 100.1, 12 touchdowns and only one interception on the year, Rodgers is doing the most with the cards he is dealt.

Trick: There isn’t much else going well for the Packers other than Rodgers. Their young defense struggles to produce stops when they need them the most. Even after drafting two cornerbacks in the first two rounds of the draft last year and improving to the fifth best defense against the pass, they still rank 16th in points per game. If they want to make a playoff run, their defense will have to come to play. 

They also don’t have much of a run game to support Rodgers, only racking in 104 rushing yards per game, good for 22nd in the league. If the Packers want to take control of the division in the second half of the season, they will need more out of their emerging young talent. Rodgers can only do so much.

Chicago Bears

Record: 4-3

Treat: Stout Defense 

The addition of Khalil Mack via trade at the start of the season has boosted the talented Bears defense to a new level. 

They are third in the league in run defense, and eighth in points per game. They have only allowed 2,100 yards of offense through week eight, which is fifth in the league. Their first round draft pick Roquan Smith has helped the linebacker core, and young studs like Adrian Amos and Kyle Fuller are stepping up and making plays. 

If the Bears manage to keep all their pieces together, this will be a dangerous and scary defense for years to come.

Trick:  

On the other side of the ball, the offense is filled with young players looking to make a name for themselves. The second year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky is shining in his role, and young stars like Tarik Cohen and Trey Burton are having solid seasons.  

The problem is that there is not much veteran leadership on the offense, and it shows with the mistakes they make on the field. 

The new wide receiver additions of Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel have not produced near enough, as the backup running back Tarik Cohen leads the team with 398 receiving yards on the team. Chicago is 24th in team receiving yards and 23rd in overall offensive yards.  

In order to be taken as a serious Super Bowl contender, their young stars will need more experience and for the new additions on offense to step up.

Denver Broncos

Record: 3-5

Treat: Surprising run game

The Broncos haven’t produced 2,000 yards of rushing in a single season in 12 years but are on pace for 2,130 rushing yards by the end of season.  The three-headed monster of two rookies Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman, along with third year running back Devontae Booker make establishing a run game very easy for the Broncos. Having three viable running backs allows the Broncos to get a rotation going for the backs so they are never getting tired, and they can give the defense multiple looks with two or three running backs on the field. 

The ability to run the opposing defense over with their three running backs will be a crucial factor in the playoffs if they can overcome the odds and turn their season around.

Trick: Keenum not showing up

The Broncos have lost to the Chiefs twice, and the Rams once this season, with all of those games being decided by 7 points or less. These are the types of games where a quarterback being paid $18 million a year needs to step up and get a win.  

Case Keenum has not been the quarterback he was last year for the Minnesota Vikings, and the Broncos are waiting for Keenum to return to his spectacular form that took the Vikings to the NFC Championship last year. So far, Keenum only has 10 touchdown passes, which is matched by his 10 interceptions, tied for first in the NFL. 

Keenum isn’t getting much help from his offensive line though, who has allowed him to get sacked 22 times this season, and Keenum has gotten hit a total 51 times.  

In order for the Broncos to turn the season around and set their sights on the Super Bowl, they are going to need to make their offense much more two dimensional than what it is right now.

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