Mike Zimmer's chances of wrestling a third NFC North title from Green Bay's stranglehold didn't change one iota when an exhausting offseason of rumors about Aaron Rodgers' demise in Titletown proved predictably exaggerated as the reigning NFL MVP reported for training camp on time at 8:28 Tuesday morning.
Your thoughts, Zim?
"I have a hard enough time knowing if our guys are going to report," Zimmer joked as his eighth camp as Vikings coach opened at TCO Performance Center.
C'mon, coach. You had to be following the mind-numbing 24/7 loop of speculation spewing from The Shield's offseason hype machines, eh?
Rodgers and the Packers were at war — albeit through media surrogates perfectly positioned to keep all hands clean for when it came time for the combatants to reunite and blame the media for blowing everything out of proportion.
Rodgers, if you recall, was going to become host of "Jeopardy!" He was going to retire. He was going to sit out training camp, which would have been huge, just like he sat out OTAs and minicamp, which was not huge. Bottom line, he was never, ever, never going to play for the Packers ever again!
"Yeah," Zimmer said, "I might have kept track of it."
No need. Rodgers will play for the Packers in 2021, which was way-too-predictable once the draft came and went with No. 12 still on the roster.
He probably won't be with the Packers a year from now. According to ESPN, the two sides agreed to void the final year of Rodgers' current deal (2023) and take the franchise tag out of play after next season. That essentially forces the Packers to trade Rodgers ahead of the 2022 season and use the bounty to jump-start the Jordan Love era. Otherwise, they would get nothing in return for Rodgers if he remains the most disgruntled league MVP to ever play for a team that just went 26-6 with trips to the past two NFC title games.
So, sorry, Zim. Despite a respectable offseason of adding veteran talent to make up for last year's way-too-risky reliance on rookies, the Vikings still rank somewhere below the Packers when sizing up the 2021 NFC North race.
What say you about the NFC North race, Zim?
"That's a good question," Zimmer said.
"I know [new Lions coach] Dan Campbell very well. He's going to have a tough, tough-nosed football team. That's kind of how he was as a player when he was with us in Dallas. Green Bay is always really good. And Chicago, I believe, will be a lot better. So I think it's going to be a great division. I'm excited that we're going to be better, too."
There have been seven NFC North titles decided since Zimmer came aboard in 2014. The Packers have won four, the Vikings two and the Bears one. Zimmer, however, does outpace Rodgers in division titles won during odd-numbered years (2-1).
"I believe it will be a very competitive division," said Rick Spielman, Vikings general manager. "I believe it's one of the strongest divisions in the NFL."
That might be a stretch, but, hey, August is for dreaming big in the NFL.
And, for Zimmer, worrying.
"I always have anxiety," he said. "It's why I got that big bottle of Pepto-Bismol up there."
Rodgers reporting to camp isn't news the Vikings were rooting for. But, hey, at least Zimmer has held his own against the three-time MVP.
Before Zimmer came along, Rodgers was 9-3 against the Vikings, including 1-0 in the playoffs. Since Zimmer arrived, Rodgers is 7-6-1.
That includes a very unexpected 28-22 upset at Lambeau Field last November. Zimmer was 1-5 with a young beat-up defense that grew younger and more beat up as the game progressed.
By game's end, seven rookies had played a combined 196 defensive snaps. Yet Rodgers fell short trailing by six and the ball in his hands at the end.
So, yeah, Rodgers showing up in Green Bay on Tuesday isn't ideal for the Vikings. But their chances of winning the division aren't insurmountable. Especially with good health in an odd-numbered year.