Light a candle for ESPN.
The draft is over. Aaron Rodgers has been traded. Lamar Jackson has signed. The Worldwide Leader’s football-centric morning shows have been left to analyze lefthanded junior cornhole tournaments.
Now that all of the worthwhile quarterbacks have migrated, we know where the balance of power in the NFL resides, and it’s not in the NFC, or the Midwest.
The news event that once was a one-page press release — the unveiling of the NFL schedule — epitomized the imbalance of quarterback talent between the two conferences.
The Vikings will play 12 games against NFC teams and five against AFC teams.
They will play one game against an established star quarterback from the NFC, and four against established star quarterbacks from the AFC.
That mirrors the current state of the NFL. Jackson remaining in Baltimore and Rodgers moving from the NFC to the AFC has further swung the balance of power to the junior conference, a year after Russell Wilson left Seattle for Denver.
First, let’s define our terms: Wilson played horribly last year, but he was an obvious Hall of Famer in Seattle, so let’s not recycle him yet. Chicago’s Justin Fields and Carolina’s Bryce Young could develop into stars. Detroit’s Jared Goff has a better résumé than he is given credit for.
But a star is a star, and the Vikings will face four true stars from the AFC: Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes, Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow, the Los Angeles Chargers’ Justin Herbert and Wilson, who should thrive while working this season with Sean Payton instead of Rodgers’ disgraced caddie Nathaniel Hackett.
The Vikings will play only one established star NFC quarterback: Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts.
What does all of this mean for the Vikings?
Good times, probably.
You can debate whether Kirk Cousins is a top-tier quarterback who needs a little more help or a second-tier quarterback who needs a lot more help, but the departure of Rodgers means that there is only one NFC quarterback who is clearly better than he is — Hurts.
The Vikings haven’t played a game against the Packers in which neither Brett Favre nor Aaron Rodgers were in the stadium since 1991. This year, they are scheduled to play the Packers twice with Jordan Love as their starter.
Love might be good. There is little chance he will match the résumés of Favre or Rodgers, although there is a high chance that he will avoid being accused of grifting or whining as much as the former and the latter respectively.
For the moment, the Vikings have a clear advantage at quarterback over their division rivals for the first time since … Fran Tarkenton was a star in the ’70s?
At his news conference Friday, I asked Kevin O’Connell what he thought about being the first Vikings coach since Jerry Burns to enter a season without worrying about Favre or Rodgers.
“You know what? I have not given that a lot of thought,” O’Connell said. “But when you phrase the question like that, it is a good part of my day to hear that from you.
“I have so much respect for both of those players. It’s very rare, in this league, to have two players play the hardest position in sports for that long. But I will tell you, we have a lot of respect for Jordan. You just look at what he did when he got in the game last year — not only the production but how he played. Our expectation is that we’re going to be dealing with a heck of an offense from the Green Bay Packers.”
That is a good answer made even better by the remote chance of it being true.
Maybe Fields becomes the next Hurts. Maybe Goff helps the Lions continue their upward trajectory. Maybe Love is a revelation. But based on what we now know, the Vikings are the clear favorite in the NFC North as Cousins enters the second season with the same offensive coordinator for the first time since 2016.