Unpopular Opinions  


Unpopular Opinions: Green Bay's no playoff lock; Hester to Hall


Listen, I don't try to live my life as a contrarian. That's not true -- I kind of do. I spend a lot of time in public houses and taverns, and I have a two-hour commute that allows me to hear a lot of the sports world's most popular opinions. Sometimes, I think it's best to take a look at the other side.

In this space, I'll be articulating a handful of positions that are the opposite of what most people think -- unpopular opinions, if you will -- and explain why, well, my unpopular opinions are right and everyone else is wrong. Below are my unpopular opinions for Week 15.

UNPOPULAR OPINION: The Green Bay Packers aren't a lock for the postseason.

Aaron Rodgers is back. And it's wonderful. It really is. Look, stop being the jaded sports fan who thinks the only way your team can do well is for the other team to lose its best player. To quote one of the greatest philosophers of our time, Ric Flair, "To be the man, you have to beat the man." And in terms of the NFC North, Rodgers is the man. I mean, "Star Wars" would have been pretty lame if Darth Vader tapped out with a broken collarbone and the Rebels bested Captain Needa in the Battle of Yavin.

So it's great to have Rodgers back. But let's not pretend Green Bay is now the odds-on favorite to win the NFC. Because many of you reacted to Tuesday night's news like the Packers were just awarded a two-month bye to Super Bowl LII.

I almost don't know where to begin. But here goes ...

The Packers are currently the NFC's No. 9 seed. (Six teams make it.) The Vikings clinch the division with one more win. So I feel we can find some common ground when I say Green Bay needs to win out to have a chance for the playoffs. That's right, just to even have a chance. The Pack could win out and still be left out because there is a solid chance the two NFC wild cards will have 11 wins.

In other words, this isn't like 2013, when an 8-7-1 record, along with Marc Trestman, Julius Pepper's whiff on a sack and Chris Conte's blown coverage were all you needed to nab a bid to the dance.

So, this is easier said than done. The Packers travel to Carolina this week, and spoiler alert: The Panthers (9-4) are pretty good. Winners of five of their last six. They rank fifth in total defense and, oh, yeah, they just beat the Vikings at Bank of America Stadium. (Where this game will be played.) If the Packers miracle a win here, they still have to beat the Vikings at home and the Lions on the road.

So, damn it: They are winning all three, aren't they? Because if they win that first one against the Panthers, then the Vikings will surely fold and the Lions are the Lions.

No. NO. Hell, no. You're not getting me that easily.

One of those three opponents is going to step up. And as great as Rodgers is -- he's fine -- he doesn't play defense. That's one thing people seem to forget. The Packers are 26th in total defense. Basically last on third-down defense. And then there are the injuries.

So look, it's clearly possible the Packers run the table. They are a decent enough team. But let's not pretend that there aren't some other factors in their way.

UNPOPULAR OPINION: Devin Hester is the G.O.A.T. and should be in the Hall of Fame.

My dad had this sick Bears Starter jacket. He loved it so much, we actually thought about burying him in it. But I kept it in pristine condition, wrapped in plastic until the Bears reached Super Bowl XLI. I was rocking it like a boss until Devin Hester took the opening kickoff to the house and our table of $1 Tecates fell victim to the ensuing pandemonium, leaving the jacket drenched.

That was Hester: dangerous on the field, dangerous to family heirlooms.

Hester retired this week as the NFL's career leader in return scores (20 off punts and kicks) and delayed trips to the bathroom. Because nobody left the room when Hester was lined up to return a kick. He was the best return man of his generation -- and, really, any generation, save perhaps the one Gale Sayers played in.

He's going to the Hall of Fame. The enshrinement of former Raiders punter Ray Guy illustrated that the voters finally recognize the contributions of the special teamers. There is no doubt in my mind he's Canton-bound.

However, one of my esteemed editors, Ali Bhanpuri, asked me this brain teaser: "If you could choose one member of Lovie's Bears to make the Hall of Fame, who would it be?" Before I could say Mike Brown, he added, "Let's keep it to Hester or Brian Urlacher."

Let me say this: Urlacher belongs (and will be) in the Hall of Fame. I repeat: Urlacher is a Hall of Fame linebacker. I don't want you reading this piece at Portillo's on Golf Road in Schaumburg (no, the one by the mall), nearly choking on your Italian beef and firing off an angry tweet saying, "How can you say Urlacher shouldn't be in the Hall of Fame?" So allow me to say it one more time: Brian Urlacher, Hall of Famer. Done deal.

BUT, if you're giving me the Sophie's choice of who I can take into the Hall of Fame as the face of the franchise during the Lovie era ...

Give me Hester all day.

I can run off the stats. Fourteen punt returns for a touchdown. Five kickoff returns for a touchdown. Shoot, the guy even returned a missed field goal 108 yards for a score. But Hester was something we've never seen from the Bears before. He was an innovator. Urlacher was the latest in a long line of great Bears linebackers, from Bill George to Dick Butkus to Mike Singletary. Urlacher is in that mix and he's part of a legacy.

Hester is his own legacy. He was the vanguard. Now, when Tarik Cohen does some cool stuff in the return game, he gets compared to Hester. That's the difference to me. Well, that and this story Tony Dungy told back in 2015, via the Chicago Sun-Times. The former Colts coach said he wasn't going to kick the ball to Hester in Super Bowl XLI, but then he didn't want to play scared ...

"I told the team, I hope we lose the toss because if we do, we're going to kick it right down the middle to Hester," Dungy recalled. "We're going to pound him. Then, they know we've taken their best threat."

That was it. Hester was the Bears' best threat for a long time. The guy everyone had to game plan for. Opponents sure weren't worried about Rex Grossman. The Colts had to change their strategy because of the return game. That shows Hester is the G.O.A.T. And why he's going to be wearing a gold jacket. I'll just warn him to be careful if he's wearing it and sees me approaching with a Tecate in hand.

POPULAR OPINION THAT IS SPOT ON: Jay Cutler will falter this week.

I'm not denying that it took a full-on intervention to prevent me from penning 900 words on "Why the Dolphins should stick with Cutler in 2018." Thank you to my friends. We were able to get through it.

Follow Adam Rank on Twitter @AdamRank.



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