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Jordan Love-led Packers could be true Super Bowl contenders in 2024; Zach Wilson's best team fits

Former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks knows the ins and outs of this league, providing keen insight in his notebook. Today's installment covers:

But first, a look at one rising star's audacious outlook on the coming campaign ...

If Jordan Love has his way, the Green Bay Packers will reclaim their spot among the NFL's true heavyweights in the 2024 season.

While the naysayers might scoff at the notion of the second-year starter leading a group of youngsters on a Super Bowl run, Love has boldly touted his team's readiness to seriously compete for the Lombardi Trophy.

"We're all very hungry for this upcoming year," Love said on a recent episode of The Pivot Podcast. "The confidence from top to bottom is there. The organization believes that it's the perfect time to have a chance to win a Super Bowl this year. Those conversations we had after the 49ers game were, 'Man, work harder. Try and find ways to get better because next year we're gonna do it.' "

It's not hard to see why the Packers are loaded with confidence this offseason, having spectacularly turned around their 2023 campaign with a 6-2 mark in the back half of the regular season. Love played like an MVP candidate during that stretch, completing over 70 percent of his passes for 2,150 yards (268.8 per game) and 18 touchdowns against just one interception, while adding another two scores on the ground. The quarterback then provided a sensational showing on the road over Super Wild Card Weekend, as the Packers smacked the Cowboys, 48-32, becoming the first No. 7 seed to advance since the playoffs expanded in the 2020 season. Love's surgical, three-touchdown effort in Dallas produced a near-perfect passer rating (157.2), displaying the immense growth of a potential superstar coming into his own as a first-year starter. The season-ending, 24-21 loss at San Francisco in the Divisional Round was a tough pill to swallow, no doubt, but it couldn't stop optimism from abounding in Titletown. This sure looks like an ascending force on the NFC side.

While Green Bay swapped out running back Aaron Jones in favor of Josh Jacobs during free agency, most of the offensive pieces remain in place from last season, allowing the young core to continue developing together. With the Packers having averaged 27.3 points per game over their final 10 contests of last season (playoffs included), this offense is poised to make serious noise in 2024.

Yes, Jones accomplished plenty during his seven seasons in Green Bay. But he just missed six games due to injury this past season, and he's turning 30 in December. Jacobs, meanwhile, just turned 26 in February. The 2019 first-round pick and 2022 NFL rushing champ has crossed the 1,000-yard mark in three of his five NFL campaigns, scoring 46 total touchdowns on the ground. Not only is Jacobs bigger and more physical than Jones, but he also offers enticing ability in the passing game. As a multi-talented, bell-cow back who should be squarely in his prime, Jacobs could provoke nightmares for opposing defensive coordinators. Instead of employing light boxes with umbrella coverage to slow down a rising set of big-play specialists on the perimeter, Packers foes will be forced to drop an extra defender into the box to neutralize Jacobs between the tackles. The mere threat of the two-time Pro Bowler producing a 100-yard game could create more opportunities for Love to push the ball down the field on various play-action concepts.

To that point, the Packers' young-and-talented pass-catching crew should be even better in 2024. Jayden Reed, Romeo Doubs, Christian Watson and Dontayvion Wicks -- all selected in the past two drafts -- shared the role of WR1 last season, based on weekly matchups, and they were joined by rookie tight ends Tucker Kraft and Luke Musgrave as key contributors to the passing game. Last season's playoff run exposed the youngsters to the increased urgency, tempo and physicality of the postseason while also highlighting the team's flaws under pressure. With that invaluable experience under the belt, this receiving corps could take a major step forward in the coming season, furthering the notion that the 2024 Packers will field an elite offense.

Defensively, Green Bay boosted a promising group with the blockbuster free-agent addition of Xavier McKinney, a 24-year-old who has emerged as one of the best young safeties in the game. This was a key pickup for new defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley, who could take this talented unit to the next level. The former Boston College head coach wants to unleash the Packers' pedigreed personnel by implementing a scheme that meshes "vision and break" principles with press-man coverage and some exotic pressure packages. Despite its complex appearance, the scheme is designed to allow defenders to "hit, run and cover" in an aggressive manner. Given the players at Hafley's disposal, including six first-round picks over the past six drafts, Green Bay's defense should be able to keep opponents from lighting up scoreboards while providing Love and Co. with more opportunities to take over games.

"There's no more, 'We're a young team.' There's no more of those what ifs," Love said on The Pivot Podcast. "People know what we're about now. Obviously, we'll have that target on our back. People want to beat us. We're hungry. I know everybody in that locker room is hungry and ready to get back. And obviously, we added some key pieces with Josh Jacobs and Xavier McKinney. So I'm excited. We're going to have some more pieces coming in with the draft, but I'm excited for me to be able to take that next step. Year 2. For a lot of the receivers, those rookies we had last year to take that step in Year 2."

The Packers must continue diversifying their offensive approach and fortifying their protection scheme to ensure Love remains upright in the pocket. In addition, Green Bay can work on getting off to even faster starts to set the defense up for more turnover opportunities against offenses forced to chase points. But this roster has the makings of a potential power in the fall.

While Love's bravado might have given Green Bay's divisional opponents some bulletin-board material, the young gunslinger is flanked by a rapidly developing core with the potential to make his Super Bowl dream a reality next February.

Best team fits for QB Zach Wilson?

As the football world clamors over the quarterbacks in the 2024 draft class and the potential blue-chip players who could emerge from the group, the No. 2 overall pick from an overhyped 2021 class could use a new home.

Zach Wilson and his representatives were granted permission to seek a trade from the New York Jets after three disastrous seasons on Broadway. The former BYU standout amassed a 12-21 record, with a series of lowlights overshadowing the occasional flashes of brilliance from the naturally gifted passer.

Wilson has not come close to living up to his draft pedigree, with a 57 percent completion rate, a 23:25 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a 73.2 passer rating over 34 NFL appearances. He has struggled with turnovers, decision-making and overall execution, looking overwhelmed whenever he's had the chance to serve as the Jets' QB1.

Moreover, it appears the team did not respond to his leadership style, as evidenced by the revolving door of backup quarterbacks (Mike White, Joe Flacco, Tim Boyle and Trevor Siemian) who appeared as short-term starters for the Jets over the past two seasons. The writing has been on the wall for Wilson since the team essentially handed the keys to the franchise to Aaron Rodgers last offseason; if the four-time MVP had never suffered a torn Achilles, we likely wouldn't have seen Wilson at all in 2023.

"I feel badly about Zach in some ways because last year it would've been a great -- it would've been the first time he could just sit back and watch a master at work, and he's never had that," Jets' owner Woody Johnson told reporters at the NFL's Annual League Meeting. "He's been in the fire from Day 1, and I think that's what he needs. He needs to be in a place where he can observe for a while. He's got the skill. He can do everything. There's a reason we drafted him No. 2 overall, and I have confidence that he'll get there at some point."

The fourth-year pro is a talented passer with plus arm talent and athleticism. He possesses enough physical ability to play at a high level, but like Johnson said, he needs more time to develop without the pressure of having to perform at an elite level. In a perfect world, Wilson would spend the final year of his rookie contract (pending a decision on his fifth-year option) on a team with an experienced play-caller who understands how to build quarterback-friendly game plans that suit Wilson's talents as an athletic gunslinger.

After exploring the landscape for possible team fits, I've come up with three ideal landing spots for the 24-year-old quarterback.

Kansas City Chiefs
2023 record: 11-6

The best quarterback whisperer in the game could use another project to work with in Kansas City behind Patrick Mahomes. Yes, the two-time MVP and three-time Super Bowl champion is obviously FIRMLY entrenched as the Chiefs' QB1. That said, as we've seen over the course of Andy Reid's illustrious career, the presence of a blue-chip quarterback doesn't prevent the future Hall of Fame coach from taking on a reclamation project who could turn into a valuable trade commodity down the road. 

In Philadelphia, Reid rebuilt Michael Vick into a Pro Bowler after his time away from the game while serving a prison sentence on a dogfighting conviction. Reid also developed A.J. Feeley and Kevin Kolb into future starters (and, in Kolb's case, a tradable asset).

As Mahomes' understudy in a championship environment, Wilson could sit back and learn how to play the position at a high level from a coach and quarterback who have cracked the code, while honing his skills on the practice field.

Denver Broncos
2023 record: 8-9

Despite coming off of a bumpy season managing Russell Wilson, Sean Payton has an outstanding reputation as an offensive wizard/quarterback developer. The grizzled veteran worked wonders with Drew Brees in New Orleans and a young Tony Romo in Dallas, and he squeezed some notable production out of Teddy Bridgewater, Taysom Hill and Jameis Winston during their brief stints as starters under his direction. 

Denver might draft a quarterback, but Payton could give Wilson an opportunity to compete for a starting job with Jarrett Stidham while teaching him how to play winning football at the position. Though the Broncos' overall talent level is not currently up to par, the presence of Courtland Sutton, an improving ground game and a playing style built around complementary football could alleviate some of the pressure on the young quarterback to carry the team. 

If Wilson can handle Payton's hard-nosed coaching and "tough love" approach, he could maximize his potential under an offensive-minded tutor who understands the position and how to build around the strengths of his quarterback's game.

Los Angeles Chargers
2023 record: 5-12

Jim Harbaugh knows how to get the best out of his quarterbacks. He did it as a college coach at the University of San Diego (with Josh Johnson), Stanford (Andrew Luck) and Michigan (J.J. McCarthy), and also did it at the pro level with the San Francisco 49ers (Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick).

Harbaugh's old-school methods might scare off some quarterbacks, but Wilson could use the confidence and toughness the coach engenders through his grizzled approach. After appearing to lose his swagger during his struggles in New York, Wilson must be rebuilt from the ground up, allowing him to rediscover the magic that prompted scouts to fall in love with his game.  

With Justin Herbert in place as the Chargers' franchise face, Wilson can sit back, learn and develop as a QB2 or QB3 under the watchful eye of a quarterback guru who knows how to coach and play the position. 

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