COMMENTARY | The NFC North was by no means a dominant force during the 2013 regular season.
The fact that even one team from this mediocre division made the playoffs in 2013 can be rationalized only by the free pass given to division winners. At 8-7-1, the Green Bay Packers had by far the worst record of all the other playoff teams in the NFC.
While the Green and Gold were able to keep the score in their wild-card round game against the San Francisco 49ers fairly close, they are nonetheless still sitting on their couches as the postseason enters its second weekend.
Interestingly, the best news for the Green Bay Packers may have arrived well before kick-off against the Niners. The Chicago Bears quietly made a huge move in free agency last week when they re-signed their starting quarterback, Jay Cutler, to a monster contract.
In a division that also features Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford, the Bears apparently felt they'd be best served by maintaining consistency at the position, instead of handing the reins to understudy Josh McCown or a draft pick.
With the Lions and Vikings firing their head coaches at the end of the 2013 regular season, the Cutler signing may actually represent quite a boon for the Packers in terms of ongoing divisional dominance.
The Bears are the only team outside the Packers that will bring back their coaching staffs in 2014, which suggests the two teams could be vying for the NFC North title for at least the next couple years.
Based on recent history, that forecast is likely the exact situation the Packers would have preferred. In his last 9 games against the Packers, Jay Cutler is 1-8 -- a degree of futility that doesn't typically translate into the huge contract numbers Cutler just received.
In his recent article "The Numbers On Jay Cutler's $126 Million Contract Are In, And It's A Monster" for Business Insider, Tony Manfred detailed just how mediocre Cutler has been in recent years as compared to the best quarterbacks in the NFL. Based on that insightful analysis, it seems clear that Cutler should not have been compensated at such a high level, especially on a long-term deal embedded with significant risk to the organization.
Cutler will receive $126 million overall and $54 million in guaranteed money, which is only $8.5 million less than Rodgers in the guaranteed portion. The following totals illustrate just how disparate the two quarterbacks' key statistics have been since Cutler joined the Bears:
Key Statistics Starting 2009
Jay Cutler: Touchdowns 101, Interceptions 75, Average Annual Passer Rating 83.8
Aaron Rodgers: Touchdowns 159, Interceptions 38, Average Annual Passer Rating 107.9
As Manfred discusses in his article, Cutler's production just doesn't seem to match up with such a huge contract. The size of the Bears' investment in Cutler therefore ensures not only that their team's quarterback will continue to play second or third fiddle in the NFC North, but it also precludes them from investing those valuable cap dollars in other areas on the team.
The Green Bay Packers made Aaron Rodgers the league's highest-paid player prior to the 2013 season, but Rodgers has consistently been one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the league since taking the reins from Brett Favre. By over-investing in Cutler, the Bears have arguably reduced their ability to compete with the Packers in the foreseeable future -- in terms of both quarterback competency and spending cap flexibility.
The net result suggeste that while the Green Bay Packers were ousted from the 2013 postseason, a rather significant silver lining seems be emerging in their division.
The signing of Jay Cutler to a long-term deal in Chicago, as well as the firings of both head coaches in Detroit and Minnesota, suggests the Packers will be the odds-on favorite to dominate the NFC North for the foreseeable future.
While that's all well and good, dictating the NFC North certainly doesn't guarantee league-wide success.
In order to legitimately compete for another Super Bowl title while Aaron Rodgers is still in his prime, the Packers will need to match coaching, scheming, and personnel of the true heavyweights in their conference -- particularly teams with great defenses like San Francisco and Seattle.
Andrew Prochnow is a derivatives trader by day and a Green Bay Packers fan by night. He is a regular contributor at Yahoo Sports and The Bleacher Report. Tweet him @AndrewProchnow.
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