Mon Nov 22 01:23pm EST
Now that Brad Childress has walked the plank, and we can assume Brett Favre(notes) will soon follow, the long and inevitable reconstruction of the Minnesota Vikings can commence. And with that, it's past time to look past the disaster and give a few props to the team that is clearly the NFC's best.
Wait -- haven't we already been talking about the Atlanta Falcons, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants? Not so fast, Cheesehead-breath. We're talking about the Green Bay Packers. You know, the team which went over to Minnesota and started these events in motion with a 31-3 beatdown, two weeks after it "welcomed" the Dallas Cowboys to Lambeau Field and tore through them to the tune of a 45-7 margin, leading directly to the firing of Wade Phillips.
(Note: The San Francisco 49ers play the Packers in two weeks. Watch out, Mike Singletary...)
We know that the Vikings drama has monopolized talk of the NFC North, and we're partially responsible for this, but we really need to start talking more about the Packers and the season they're putting together. Not only did they whack the Vikings in a season sweep (making up for the Minnesota sweep in 2009), they're two overtime wins from a 9-1 record. Each of their three defeats have come by just three points.
Aaron Rodgers(notes) is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, and he deserves a higher status than the eternal title of "Brett Favre's Replacement." This is what Mike Shanahan could never find in Denver after John Elway retired, and what the Arizona Cardinals may spend years looking for in the wake of Kurt Warner's(notes) new dual career as a TV dancing star and NFL color analyst -- the franchise quarterback to replace the franchise quarterback. Short of the Montana-to-Young succession plan, perhaps no team in the modern era has done a better job of replacing such an iconic quarterback.
Rodgers finished in the top 10 in Football Outsiders' quarterback efficiency metrics in 2008 and 2009 (something Favre can't claim), and he currently ranks fifth, behind Kyle Orton(notes), Tom Brady(notes), Philip Rivers(notes) and Peyton Manning(notes). Everyone mentions Brady and Manning when talking about the league's best quarterbacks, and most people will add in Rivers and Drew Brees(notes) after that, but it's absolutely time to put Rodgers in that mix. He's done what he's done despite an offensive line in flux, the lack of a No. 1 receiver at times, and the lack of a running game -- the same things that would upend most quarterbacks and did upend Favre in 2010.
The story goes far past Rodgers. "Endbacker" Clay Matthews(notes) is a near-shoo-in for the Defensive Player of the Year award. Cornerback Tramon Williams(notes) is one of the league's most improved players. Nose tackle B.J. Raji(notes) is playing at a Pro Bowl level, and Charles Woodson(notes) is still one of the more versatile defenders in the game. General manager Ted Thompson, the man who pulled the trigger on the decisions that led to Favre's departure from Green Bay, now looks like a Wile E. Coyote-level "Super Genius" after everything that has happened with his former quarterback. Head coach Mike McCarthy is one of the game's better playcallers and more adept handlers of people, and defensive coordinator Dom Capers has brought every bit of his brilliance to the team. Most teams which go from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense tend to falter (hello, Washington Redskins!), but the Packers' defense is more dynamic than it's been in years.
So, get the Vikings out of your system, America. And once you're done, come back and reward excellence by paying more attention to what's going on in Green Bay. It is the best underreported story in the NFL.
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