Pull up the stakes and pack up the tents now, ladies and gentlemen. The NFC North division race has been decided for 2010, and not only will the Vikings not be serious contenders for the division, they'll be lucky to squeak into the wild card race.
Or, at least, that's what we've been led to believe by the reports we've seen after the third week of NFL pre-season action. Yes, while the Vikings looked shaky on offense and outstanding on defense in their 24-13 victory over the Seattle Seahawks, the Green Bay Packers grabbed all the headlines this week by putting up 59 points against a team that hasn't given a damn about the pre-season for the better part of the last decade, the Indianapolis Colts.
How little do the Indianapolis Colts care about the pre-season? Allow me to illustrate.
Starting in 2005, and including the three games they've played this pre-season, the Colts have a pre-season winning percentage of .160, reflecting a record of four wins and 21 losses. Their winning percentage in the regular season since 2005? .813, reflecting a record of 65 wins and 15 losses. That's right. . .the Colts have more pre-season losses since 2005 than they have regular season losses. Heck, that's true even if you take out the three losses they've had this pre-season. I'm not sure how many NFL teams can make that claim, but I'm quite sure that it isn't a terribly extensive list.
So, Brett Favre threw a couple of interceptions. . .one of which hit Bernard Berrian right in the hands and was practically handed to Seahawks safety Earl Thomas for a huge touchdown return. . .and all of a sudden the Vikings' offense is in trouble and can't find its rhythm and blah blah blah. Meanwhile, our rivals to the east are setting the world on fire and have been deemed the favorites to go to the Super Bowl in the NFC.
Man, to find a scenario like that, you'd have to go all the way back to. . .um, last pre-season. How'd that work out for everybody? Worked out better for us than it did for them, if I recall correctly.
See, the thing about the Packers that a lot of people are forgetting is this. . .they have a grand total of one defensive player that can regularly put pressure on opposing quarterbacks, and that's Clay Matthews. He hasn't seen any game action this pre-season, and without him, the Green Bay pass rush is completely, thoroughly, and utterly non-existent. To be frank, it's barely existent with Clay Matthews in the lineup. We saw that first-hand in the two match-ups between the Vikings and the Packers last season.
As a result of this, the Packers secondary has to cover for extended periods of time. And for all the people that talk about how elite the Green Bay secondary is, I'm sorry. . .but outside of Charles Woodson, I'm not seeing it. Al Harris got his knee turned into mush last year, and still hasn't come back to the Packer lineup. As a corner in his mid-30s, there's a chance that he might not be back at all. Tramon Williams hasn't done anything to impress, Will Blackmon can't go more than five consecutive minutes without getting injured, and Jarrett Bush is a punchline waiting to happen every time he takes the field.
If Charles Woodson's body remembers at some point that it's 34 years of age, then that entire defense is in big trouble. They are that dependent on that guy maintaining his current level of performance. Woodson is pretty much to the Green Bay defense what Jared Allen is to the Vikings' defense. The difference, in my opinion, is that if the Vikings were to lose Allen, they have enough talent along their defensive line to at least take a little bit of the sting away. I don't think the Packers have that in their secondary.
Yes, Aaron Rodgers is a fine quarterback, and I'm certain that the Packers will score a ton of points this year, just like I'm certain that the Vikings will score a ton of points this year with Brett Favre at the controls. Lots of Packer fans that I've spoken to like to point out the fact that the Vikings have a "tougher schedule" than they did last year. That's funny because, you know, if the Vikings' schedule has gotten tougher in 2010, that probably means that the Packers' schedule has gotten tougher in 2010, too, since 14 of the 16 games they'll play are exactly the same. The two games that aren't the same? The Vikings match-up against the NFC South champions from last year in the New Orleans Saints, and the NFC West champions from last year, the Arizona Cardinals. The Packers will face the team that finished second in both of those divisions. . .the Atlanta Falcons and the San Francisco 49ers.
If you had your choice, in 2010. . .would you rather line up against New Orleans and Arizona, or against Atlanta and San Francisco?
But the Packers showed last year that, while they were awesome against the Brady Quinns and the Matthew Staffords and the Kyle Bollers of the NFL, if you present them with an offense that's average or better, they have trouble. If you don't believe me, take a look back at the two times they were carved up by Minnesota last season. Or the 500+ yard performance they allowed to Ben Roethlisberger. Or the 51 points they got dropped on them by the Arizona Cardinals in the post-season. If the Packers and the Vikings are both going to be facing better teams with stronger offenses in 2010, one would have to think that this bodes better for the Vikings than it does for Green Bay.
All in all, I'll repeat something that I've said quite a few times over the course of the off-season and the pre-season. Regardless of what the pre-season hype might tell you, the Minnesota Vikings are still the best team in the NFC North, and they're the best team in the NFC North until the Green Bay Packers, the Chicago Bears, or the Detroit Lions go out and prove it on the field. Not in some magazine, not on some highlight show. . .on the field of play. Have any of those three teams done enough to bridge the gap between themselves and the Beloved Purple? I certainly don't think that they have.