Patrick Reusse: NFC North foes at a peak

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 26, 2011 - 11:47 PM

With strong quarterbacks and young teams, the Vikings' division foes seem like they will only get stronger.

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The Packers have the NFL’s best for the foreseeable future in Aaron Rodgers.

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The NFL completed the merger with the AFL and went to three divisions per conference in 1970. The Vikings were bracketed in the NFC Central with Chicago, Green Bay and Detroit, as they are today in the NFC North.

There was a 25-year period from 1977 through 2001 when the Central was a five-team division and included Tampa Bay. The Bucs moved to the NFC South when the NFL went to four four-team divisions per conference in 2002.

You can make a case the current NFC North provides the toughest division competition the Vikings have faced in the 42 years since the merger.

The Vikings haven't won a game in the division since beating Detroit in the Metrodome on Sept. 26, 2010. They are on a nine-game losing streak in the North, with four losses to the Packers, three to the Bears and two to the Lions.

What offers the impression that these teams aren't going away is the quarterback situation.

The Packers have the NFL's best for the foreseeable future in Aaron Rodgers. He turns 28 next week, and there isn't all that much wear and tear, considering his three-year apprenticeship behind Brett Favre.

The Bears have lost Jay Cutler, another 28-year-old, for several weeks with a fractured thumb. It comes with Chicago on a five-game winning streak in which it averaged 32 points per game behind Cutler and running back Matt Forte.

Chicago could hit the skids with backup Caleb Hanie as the quarterback, but this will remain the season when Cutler started using that magnificent right arm to make more great throws and fewer that are ill-advised.

Detroit also could be up against it, now that the focus has shifted from the Lions establishing themselves as contenders to defensive star Ndamukong Suh establishing himself as an idiot.

Whatever happens with this alleged season of revival in Detroit, the Lions are going to be factor in 2012 and beyond.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford doesn't turn 24 until next Feb. 7 (18 days before the Vikings' Christian Ponder) and there's plenty of talent for him to become a big-time player.

The ages and pedigree of the quarterbacks are what makes this NFC North more challenging now than when the Vikings were previously in deep divisions.

In 2001, the last year of a five-team Central, three teams made the playoffs: Bears (13-3), Packers (12-4) and Buccaneers (9-7).

Favre was running the show in Green Bay, obviously. Chicago? The quarterbacks were Jim Miller and Shane Matthews. Tampa Bay? The quarterback was Brad Johnson, then 33.

In 1999, the Central also had three teams in the playoffs: Bucs (11-5), Vikings (10-6) and Detroit (8-8).

All three teams split quarterback duty that season. The Vikings switched from Randall Cunningham to Jeff George. The Bucs started Trent Dilfer and Shaun King. The Lions started Gus Frerotte and Charlie Batch.

In 1997, the Central wound up with all three wild cards in the NFC. The Packers won the division at 13-3, followed by Bucs at 10-6, and the Lions and the Vikings at 9-7.

Exciting, right?

It was in Green Bay, where Favre took the Packers to a second Super Bowl in a row.

In Minnesota, Brad Johnson suffered a neck injury and was replaced by Cunningham. The Bucs were stuck with Dilfer, now proven to be much more adroit as an ESPN analyst than as a non-playmaking quarterback. The Lions had portly lefthander Scott Mitchell (think Jose Mijares, only taller).

The Central also had all of the wild cards in 1994. The Vikings won the division at 10-6, with the Bears, the Lions and the Packers getting in at 9-7.

The quarterbacks were Favre, Warren Moon in Minnesota, Mitchell and Dave Krieg in Detroit, and Steve Walsh and Erik Kramer in Chicago.

Walsh, a Twin Cities lad, led a 35-18 upset of the Vikings in the Dome that sent the first words of criticism printed in the local dailies toward Dennis Green. It was the start of a beautiful feud.

You look back at the total package of quarterbacks in those years the Central showed depth -- and you look at what the North has now (Ponder included) -- and there will be some continued reckoning to be done with this division for several years to come.

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon to 4 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. to noon Saturdays on 1500ESPN. • preusse@startribune.com

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Los Angeles - LP: B. Wilson 7 FINAL
Chicago Cubs - WP: J. Grimm 8
Detroit - WP: M. Scherzer 3 FINAL
Kansas City - LP: J. Shields 2
Philadelphia - WP: J. Williams 3 FINAL
Oakland - LP: D. Otero 0
Toronto - WP: M. Stroman 6 FINAL
NY Yankees - LP: C. Capuano 3
Arizona - LP: T. Cahill 1 FINAL
Colorado - WP: E. Butler 5
Boston 2 Bottom 7th Inning
Baltimore 7
Milwaukee 0 Top 7th Inning
Pittsburgh 0
Washington 3 Bottom 7th Inning
Miami 2
NY Mets 4 Bottom 8th Inning
Atlanta 0
Chicago WSox 0 Bottom 7th Inning
Tampa Bay 3
Cleveland 4 Bottom 4th Inning
Minnesota 2
Seattle 1 Top 8th Inning
Houston 10
Cincinnati 4 Bottom 7th Inning
St. Louis 7
San Francisco 0 Bottom 3rd Inning
San Diego 0
Texas 0 Bottom 1st Inning
LA Angels 1
San Diego 9/21/14 12:00 PM
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So Florida 17
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Rice 42
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(13) Georgia 66
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(11) Michigan State 73
Iowa 24 FINAL
Pittsburgh 20
Bowling Green 17 FINAL
(19) Wisconsin 68
Maryland 34 FINAL
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Tulane 13 FINAL
Duke 47
Hawaii 12 FINAL
Colorado 21
Marshall 48 FINAL
Akron 17
North Carolina 41 FINAL
East Carolina 70
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Wake Forest 24
Virginia 33 FINAL
(21) BYU 41
(6) Texas A&M 58 FINAL
SMU 6
Rutgers 31 FINAL
Navy 24
Central Mich 10 FINAL
Kansas 24
Utah 26 FINAL
Michigan 10
Florida 21 FINAL
(3) Alabama 42
Louisville 34 FINAL
FIU 3
Fla Atlantic 19 FINAL
Wyoming 20
Indiana 31 FINAL
(18) Missouri 27
San Jose St 7 FINAL
Minnesota 24
Texas State 35 FINAL
Illinois 42
Massachusetts 7 FINAL
Penn State 48
Georgia State 14 FINAL
Washington 45
Ball State 0 Delayed 9:30
Toledo 6
Appalachian St 7 3rd Qtr 1:34
Southern Miss 14
Miss State 31 3rd Qtr 8:57
(8) LSU 10
Northern Ill 7 4th Qtr
Arkansas 35
Middle Tennessee 10 3rd Qtr 2:25
Memphis 22
Utah State 14 3rd Qtr 3:43
Arkansas State 7
Miami-Ohio 21 3rd Qtr 9:10
Cincinnati 24
Idaho 17 3rd Qtr 2:34
Ohio U 20
(4) Oklahoma 24 3rd Qtr
West Virginia 24
(14) So Carolina 17 3rd Qtr 11:31
Vanderbilt 14
Ga Southern 14 3rd Qtr 11:07
South Alabama 6
Miami-Florida 14 3rd Qtr
(24) Nebraska 17
UNLV 7 2nd Qtr 2:23
Houston 13
New Mexico 21 2nd Qtr 1:43
New Mexico St 14
(22) Clemson 3 2nd Qtr 9:05
(1) Florida State 3
California 9:00 PM
Arizona
Louisiana 9:30 PM
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(2) Oregon 9:30 PM
Washington St
San Diego St 9:30 PM
Oregon State
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Ga Southern
(12) UCLA 9/25/14 9:00 PM
(15) Arizona State
Middle Tennessee 9/26/14 7:00 PM
Old Dominion
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New Mexico
(1) Florida State 9/27/14 2:00 AM
NC State
Duke 9/27/14 2:00 AM
Miami-Florida
North Carolina 9/27/14 2:00 AM
(22) Clemson
Texas-El Paso 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(20) Kansas State
Tennessee 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(13) Georgia
Vanderbilt 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Kentucky
Wyoming 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(11) Michigan State
Northwestern 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
TCU 9/27/14 11:00 AM
SMU
Iowa 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
Tulane 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Rutgers
So Florida 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(19) Wisconsin
Colorado State 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Boston College
Western Mich 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Virginia Tech
Maryland 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Indiana
Akron 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Pittsburgh
Bowling Green 9/27/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
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(6) Texas A&M
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Virginia
Western Ky 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Navy
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Michigan
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(5) Auburn
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Kansas
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Connecticut
(16) Stanford 9/27/14 3:15 PM
Washington
TX-San Antonio 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Fla Atlantic
South Alabama 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Idaho
Cincinnati 9/27/14 5:00 PM
(23) Ohio State
Rice 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Southern Miss
(18) Missouri 9/27/14 6:00 PM
(14) So Carolina
Boise State 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Air Force
Central Mich 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Toledo
Troy 9/27/14 6:00 PM
ULM
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(8) LSU
Memphis 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(10) Ole Miss
Texas State 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Tulsa
Washington St 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Utah
(9) Notre Dame 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Syracuse
(7) Baylor 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Iowa State
UNLV 9/27/14 7:00 PM
San Diego St
Illinois 9/27/14 8:00 PM
(24) Nebraska
Oregon State 9/27/14 9:30 PM
(17) USC
Nevada 9/27/14 9:30 PM
San Jose St
Vancouver FC 0 FINAL
Portland 3
Houston 0 FINAL
Philadelphia 0
New England 0 2nd Half 5:00
Columbus 1
San Jose 0 2nd Half 2:00
Montreal 2
Seattle 1 FINAL
Red Bull New York 4
D.C. 1 2nd Half
Chicago 2
FC Dallas 9:30 PM
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Brt Columbia 23
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Hamilton 10
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2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
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