Since the 41-0 loss in the Meadowlands in January 2001 that effectively ended the championship hopes of Red McCombs, Dennis Green and Cris Carter, the Minnesota Vikings have won two division titles.
That is a remarkably small number considering the low quality of the old NFC Central and the composition of the NFC North — which contains the frequently-horrid Detroit Lions and the frequently-horrid-of-late Chicago Bears.
Both of the Vikings’ division titles since 41-Donut were gifts from Brett Favre.
In 2008, the Vikings won the division largely because Favre left the Packers, who spent that season breaking in Aaron Rodgers.
In 2009, the Vikings won the division because they signed Favre.
Since 2001, the Packers have won eight division titles, including the past four. Their record against the Vikings in this decade: 9-1-1.
This dominance gives the lie to the NFL’s frequent boasts of parity. Parity does not exist and may never exist because teams with good quarterbacks hold an inherent advantage over those that do not, and there have never been 32 quality NFL quarterbacks on the planet at the same time. The Packers have dominated the division because of Favre and Rodgers.
Because the 2008 and 2009 division titles were the result of Favre’s departure from Green Bay and arrival in Minnesota, the Vikings’ rise to first place in the NFC North this season feels and looks different than it did at the end of the last decade. The current Vikings hierarchy feels and looks more stable than any they have had since Bud Grant’s first retirement.
With the arrival of a new stadium that will make the Wilfs even richer, there are no worries about franchise stability. General Manager Rick Spielman has built a strong football department. The coach, Mike Zimmer, brings expertise and has no desire to work elsewhere.
The quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, is mature and should improve, even if his production has yet to impress this season. The young talent on the roster is impressive. Perhaps most important, for once the Packers look vulnerable.
A season-ending injury to Jordy Nelson has exposed a rare flaw for his franchise — a lack of depth at receiver. Rodgers’ accuracy has waned as the season has progressed, a strange development for a great quarterback, and a development that perhaps can be attributed only to physical ailments. Powerhouse running back Eddie Lacy has seen his role reduced even when he is healthy, meaning a team that has been selecting near the bottom of the draft for the past two decades spent a valuable second-round pick on someone who is at the moment a backup.
The Vikings have won five in a row to reach 7-2 and can take a two-game lead in the North with a victory. The Packers have lost three consecutive to reach 6-3, and their streak of divisional dominance is at risk.
For once, there is reason for Vikings fans to be optimistic, and yet there is also reason for their traditional levels of paranoia.
Optimism is justified by Zimmer’s emergence as one of the league’s better coaches. Paranoia is justified because the Packers’ woes don’t necessarily reflect an organizational crisis. Their woes are largely the result of injuries.
Nelson’s injury robbed Rodgers of his favorite receiver and game-turning big plays.
Rodgers’ apparent shoulder injury has robbed him of his usual otherworldly accuracy.
Linebacker Clay Matthews’ ankle injury has temporarily turned him from exceptional to ordinary.
The great hope of Vikings fans and employees is that this moment represents the door to a new era of Vikings dominance, but Rodgers remains the best quarterback in his prime in the NFL, Nelson will be back next season, and Matthews has been slowed only temporarily.
What may be more realistic for the Vikings is recognizing this moment as not a door to paradise but a rare window of opportunity, and perhaps the first chapter of a new-age rivalry in which victories over the Packers won’t be so rare.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MalePatternPodcasts.com. On