Monday night’s Minnesota Vikings vs. Green Bay Packers game should give us all an idea of where the Bears stand in the thick of the division. Many NFL analysts gave the Bears and Detroit Lions little to no shot at winning the division, considering the NFC North to be a two-horse race between the Vikings and Packers. But with the Bears’ stunning victory over the Indianapolis Colts, the Bears may have nudged their way in between these two thoroughbreds at the starting gate.
When watching the game tonight, you may have your preference as to which team wins. I know I have mine — the Vikings (I would never root for the Packers unless a Green Bay win somehow put the Bears into the playoffs). But something to take notice of even more than which team wins or loses is to see how these teams play and if they deserve the hype which has been thrust upon them this off-season.
The Packers made a 13-3 run last year and were one play away from heading to Super Bowl XLII. This team no doubt has talent on both sides of the ball, but they also had arguably the best quarterback in NFL history taking snaps in what is widely considered one of his best seasons ever. When you remove Brett Favre from the equation, are the Packers really a 13-3 team? Most Packers fans subscribe to the theory that “they don’t rebuild, they reload”, but I find it hard to believe that Aaron Rodgers can make a seamless transition from three-year backup to starter without experiencing some hiccups along the way. Rodgers, after all, was a guy who was projected to be the first overall pick of the 2005 draft at one point and ended up sliding all the way to the Packers at pick No. 24. You can draw your own conclusions as to why.
The Vikings, meanwhile, are a team who burst onto the scene late last year by playing solid defense and running the football effectively with explosive rookie running back Adrian Peterson. Many analysts, myself included, expect the Vikings to continue that momentum into this season. The keys to success in the NFL are running the football and playing solid defense. But can Adrian Peterson sustain a long career? In 2004 at Oklahoma, he missed time because of a dislocated shoulder. In 2005, he missed four games due to a high ankle sprain. The following season, he broke his collar bone and missed a large chunk of the season. And last year as a rookie, he injured his LCL against the Packers in the third quarter and missed the rest of that game as well as the next two games. Four straight seasons with some type of injury that costs him time is something to be concerned about. And with unsteady Tarvaris Jackson taking snaps for this team, the Vikings could be one wrong hit away from being mediocre.
So, as you plop down in front of the TV tonight to watch this much-anticipated division rivalry game, take a more analytical role instead of just rooting for the team you want to win and really get a feel for how these teams play. Because, for as good as Bears fans felt after the victory over Indianapolis, it’s possible we could be feeling even better following tonight’s game, should either team — or both — stumble.