The Lockout seems to be wearing down now, and so we enter the homestretch of the barren wasteland of our current offseason. As if everyone was thinking the same thing at once, there is not a sudden rash of articles and talking heads starting to look ahead to the next decade or so and see which franchise are going to be the talk dogs. In this one team seems to be coming to the top of many lists. Who is that team?
Now I could gush about how talented the Packers are right now. I could talk about how, even though coming off a Super Bowl victory, there seems to be a five year window (Aaron's Rodgers words, not mine) for winning more championships. We could toss around the D-word a bit (Hint: if you don't know what it is look up an old evening soap opera from the 80's taking place in Denver). But really why toot our own horn?
No I want to write about something else. Namely, how our division and Conference is shaping up. The sands are shifting quickly in the NFL and especially in the NFC. The National Conference has not really had one powerhouse team dominating through the 2000's. Each year through the 2000's we heard how wide open the NFC was, how any team could surface and win it all. Meanwhile in the AFC the Steelers, Colts, and Patriots pretty much ruled the roost. But will this continue? And how will these power changes and rising teams affect the dynamic in the NFC North?
This past offseason I've been struck by the bitterness in the comments of select fans of our rivals. Part of this came in posts about some controversies with Lambeau and Wisconsin's new conceal and carry laws. Some came from Johnny Jolly's troubles. Others came just some general Brett Favre stuff. What struck me was the amount of bile coming out...it just seemed more than normal....especially from Viking fans. Don't get me wrong, this isn't going to be an "oh woe is me" rant....just that it has been a curious phenomena. Some answers came clearer to me today when looking at the predicted NFC North stars when Kevin Seifert apologized to Bear and Viking fans for not having a balanced approach in recognizing these future stars.
See that's just it, isn't it? It's not just that the Packers won the Super Bowl...it's that the team is pretty young and does have a nice window. At the same time the Lions are looking better each year and should be making some serious contentions in the very near future. Meanwhile the Bears are treading water (still very good, but years of not having many draft picks and missing out on first and second rounders are starting to catch up), and the Vikings are sinking (lots of holes on that roster mixed with aging superstars can be a nasty combination for a franchise, see the end of the Sherman era here).
The broader view makes for an even more interesting picture. There is a changing of the guard coming in the NFL. Two division are rising fast and both are in the NFC. The first one is the one we know and love, the NFC North. Most of it comes from QB play. The Packers are a team on the upswing and look for something promising. The Lions have great young talent and can make some noise. The Bears are solid and should be for at least a couple more years. The Vikings are a bit of a mystery and should still be able to hang with most teams.
The other division is the NFC South. Again there are at least three very good QB's in the division with Josh Freeman, Drew Brees, and Matt Ryan. The Bucs have a young team looking to make some noise. The Saints are a team dripping with talent and looking to add another shiney championship trophy for their coach to sleep with. The Falcons are also looking to get over the hump and show the league they belong among the elite. The odd duck is the Panthers who could surprise people if their rookie QB pans out (don't bet on it but stranger things have happened).
But will the rise of these divisions keep the parity and prevent one or two teams from really rising? I don't think so. I think there is going to be some dynasty type teams that will rise over the next couple years. I think it's going to be something akin to the Steelers, Pats, and Colts actually, only that it will be the Packers and Saints battling it out. These two champions will have the rosters and front offices to keep them going...and should promise us some very exciting football.
So here's to the future...and remember, the best is truly yet to come.