The question that arose around many water coolers last summer in the Midwest was who was the best quarterback in the NFC North? Was it unproven Aaron Rodgers? Veteran Jon Kitna? Game manager Kyle Orton? Or the dynamic but inexperienced Tarvaris Jackson?
The answer seemed to be the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers (although Kitna battled injuries and Jackson was benched for veteran Gus Frerotte).
However, 2009 has brought a new crop of players to the NFC North, most notably at the quarterback position.
After years of inconsistent quarterback play, the Chicago Bears went out and made a trade for disgruntled Pro Bowl quarterback Jay Cutler. A couple weeks later, the first 0-16 team in the history of the NFL , the Detroit Lions, made University of Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford their first pick in the 2009 NFL draft.
Even the Vikings made a quarterback move when they traded for journeyman Sage Rosenfels, who is expected to backup Tarvaris Jackson, at least for the first few games of the season.
All-in-all, the North’s new leaders are expected to fill some pretty small shoes.
Cutler is trying to become the first Chicago Bears quarterback to be selected to the Pro Bowl since Jim McMahon did it in 1985.
Stafford, who will compete for the starting job with former Pro Bowl and current washed-up quarterback Daunte Culpepper, will try to resurrect a team that could arguably be the worst of all time.
Rosenfels could become a major impact player early in the season if Tarvaris Jackson again disappoints in Minnesota.
The only solidarity in the North’s quarterbacking crews is in Green Bay, where Aaron Rodgers will be the starting QB for the second straight year, following future Hall of Famer Brett Favre’s circus departure to the New York Jets previous to last season.
The Packers, however, will have a new look on the other side of the ball where new defensive coordinator Dom Capers will bring his 3-4 defense. First-round draft picks B.J. Raji (DT, Boston College) and Clay Matthews (LB, USC) will look to make immediate impacts in the new defense.
The NFC North may have fewer questions going into 2009, which should make for a very competitive division race. Look for the Bears, Packers, and Vikings to fight all the way into December, and the lonely Lions to win at least one in ’09.