The NFC North and the word “quarterback” doesn’t really resonate with a sound tradition. The Green Bay Packers have had two of the three legendary quarterbacks to play in the division, being Brett Favre and Bart Starr – the Minnesota Vikings have the other with Fran Tarkenton. You can make an argument that the Lions and Bears have had some legends at the position as well but for Detroit one would have to go back to the 50’s to chronicle anything that Bobby Lane accomplished. For the Bears it’s no better, as one would have to google “great quarterbacks in the 1940’s” to find ol’ leather-helmet wearing Sid Luckman. For the first time in a long time all four teams in this division have viable options under center. The Green Bay Packers have the perennial MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers; the Detroit Lions have the first overall pick of the 2009 draft Matthew Stafford; the Chicago Bears have the enigma that is Jay Cutler; while the Minnesota Vikings drafted Teddy Bridgewater in this years draft with the hopes that he’ll lead them into the future. So how do these quarterbacks rank in this division? . . .
1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
2013 Stats: QB Rating: 104.9 Comp.%: 66.6 Yards: 2536 TD: 17 Int: 6 (9 Games)
Aaron Rodgers has not only refined his skills to elite levels, but he has also mastered his system in such a way that he can make any receiver on his roster look a lot better than they truly are. . .Rodgers has had a passer rating of over 100 in his last five seasons. He’s been a model of excellent consistency since 2008 while tossing 187 touchdowns to 51 interceptions. Rodgers has even welcomed the change at quarterbacks coach with Todd Van Pelt being assigned that role. Rodgers said of the change : “I think it’s important to mix it up a bit. . . it can really be good for things that are getting stagnant.” It’s impressive for someone building such a strong resume for himself to be open to change that will directly affect him. The bottom line is that Rodgers is still the main part of head coach Mike McCarthy’s offense. This offense was getting a bit too pass reliant until last season we all saw the emergence of rookie running back Eddy Lacy. With Lacy now filling the void needed at the half back spot, the Green Bay offense can become more balanced. Rodgers has the weapons in Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb to rebound from a season in which a collar bone injury sidelined him for seven games. There’s no reason to doubt that after a full season, Rodgers will put up over 4000 yards and 35 touchdowns – with ease.
2. Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears
2013 Stats: QB Rating: 89.2 Comp.%: 63.1 Yards: 2621 TD:19 Int: 12 (11 Games)
It’s obvious that while attending Vanderbilt University, Jay Cutler did not take a public relations course. Cutler has become the quarterback NFL fans “love to hate.” Cutler’s body language, poor judgement and dull facial expressions have made him a target for public scrutiny. The good thing about all of this? Jay Cutler does not care if you like him or not. The Bears apparently don’t care either as they offered signed Cutler to a new contract with $54 million guaranteed. Cutler was showing progress in the Marc Trestman system last season but once again, Cutler struggled to stay healthy for the duration of a season. It’s been stated over and over again that Cutler possesses “all the tools to succeed,” but now is the time for him to put up or shut up. The Bears have fixed the offensive line woes which hampered Cutler (and the offense as a whole) and they have three pro bowl skill position players in Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffrey and Matt Forte. The early word from quarterback coach Matt Cavanaugh was : “He’s taken every suggestion we’ve given and embraced it. From how he holds the ball to how he line s up. . . every little fundamental we’ve talked to him about, he’s embraced, and it’s like night and day.” The truth of the matter is, Jay Cutler may be the most talented quarterback in the history of the Chicago Bears – and now is the time for him to flourish.
3. Teddy Bridgewater, Minnesota Vikings
2013 Stats: (13 Games for Louisville University) Comp.%: 71 Yards: 3970 TD: 31 Int: 4
Teddy Bridgewater may have gone late in the first round but he found himself in a better position than the ones who were drafted ahead of him. Bridgewater went into last years college season as an early Heisman favorite and was projected to be a top five pick. A couple of hiccups during the season, questions about his body frame and a shaky pro-day – made his stock on draft day plummet. Some pundits felt the drop was foolish, while others thought it was justifiable. The Vikings, who were in need of a quarterback, felt they had to snatch up the QB from Louisville and hope that the drop in the draft would turn out to be a steal. In 2011 the Vikings kind of “forced the issue” by drafting quarterback Christian Ponder out of Florida State, and that just hasn’t worked out well for them. The Vikings still have the most devastating force in the back field in Adrian Peterson and last year drafted a multi-talented wide-out in Cordarrelle Patterson. A talent also in the building for Minnesota is new offensive coordinator, Norv Turner. Say what you want when it comes to Norv Turner being a head coach – the man has proved himself at the offensive coordinator position in this league. Questions about Bridgewater’s arm strength arose during draft talk – but Norv Turner has praised Bridgewater’s abilities : “I knew he’d be very accurate, I knew he’d make great decisions, quick decisions – but he’s been outstanding throwing the ball deep, which some people thought that was going to be an issue. Add to the mix a veteran receiver in Greg Jennings and a sure handed tight end who is a red zone threat in Kyle Rudolf – the transition for Bridgewater shouldn’t be as mind-bending as one would think. He probably had the most mentally equipped quarterback mind in this years draft and if he can put that together with the arm strength he has so far exhibited at practice, Bridgewater can help this team earn W’s in spots that last year turned out to be L’s.
4. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
2013 Stats: QB Rating: 84.2 Comp.%: 58.5 Yards: 4650 TD: 29 Int: 19
Matthew Stafford was the only quarterback in this division to start every game for his team. He was 350 yards short of throwing for 5000 and is returning with more weapons this year. So why is Stafford at the bottom of this quarterback ranking? The Detroit Lions seemingly had the division put away, but poor defense and offensive turnovers made the Lions give the lead away. Stafford threw 12 interception in his last 6 games. Stafford has one of the bigger arms in the league, but that means nothing without control and a sense of where you are. Stafford at times seems to just throw jump balls up for Calvin Johnson more than actually throw accurately to him – and he also seems to just zone in on Johnson and force the issue, even if he is double covered. The Lions added Golden Tate and rookie tight end Eric Ebron into the mix. Last year they added Reggie Bush. When will they stop shelling out money or spending draft picks on an offense for a quarterback that doesn’t think he needs to change his style? Yeah that’s right. When talk of working with/under a quarterback guru came up, Stafford said: “Probably not. That’s not something I feel would be my style or beneficial to me.” Oh. The Lions decided to pay him big bucks before he really accomplished anything and now have to just sit this one out and hope for the best. While the other three quarterbacks in this division have taken to change or embraced new philosophies, Stafford continues to play the stubborn role. The Lions just went under a new coaching change and coach Jim Caldwell is supposed to “crack the whip” on an otherwise non-disciplined locker room. Who knows how that will go with the free-spirited Stafford. Stafford at times throws off-balanced, side armed or just throws from an awkward over hand release making his passes bullets. . . but not quite accurate. Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press wrote: “Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford and his new receiving corps haven’t set the world on fire practicing in shorts and helmets during organized team activities. . .” – that sounds promising.