Reusse's Reality Script: Episode 4 (Vikings-Packers)
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The popular theory in Minnesota today will be that the Green Bay Packers' run as the power of the NFC North is over and the Vikings are the team on the rise.
There's no doubt that the Vikings' standing in this four-team division soared in 2012, when Rick Spielman put his roster in rebuilding mode, and somehow Minnesota went from 3-13 in 2011 to 10-6.
The Vikings entered this season with an 11-game losing streak in the North. They swept the Lions and split with the Bears and Packers to finish 4-2. And the Purple Faithful can make the Joe Webb excuse for the 24-10 playoff loss in Green Bay:
"If Christian Ponder had played with competence close to what he showed in the Metrodome victory over the Packers, the Vikings could have won that game in Lambeau.''
The Lions once again have turned into the chaotic bottom-feeders of the North, and the Bears have a years-long task to rebuild an aging defense - no matter who winds up as the replacement for the fired coach, Lovie Smith.
That does seem to make it the Vikings vs. the Packers for NFC North supremacy for the foreseeable future. And after watching Minnesota's defensive improvement in 2012, and the Packers' absolute defensive meltdown in the 45-31 loss in San Francisco on Saturday, it's OK to start throwing some agitation about the future to the Cheddarbrains that you work beside in the Twin Cities.
One caution: It could be what the Packers need more than anything is what Minnesota's current NBA roster needs _ a return to health.
To count on that is always a more tenuous proposition in the dangerous game of football than in the NBA, with its freaky injuries. And, there's definitely some soul searching to be done in Green Bay as to why it has been winding up with more-important players on injured reserve than perhaps any successful team in NFL history.
The Packers are 47-17 in the regular season over the past four seasons. They had a Super Bowl victory after the 2010 season _ amazing, when you consider the injuries were also pervasive that year.
One player available and important in the 31-25 victory over Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl played in February 2011 was safety Nick Collins. He intercepted a Ben Roethlisberger pass and took it for a touchdown to give the Packers a 14-0 lead. He was a playmaker and a tackler from the back of the defense.
And watching the Packers in both the shootout loss to the Vikings to end this regular season, and in the Colin Kaepernick carnage in San Francisco, you kept saying: "Man, does this team someone in the secondary to make a tackle.''
Collins injured his neck in a game on Sept. 18, 2011. His career looks to have ended that day.
You want to ask me the No. 1 advantage the Vikings have over the Packers going forward? The Vikings have Harrison Smith, a rookie in 2012, to rally around in the secondary, and the Packers haven't come close to finding another Nick Collins to rally their group.
The other big shortcomings when you watched the Packers in the Metrodome loss and in the San Francisco blowout were the '4' part (linebackers) of the 3-4 defense, and the offensive line.
Green Bay's best all-around linebacker, Desmond Bishop, missed the entire season. His replacement, D.J. Smith, also went to injured reserve. Rookie Nick Perry, supposed to assist Clay Mathews as a pass rusher, wound up on injured reserve.
The Packers lost their best tackle, Bryan Bulaga, on the offensive line. And another tackle, Derek Sherrod, a No. 1 draft choice in 2011, did not return from a severely broken leg near the end of his rookie season and spent 2012 on the notorious PUP list.
The Packers are going to lose receiver Greg Jennings as a free agent, and that will hurt. As always, they will be auditioning running backs, since the latest product of the scrap heap _ DuJuan Harris _ is too small to be a full-season, every-down back.
The national boys covering the NFL like to vary from the norm and they will make the Vikings the hot pick to win the NFC North in 2013.
Meantime, the Packers will be reminded all summer of the playoff-ending embarrassment, yet if they can get the linebackers and linemen healthy _ always a big IF in the NFL _ for next season, those forecasts of change at the top of the division could be premature.