Favre king of NFC North QBs

Culpepper, Harrington have underachieved this season

Entering this season, it appeared the NFC North might be an improved division at the quarterback position. Brett Favre was still in Green Bay, Minnesota's Daunte Culpepper was coming off an MVP-type season, Detroit's Joey Harrington got two weapons added to the offense and the Bears were turning to rookie Kyle Orton, who was dangerous at Purdue.

Six weeks into the season, however, and the quarterbacks, as a whole, in the NFC North are the definition of mediocrity — at best. Favre has been the best, showing his old MVP form recently while tossing 12 TD passes through five games. But that's all the good news there is at quarterback in the division. Culpepper, Harrington and Orton have moved their offenses up and down the field like a car streaks down a highway on gas fumes.

Here's a closer look at the quarterbacks:

After starting slowly, Favre has breathed life in the Packers' offense, despite losing wide receiver Javon Walker for the season with a knee injury, and not having tight end Bubba Franks available the last two games because of injury.

Favre has made Donald Lee and David Martin — both tight ends — look good. That's hard to do, knowing Martin is more known for injuries while Lee was signed as a street free agent.

If Favre keeps up his play, he'll reclaim the best-quarterback-in-the-division title away from Culpepper.

Speaking of Culpepper, has he been sea-sick this season (Yes, that was a shot at the Vikings and their recent cruise controversy). Many expected the loss of wide receiver Randy Moss (via trade) to slow down the passing game some, but the passing game has been next to non-existent. Culpepper has thrown four TD passes and 12 interceptions, while compiling a Kordell Stewart-like 62.8 passer rating.

The additions of rookie Troy Williamson, Travis Taylor and Koren Robinson to go along with holdovers Nate Burleson, Marcus Robinson and tight end Jermaine Wiggins were expected to off-set Moss' loss. It hasn't.

Culpepper seems to be throwing passes without a plan. He looks more careless now than ever before and it's hurting Minnesota, big-time.

Not to be left out, Harrington is doing the same for the Lions — again.

The third pick in the 2002 draft, Harrington entered this season knowing his career in Detroit was on the line. The Lions helped him out by drafting receiver Mike Williams and signing tight end Marcus Pollard. These two joined receivers Charles Rogers and Roy Williams, and running back Kevin Jones.

Rogers has been suspended four games after violating the NFL's substance abuse policy, but still there is enough for Harrington to work with. It doesn't matter, though, as Harrington continues to play like a third-string quarterback as the Lions' offense ranks 30th in the NFL.

He's been ineffective all season, giving coach Steve Mariucci a thought of starting Jeff Garcia this weekend. It couldn't hurt.

As for Orton, he looked good in the preseason, but that was the preseason, when teams don't scheme and don't play starters very long.

Since the start of the regular season, Orton has looked like a rookie — predictably. He has been confused — admittedly — and his lack of production has made the addition of wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad a moot point. Muhammad signed a $32 million deal to leave Carolina for Chicago, but after scoring 16 TDs last season to lead the NFL, Muhammad has one TD and doesn't rank in the top 30 in receptions or yards through five games.

Orton may be a solid quarterback some day, but rarely do teams succeed with rookie quarterbacks. That is why the Giants started with Kurt Warner last season instead of Eli Manning.

Quarterback is the most difficult position in the NFL to play, and when a team has a struggling signal caller you can bet your next paycheck that team will struggle.

If you don't have a Favre, Donovan McNabb or Peyton Manning to rely on, you hope you have a quarterback who won't lose you games.

In the NFC North, Favre is the only premier quarterback right now. Still, the Packers are struggling because of injuries and not being complete. The others are struggling first and foremost because of poor quarterback play. If this continues, it's likely the lineup of starting quarterbacks in the NFC North will change some in 2006.

Doug Ritchay

Editor's note: Doug Ritchay is a longtime sportswriter and former Packers beat writer for the Green Bay News-Chronicle. E-mail at dritchay@sbcglobal.net.

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