Coming up short

Have the Green Bay Packers gained any ground on the Chicago Bears in the NFC North Division this off-season?'s Matt Tevsh assesses the situation and explains why the gap between the two teams is still very sizeable.

That Lovie Smith made it a point of emphasis spoke volumes. On the January day in 2004 when he was introduced as the new head coach of the Chicago Bears, Smith specifically stated one of his goals was to beat the Packers.

Nearly three years later, Smith has accomplished that goal and then some. The Bears are 4-2 against the Packers since Smith took over and clearly the balance of power in the NFC North has shifted. Having once controlled the division for most of the 1990's and into the first few years of the 21st century, the Packers have fallen back.

So just how close are they to getting back to the top? Not close enough - at least not for 2007.

The prevailing feeling emanating from Packers' fans this off-season is that the team failed to make any moves to improve their divisional position in the season ahead. Coming off a strong finish to the 2006 season the Packers should expect to improve their standing, but instead their longtime Midwestern foes have taken bigger, more proactive steps that might prevent that from happening. Here is a quick look:

• The Lions drafted stud receiver Calvin Johnson and traded for Tatum Bell

• The Vikings nabbed a sure-shooting star in Adrian Peterson and added hard-hitting safety Mike Doss

• The Bears have the majority of their dominant defense coming back and a first-round pick in tight end Greg Olsen who should stretch the field for their offense.

The Packers, on the other hand, made headlines for who they failed to add. Not completing a deal for Randy Moss put a damper on draft weekend and has the team searching desperately for someone besides Donald Driver to make plays on offense.

The Packers have a remarkably similar roster to a year ago. They added just one notable free agent in Frank Walker and selected a mass of draft picks who will try to find a spot to fit in when they really needed an instant upgrade or two to continue their momentum from a year ago. Instead, they will be relying on continued improvement from their young players and young coach, and hope that Brett Favre can continue to deny Father Time to make any progress.

Uncertainties always seem to surface in some fashion late into the summer when training camp rolls around, but after having many of the same question marks last year at this time, it should be hard for the Packers to ignore what other teams in the North are doing. They are adding talent while the Packers are simply hoping to get more out of theirs.

The Packers could still make a major addition to their roster before the regular season begins, but such a move is highly unlikely. Really, what ammunition do they have? Players with the most trade value – Favre, Driver, Aaron Kampman, A.J. Hawk, and Al Harris – are clearly not going anywhere, and to even suggest trading future high draft picks goes against general manager Ted Thompson's grand plan.

What the Packers may have going for them versus their division foes are intangibles. If anything, they have had a better off-season than the Bears even if they lack their south-of-the-border foe in talent. Contract issues involving Lance Briggs, off-the-field problems with Tank Johnson, the departure of offensive leader Thomas Jones, and omnipresent chatter about quarterback Rex Grossman have given Bears' fans reasons to want the season to start as soon as possible.

As for the Lions, well, losing continues to be a disease without a cure.

And finally for the Vikings, a clouded quarterback situation and possibly the poorest selection of coaches from the 2006 class could continue to frustrate Vikings' fans.

There still is hope for the Packers. To get back to the playoffs consistently, though, they have to climb to the top of NFC North again. With the division adding some pretty impressive players, that task just got a little harder.

Matt Tevsh

Matt Tevsh is a regular contributor to and Packer Report. E-mail him at

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