‘Black and Blue' thrown out window

With Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler, Matthew Stafford and, perhaps, Brett Favre, the NFC North has an arms race. Assuming Favre comes back, the NFL will not have seen this type of quarterback talent in one position in 15 years. Packer Report looks at this marquee position and tells you which quarterback is in the best situation.

It doesn't seem so long ago when the NFC North was the NFC Central and carried the moniker of the "Black and Blue Division."

Things have changed, and that's never been more apparent than this offseason.

The Detroit Lions spent the No. 1 overall draft pick on rocket-armed quarterback Matthew Stafford.

The Chicago Bears mortgaged much of their 2009 and 2010 drafts to wrest rocket-armed quarterback Jay Cutler away from Denver.

The Minnesota Vikings remain interested in the dinged-up rocket arm of quarterback Brett Favre.

And the Green Bay Packers have the Joe Montana-to-Steve Young luxury of going from Favre to Aaron Rodgers at quarterback.

With or without Favre arriving in Minneapolis, the only things black and blue about this division are the hands of the receivers and the egos of enemy defensive backs and coordinators.

The NFL hasn't seen this type of power in one division since the careers of Miami's Dan Marino, Buffalo's Jim Kelly, New England's Drew Bledsoe and the New York Jets' Boomer Esiason crossed paths in the AFC East in 1993.

The possibility of Favre crossing enemy lines to join the Vikings remains hot talk in this slow time of the offseason. The record-setting Favre, who turns 40 in October, would be a one- or two-year rental in hopes of pushing a talented squad over the top.

Signing him would be a calculated gamble, with either an extraordinary payoff or dramatic side-effects. The Vikings spent a second-round pick on Tarvaris Jackson in 2006 and gave up a fourth-round draft pick and a two-year, $9 million contact this offseason to acquire Sage Rosenfels from Houston. Adding Favre wouldn't be good for the psyche of either, especially Jackson.

While anything involving Favre will get the big-type headlines in the newspapers and be the lead on "SportsCenter," it's Cutler and Stafford who will have the largest impact on their teams over the long run.

Cutler gives the Bears their first legit quarterback since Jim McMahon, though it came with the stiff price of first-round draft picks in 2009 and 2010, a third-rounder in 2009 and Kyle Orton. It was a shockingly large trade in a league in which blockbuster trades are struck about as often as Halley's Comet makes an appearance.

In his two seasons as the Broncos' full-time starter, Cutler threw for 8,000 yards and 45 touchdowns on 63 percent accuracy. The Bears, of course, aren't exactly loaded at wide receiver, while the Broncos' Eddie Royal and Brandon Marshall combined for 195 receptions for 2,245 yards and 11 touchdowns. The million-dollar question is, are Marshall and Royal elite receivers or were they made by Cutler? And how much better will Cutler be with Matt Forte in the backfield, considering he didn't have so much as a 350-yard rusher last year?

Regardless, Cutler's supporting cast at this point is almost irrelevant. While the Vikings want Favre for today, the Bears got Cutler for today and the next 10 years.

Ditto for the Lions, whose future is inexorably linked to Stafford. His six-year contract contains $41.7 million in guaranteed money. It will be money well-spent if he can lead the destitute franchise to its first championship in more than 50 years.

History, on the other hand, is against Stafford. From Tim Couch to Alex Smith to David Carr, more quarterbacks taken No. 1 overall have busted rather than starred. In fact, just 40 percent of them in the 73-year history of the draft have played in so much as one Pro Bowl.

"What happens sometimes is they get beat up physically and mentally and have a tough time bouncing back," 49ers general manager Scot McCloughan told Knight Ridder Newspapers while contemplating whether to take Smith or Rodgers with the No. 1 overall pick in 2005. "They're thrown on a team that doesn't have a good supporting cast, and they're expected to be able to produce all by themselves early. You can't do that.

"You need a running back. You need receivers. You need a heck of an offensive line to give him time, so his team has the support structure in place to give him the best chance to succeed."

The Bears and Lions took major risks in getting Cutler and Stafford, but at least they have a quarterback to build around. With only rare exceptions — like the Trent Dilfer-led Baltimore Ravens — it takes a significantly above-average quarterback to win a Super Bowl. Cutler and Rodgers qualify — despite career losing records as the starter — Stafford has a chance and Favre is one of the greatest ever.

In the long run, the Packers probably have the best fit at quarterback. Assuming he comes back, Favre's time is short; Stafford has to survive the mental beating he's likely to take; and Cutler is attached to defensive-minded coach Lovie Smith rather than offensive-minded coach Mike Shanahan.

Rodgers has an offensive-minded coach in Mike McCarthy and has been given a quality arsenal of weapons. Pair those factors with Rodgers' obvious talent, and it's a winning combination his hot-shot NFC North colleagues lack.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Bill also is giving Facebook and Twitter a try. Find him on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook.

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