In 2006 and 2007, the Green Bay Packers had left the Minnesota Vikings in their dust.
The Packers went from 4-12 under Mike Sherman in 2005 to 8-8 in 2006 and a breakout 13-3 in 2007 with Mike McCarthy. Meanwhile, the Vikings went from 9-7 under Mike Tice in 2005 to 6-10 in 2006 and 8-8 in 2007 under Brad Childress.
Since then, though, the Vikings have won back-to-back NFC North titles with a combined record of 22-10. The Packers, meanwhile, bounced back from a 6-10 disaster in 2008 to go 11-5 and earn a wild-card berth last season.
The primary reason for the Vikings' recent success isn't quite as obvious as the reason for the Packers' success.
To say Packers general manager Ted Thompson's preferred way to build a team is through the draft is like pointing out the sky is blue, the grass is green and unemployment is high.
Thompson, however, has been beat at his own game by Vikings vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman, who was hired in time to run the 2006 draft.
Spielman has been a godsend for the Vikings, whose infamous 2005 draft class was headlined by first-round busts Troy Williamson and Erasmus James. Of the Vikings' seven draft picks, not one of them is on the team today and only Williamson (Jaguars) and C.J. Mosley (Browns) are even in the league. By comparison, the Packers' maligned Class of 2007, headlined by Justin Harrell, is a star-studded cast of future Hall of Famers.
Those kind of drafts are almost impossible to overcome, yet Spielman — who, frankly, was horrible with the Dolphins before spending a year at ESPN — has done just that.
For starters, Spielman's first-round picks have been better than Thompson's, with a Round 1 haul of Chad Greenway in 2006, Adrian Peterson in 2007 and Percy Harvin in 2009. The Vikings' first- and third-round picks in 2008 were used to acquire Jared Allen.
It's Advantage Spielman in the second round, too. Since Thompson landed Nick Collins in 2005 and Greg Jennings in 2006, none of his second-round picks have provided much of an impact. Though, in fairness, Thompson shipped the Packers' second-rounder in 2009 to New England to help grab Clay Matthews III. Meanwhile, Spielman landed starting right tackle Phil Loadholt in 2009, starting safety Tyrell Johnson in 2008, budding superstar receiver Sidney Rice in 2007 and starting corner in Cedric Griffin in 2006.
Put it together, and in the last four drafts, Thompson has had four first-round picks and six second-round picks while Spielman has had three first-round picks and six second-round picks. Thompson landed just two difference-makers with Matthews and Jennings, though maybe Raji will join them. Spielman hit it out of the park with Harvin, Peterson and Rice, Greenway is at least as good as 2006 Packers first-rounder A.J. Hawk, and Allen is far better than what the Vikings could have landed with the first-round pick and two third-round selections they relinquished.
Throw in the 2006 free-agent signings of Steve Hutchinson, Chester Taylor, Ryan Longwell and Ben Leber, 2007 signing of tight end Visanthe Shiancoe and their dogged pursuit of Brett Favre in 2009, and it's clear why the Vikings are the front-runners in the NFC North. As long as Spielman is winning his battle against Thompson, the Vikings will continue winning their battles against the Packers.
Agree or disagree?: Discuss hot Packers topics in our, free forums. Leave Bill a question in the subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum.
Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.