NFC North Officially Begins

The long and storied history of the NFC Central officially ended Sunday, as, following a Bears humbling at home, the Packers were crushed by the Rams.

The Vikings could take a little solace in knowing that they may not be as far from the top of the new NFC North than they may have thought when the regular season ended.

On Saturday, the Bears were coming off a bye week and got hammered by the Philadelphia Eagles -- something the Vikings never did following a home bye under Dennis Green, going 2-0 in home divisional playoff games after a bye week.

Yesterday, Brett Favre tossed up five interceptions and the Rams made him pay, piling on 45 points to end Green Bay's season and expose the holes that the Vikings exploited in their home win over the Packers.

While it may be little consolation, since Vikings fans rarely diminished making the playoffs and losing as opposed to not making the playoffs at all, both games served as a warning that neither the Bears nor the Packers have the look of a team that can ride roughshod over the NFC and that the new NFC North (Chicago, Detroit, Green Bay and the Vikes) may be much more competitive than some would have thought heading into last weekend.

MONDAY NOTES
* VU has learned a couple of Vikings players and coaches were stunned by the ruling that cost the Oakland Raiders a playoff win at New England Saturday night. While apparently the refs upheld the letter of the rule, it was clear to them that Tom Brady had brought the ball back down and wasn't in a passing motion when he fumbled. The refs ruled it an incomplete pass and allowed the Patriots to keep their drive going and they eventually won the game. Had the fumble stood, the Raiders could have kneeled on the ball and won.
* The Bears are facing some cap problems of their own, and our VU sources with the Bears say the team will have a difficult time re-signing starters C Olin Kreutz, CB Walt Harris and SS Tony Parrish.
* VU has heard Mike Morris might come back to the Vikings as a long-snapper consultant and is again in the running to be part of the Vikings broadcast team. Morris was a choice for color commentator last year, but that was vetoed by Dennis Green, who had a strong dislike for Morris.

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