The Day After

In the wake of the shocking news that Brett Favre wouldn't be returning for his 18th season, the Packers' stranglehold atop the NFC North Division has taken a severe blow that should have the other three teams quietly celebrating.

The landscape of the NFC North took a dramatic turn Tuesday morning when the announcement became official that Brett Favre was retiring after 17 seasons. The feeling had been for the last couple of months that Favre, who had led the Packers to a career best 13-3 record and played at home during the NFC title game, would be returning. But his announcement has sent shock waves throughout the league, had Packers fans in mourning as if he had died and, for the rest of the teams in the NFC North, given them a ray of hope.

The sentiment had been that the Packers would enter the 2008 season as the clear favorite to repeat as division champion. Although the team was young and inexperienced at almost every position, quarterback was the foundation and centerpiece of the organization. Now that has all changed.

With Favre gone, suddenly the Packers go from the most experienced team in the division at QB to the least. Tarvaris Jackson has one season as the starter under his belt. Rex Grossman has been up and down, but has amassed a decent record as a starting QB. Jon Kitna is entering his third season as the Lions quarterback. So now, as the assumption goes, the Packers are going to turn the offense over to Aaron Rodgers, who played only briefly in 2007 and in his only action of 2006, got injured.

While the Packers will likely still be viewed as the favorite in the division, with both the Vikings and Lions viewed as teams on the rise and the Bears re-tooling but just one year removed from the Super Bowl, the battle for supremacy of the NFC North just got a lot more interesting.

As the furor over Favre's retirement dies down, one thing will become quickly apparent. The Packers seeming lock on a repeat as the division champs is by no means set in stone anymore. If Rodgers struggles as most first-time starters do, the Packers' grip on first place may not be as secure as it seemed just last week. While fans lament the loss of a sure-bet, first-ballot Hall of Famer, the Packers numbness is starting to subside and the reality that the Favre Era has ended is beginning to sink in.

While fans wish Favre a fond adieu, there has to be a bit of celebrating among the other teams in the division, just as they celebrated Randy Moss leaving their division to wallow with the Raiders for a couple of years.

* The talk concerning the Vikings going after a second veteran wide receiver has quieted down considerably as three players reported to be on the team's radar – Javon Walker, Marty Booker and Jabar Gaffney – have gone off the wish list. Walker, who was released by the Broncos last week, signed a six-year, $55 million deal with the Raiders, Booker is returning to the Bears after signing a two-year contract and Gaffney signed a one-year, $2 million deal to stay with the Patriots.
* Defensive end Jevon Kearse will meet with the Titans, the team that drafted him in 1999, today and, if he doesn't sign a deal to re-join them, he is scheduled to visit the Vikings Thursday.
* The Vikings continue to address need areas, but who would have thought the offensive backfield would be responsible for two of their four free-agent signings? In the latest game of musical chairs, Maurice Hicks has replaced Mewelde Moore as the third back. The first free-agent signing last week was Thomas Tapeh, who replaced Tony Richardson. Moore signed with the Steelers Monday and Richardson remains on the market.

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