New Era In Title Town
The Aaron Rodgers era in Green Bay could never really begin until the Brett Favre era ended, and even after Favre's retirement in March, it never felt like the future Hall of Famer had left.
With Favre and his 442 touchdown passes now 1,000 miles away, it's time for Rodgers - the owner of one career TD toss - to take center stage.
Oddsmakers from Sportsbook.com have made Green Bay -2.5 point spread favorites (View NFL Football odds) for Saturday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 29% of bets for this game have been placed on Green Bay -2.5 (View NFL Football bet percentages).
Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers begin the post-Favre era in Green Bay on Monday night when they host the rival Minnesota Vikings in a season-opening battle between teams expected to vie for the NFC North title.
Many observers around the NFL felt Favre's record-setting career was over after he had sub-par seasons in 2005 and 2006. Then Favre responded with a year that conjured up memories of his prime. He completed 66.5 percent of his passes for 4,155 yards and 28 touchdowns last season, taking the Packers (13-3) to the NFC championship game, where they lost 23-20 in overtime to the New York Giants.
Favre retired in early March, leaving Rodgers to lead the team, but got an itch to play again during training camp. In an ugly saga between a player as synonymous with a city as the franchise itself, Favre and the Packers became involved in a stalemate. Green Bay was ready to move on with Rodgers as its quarterback, but Favre wasn't ready to give up football. He was eventually traded to the New York Jets on Aug. 6, leaving Rodgers with the entire preseason knowing the Packers are his team.
"I think he grew up," Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy said of Rodgers. "I think we all grew up a little bit during that situation. I think he did a very good job of handling a challenge, handling a situation that there really wasn't a script for and was unprecedented."
No quarterback other than Favre has started a game for Green Bay since Sept. 27, 1992, so the only action Rodgers saw in his three years backing Favre up was in mop-up duty. He's thrown just 59 passes and one touchdown in his brief career, but feels like his role during the preseason saga has helped him just as much as snaps in meaningful games.
Rodgers was booed walking on the field for one scrimmage in early August.
"I'm ready for anything after that," Rodgers said. "It's been a difficult time the last few months as far as the attention I've gotten, but I think I'm ready for it. I know it's going to be amped up once the season starts, I'm going to be scrutinized, but that's the job of being an NFL quarterback."
Rodgers has one of the league's better receiving corps to ease his transition. Both Donald Driver and Greg Jennings finished with more than 900 yards last season, and Jennings, in his second year, had 12 touchdowns. A pair of speedy wideouts - second-year man James Jones and rookie Jordy Nelson - should help stretch the field.
Ryan Grant, an undrafted free agent who seized the Packers' tailback job, had 956 yards and eight touchdowns as a rookie. He's in the backfield again after holding out for a new contract.
Green Bay should also be able to lean on its defense. The Packers' allowed only 18.2 points per game last season, second in the NFC.
Defensive end Aaron Kampman remains one of the league's best pass rushers, and has 27 1/2 sacks - the most in the NFC - over the past two seasons. A.J. Hawk and Nick Barnett form a fine linebacking duo, though Hawk's status for the opener is still up in the air as he's nursing a chest injury.
"I think we're going to be tough to run on, tough to pass on," defensive tackle Ryan Pickett said. "I think we'll be a top defense in the NFL."
No team was tougher to run on than the Vikings (8-8) last season. Minnesota allowed an average of just 74.1 yards on the ground in 2007, though opponents had plenty of success in the air - the Vikings allowed 264.1 yards per game passing, the most in the league.
Minnesota's biggest move to help out its secondary may have been an addition on the defensive line. Jared Allen led the NFL with 15 1/2 sacks last season in Kansas City, but the Chiefs were tired of Allen's off-the-field problems - he's been arrested and charged with a DUI three times - and they dealt him to the Vikings for a first-round draft pick and two third-rounders.
Allen joins two other Pro Bowlers - tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams - to give Minnesota one of the best defensive fronts in the game.
"I think the biggest problem we're going to have is who is going to hit the quarterback first," said Allen, who signed a six-year, $74 million contract after being traded, making him the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL.
During training camp, it once looked like Favre had a better chance of ending up in a Vikings uniform than back in Green Bay. There were rumors Minnesota would deal for Favre to replace third-year quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, who has completed 58 percent of his passes and thrown more interceptions than touchdowns in 14 career starts.
"He's clearly way ahead of where he was a year ago at this time," quarterbacks coach Kevin Rogers said about Jackson. "But that's got to translate into how he plays under real guns."
It should help that Jackson has one of the most dangerous runners in the NFL joining him in the backfield. Adrian Peterson was the runaway winner of the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year award last season, when he led the NFC with 1,341 yards rushing while scoring 13 touchdowns.
Peterson had a total of 157 yards rushing in two losses against Green Bay last season. His effectiveness dwindled as the season wore on, however. Peterson had 54 carries for 144 yards (2.7 yards per carry) in the Vikings' final four games, and losses in weeks 16 and 17 kept Minnesota out of the playoffs for the second straight year.
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