NFC North: Tom Brady

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Now we know where Aaron Rodgers' insistence on avoiding interceptions began.

"I think it comes from playing for Chico Jaguars back in the eighth grade for coach Curtis Holder and throwing way too many interceptions," the Green Bay Packers quarterback said Tuesday on his ESPN Milwaukee radio show.

Rodgers
Rodgers
As noted earlier, Rodgers set the mark for the fewest interceptions by an NFL quarterback to reach 200 touchdowns.

"Ours or nobody's has always been our philosophy," Rodgers said.

Rodgers said ever since his freshman year of high school in Chico, California, he has made it a goal to throw fewer than 10 interceptions per season.

"I've only thrown over 10 interceptions, I think my junior year of high school because of a poor last playoff game and two years in the pros where I threw 11 [in 2010] and 13 [in 2008]," Rodgers said. "Other than that, I've always tried to keep my interceptions low."

In college, Rodgers threw 43 touchdowns with only 12 interceptions in two seasons at Cal. If you count his one year at Butte College, he had 71 touchdowns and only 16 interceptions as a collegian.

Through five games this season, Rodgers has 12 touchdowns and only one interception. That lone pick came in the opener on a pass that was slightly off the mark and was tipped by receiver Jordy Nelson.

Rodgers' best touchdown-to-interception mark came in his MVP season of 2011, when he threw 45 touchdowns and only six interceptions in 15 regular-season games. He said he admired the performances of Eagles quarterback Nick Foles last season and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in 2010.

"To only throw six in '11 was great," Rodgers said. "But last year Nick Foles throwing 27 touchdowns and two interceptions I think is fantastic, and Brady a couple of years ago threw, I think, 36 and four interceptions. To take care of the football like that is phenomenal. That's kind of the goal every year is to limit those, but some of them happen."

Patriots vs. Vikings preview

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
8:00
AM ET
Update: The Vikings have deactivated Adrian Peterson for Sunday’s game following Friday's indictment by a Montgomery County, Texas, grand jury on charges of reckless or negligent injury to a child.

The Minnesota Vikings are coming off their biggest road win in five seasons, while the New England Patriots are trying to avoid an 0-2 start after a 13-point defeat on the road last week. Just like everyone predicted, right?

In a matchup that pits Patriots coach Bill Belichick against a couple of his old foes from the AFC -- Vikings coach Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner -- the Vikings will try to build on their surprising start in their home opener at TCF Bank Stadium on Sunday. Zimmer's game plan in Cincinnati last year forced Patriots quarterback Tom Brady into his worst game of the season, and Zimmer will hope to recreate the performance with a Vikings defense that isn't as experienced as what he had with the Bengals.

ESPN Vikings reporter Ben Goessling and ESPN Patriots reporter Mike Reiss discuss this week's matchup.

Ben Goessling: Mike, the Vikings sacked Rams quarterbacks five times Sunday. After a pretty poor week for the Patriots' offensive line against the Dolphins -- a team whose defensive coordinator is a disciple of Vikings coach Mike Zimmer -- do you think protecting Brady is going to be a lingering issue this week?

Mike Reiss: Yes, Ben, there is no doubt about that. One thing I believe should help the Patriots is that while the Vikings' defensive line is solid, I don't believe it is at the same level as Miami's. Specifically, the Patriots won't be seeing the same type of speed rush from Cameron Wake off the defensive left side, which they just couldn't handle. There's only a few like Wake in the NFL. The Patriots are still figuring out their best combination up front, and that will be one of the most closely watched storylines from a New England perspective. One thing I'm sure Patriots followers would be interested to hear is how Matt Cassel, the New England backup from 2005-08, is performing.

Goessling: So far, Cassel has been solid, though he didn't have to take many chances in the Vikings' win against the Rams last week. He only attempted three passes of more than 10 yards, and he was able to hit a number of screen passes to running backs, receivers and even tight end Rhett Ellison. But Cassel hit Greg Jennings on a nice post play and threw a couple of touchdown passes off play-action. The hope is Cassel can be solid enough to keep the Vikings relevant and give them more time to develop Teddy Bridgewater; ultimately, he is the future of this team, but for now, Cassel is buying the Vikings time before they turn things over to Bridgewater. And if they're able to win enough games with Cassel, who knows? He could turn out to be the starter all season.

Belichick will get to face one of his old foes from the AFC in Turner on Sunday; how have the Patriots typically matched up against Turner teams, and how do you expect their defense will handle the Vikings on Sunday, after the Vikings showed off a number of weapons last week against the Rams?

Reiss: When the Patriots have faced a Turner-coordinated offense, Belichick has touched on the vertical nature of the passing game. He also said earlier this week that, "You have to be able to stop the running game and stop '12 personnel' [1 back, 2 tight ends]." The Patriots' biggest issues in the opener were poor fits in the run game (191 yards allowed). I wouldn't be surprised if we see Darrelle Revis shadow Cordarrelle Patterson after Revis almost exclusively played the left side in the opener.

In last year's draft, the Patriots traded the No. 29 pick to Minnesota for Patterson and received second-, third-, fourth- and seventh-round picks in return. The Patriots turned those picks into linebacker Jamie Collins, cornerback Logan Ryan, receiver Josh Boyce and used the seventh to trade for running back LeGarrette Blount (now in Pittsburgh). One year later, how do you assess that deal from a Minnesota perspective?

Goessling: I can't imagine the Vikings have any regrets about it. As much as they could have used some of those picks to address their defensive depth issues, they've got a budding star in Patterson. He's not only filled the role vacated by Percy Harvin in the Vikings' offense, he's done it without any of the questions surrounding Harvin's durability and temperament. Patterson isn't quite as strong or shifty, but he's taller, a more natural outside receiver and his ability to hit holes is as good as you'll find anywhere. He's already become a focal point in the Vikings' offense, and I imagine that will only continue. The Vikings use him in enough different ways that I think it would be hard to completely shut him down with Revis, though I'm sure Belichick will come up with something to try and fence him in.

Speaking of defensive game plans, the Bengals' defense under Zimmer had a good one to frustrate Brady last season, and Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyne (a Zimmer disciple) had success against the Patriots last week, of course. We've talked a little bit about the pass rush already, but what else did Zimmer dial up in that game to force Brady into one of his worst days of the season, and do you think he can do it again this weekend?

Reiss: The main things I remember about Zimmer's plan last season was the ability to hurry Brady with the standard four rushers early (Geno Atkins was a beast inside), and then bringing out the different blitz packages on third down and more obvious passing situations. One thing, in particular, is the double A-gap blitz right up the middle. Even if you don't bring those extra two rushers on a blitz, by showing the look, it forces the offensive line to communicate and make sure they are all seeing the same thing in terms of who is coming, who isn't and who to block. The Patriots' offensive line crumbled in the third quarter against the Dolphins last week, and I'd imagine the Vikings watched that tape and are salivating at the possibilities of frustrating Brady. At the same time, I think the Patriots are better than they showed, and we could see some personnel changes in the middle with rookie center Bryan Stork in the mix.

Defensively for the Vikings, tell us more about where and how they put stress on the opposition.

Goessling: You touched on it a little bit: The big key to it is still the creativity Zimmer shows in his blitz packages. He doesn't bring extra pressure all that often, in the grand scheme of things (he only blitzed eight times last week), but he'll show enough blitz looks, and send pass-rushers from enough different spots, that he keeps you on your toes. You'll often see him show a seven- or eight-man front, only to have several players drop back into coverage. The problem is guessing which players it will be; the Vikings have some flexibility with their personnel, like linebacker Anthony Barr, defensive end Everson Griffen and safety Harrison Smith. The Vikings' secondary depth still concerns me, and we'll see whether Brady can exploit it this week, but this Vikings' defense won't be as big of a pushover as last season's unit was.

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- They will forever be linked by a serendipitous twist, the worst injury of Tom Brady's career giving way to the best opportunity of Matt Cassel's. But six years after their time together in New England ended, the two quarterbacks still share a lot more than that.

Brady and Cassel remain good friends off the field. They play golf, see each other's families, work out together during the offseason in Southern California and still talk every other week during the season.

[+] EnlargeTom Brady and Matt Cassel
AP Photo/Kathy WillensMatt Cassel said he learned a lot from Tom Brady from their days as teammates with the Patriots.
Cassel hadn't started a game since high school before a hit from Kansas City Chiefs safety Bernard Pollard tore Brady's ACL during the 2008 season opener, and a solid season in Brady's absence made Cassel a rich man the next spring, when the Chiefs traded for him and gave him a six-year, $62 million contract.

But the two quarterbacks never faced each other during Cassel's time in Kansas City, and this Sunday, with the Patriots coming to Minnesota for the Vikings' home opener, Brady and Cassel will be competitors on the field for the first time.

"We probably won’t talk this week, I’m guessing," Cassel said. "At the same time, he’s a great friend. He was a great mentor to me when I was there. Like I said, I’m really grateful that I had that opportunity to work with him and learn from him."

When the Patriots spent a seventh-round pick on Cassel in 2005, he came to a team that had just won its third Super Bowl in five years.

"He was very talkative as a rookie," Brady said. "I had to make sure he didn't overstep his bounds from time to time. But that's part of his personality -- he's very energetic, he's very intense. He's always been that way, since the day I met him."

Brady's advice, Cassel said, taught him how he needed to handle himself in the NFL.

"I remember when I was a young quarterback and we’re out at practice and I forgot a motion, and I still hit the pass, but he got after me pretty good about forgetting the motion," Cassel said. "The whole point to why he did it, he said, ‘Look, you can’t be a guy and seen as a leader if you’re making mistakes, simple mistakes, on the field. You can’t be a guy that goes up and tries to get after somebody else if you’re making those mistakes.’ And I thought it was a great point and I’ve carried that with me wherever I’ve gone.

"I think I give all the credit to that, the fact that I was, as a young player, able to come in and learn from one of the best, if not the best over his career. Really, each and every day, watch the process that he went through, how he broke down defense, ask questions. And then for him to be so good to me to actually answer those questions and not blow me off like, ‘Hey, get out of here,' it was huge for my development as a player.”

Cassel has said what Brady did for him influenced how he works with Vikings rookie Teddy Bridgewater, and Cassel said Wednesday that he still follows the Patriots closely. Even though the friendship might be put on hold this week, the respect between Cassel and Brady hasn't gone anywhere.

"He's had to fight his whole career," Brady said about Cassel. "Things were never easy for him: they weren't easy in high school, they weren't easy in college, and certainly, when he got to the professional level, they weren't easy. He's had a lot of adversity, and he's dealt with it. I think that's made him a strong person, a strong player and really a great teammate. That's why he's the starting quarterback of a very good NFL team right now. I'm proud of him."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Three months before the Minnesota Vikings drafted Teddy Bridgewater, they had constructed a climate in which Bridgewater -- or any young quarterback -- should be able to develop without the pressure of immediate expectations.

The Vikings committed more cash to veteran Matt Cassel when he opted out of his 2014 deal, giving him a two-year, $10 million contract that effectively set him up as the bridge to the team's next young QB. They had hired offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who had Troy Aikman, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers in the nascent stages of their careers. They even had Christian Ponder, the former first-round pick who could serve -- at least for a year -- as an emergency option in case Cassel got injured and the Vikings weren't ready to put a rookie on the field.

[+] EnlargeMatt Cassel, Teddy Bridgewater
AP Photo/Ann HeisenfeltBy starting Matt Cassel over Teddy Bridgewater, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer has given his rookie more time to develop.
All of the levers were in place to ensure a healthy environment for Bridgewater to develop. The only question: Would the Vikings pull the right ones?

Based on how new coach Mike Zimmer and Turner handled the first three months of Bridgewater's career in Minnesota, the answer appears to be yes. Zimmer named Cassel the starting quarterback Monday for the beginning of the regular season, rewarding the veteran for playing well enough to keep the job after he'd called Cassel the team's No. 1 QB on the first day of training camp.

Zimmer said at the time the designation didn't mean anything, but in a subtle way, it did: It set up a system in which Bridgewater would have to outplay Cassel to get the job, removed whatever temptation there might have been to play the rookie right away and sent a message to an offense filled with veterans -- 29-year-old running back Adrian Peterson among them -- that immediate success wouldn't take a backseat to development.

"The team has a lot of confidence in him," Zimmer said of Cassel. "They feel good about his veteran leadership and presence. I had to think about the whole football team; it wasn’t just about the quarterbacks. I’ve said this before: It’s not always the best player at that position -- and I’m not saying Matt’s not -- but any position, it’s how everything works together and at this stage in where we are at right now, I feel like that’s the best thing to do."

How this coaching staff handles Bridgewater will play a major role in Zimmer's longevity with the Vikings probably more than how the team fares this season. The decision Zimmer announced on Monday -- and the one his actions had been pointing toward for weeks -- worked on two fronts: It curried favor with players weary of quarterback instability after last season, and it provided more time for Bridgewater to learn in a forgiving environment.

Cassel will be asked to solve a tough St. Louis Rams defense on the road in Week 1, and could possibly have to trade scoring drives with Tom Brady and Brees the next two weeks. That's a daunting task for a rookie, and by assigning it to Cassel, the Vikings can retain some control over the setting in which Bridgewater eventually debuts.

They've been in a position to do that all along, with a sturdy (but not irreplaceable) veteran and an offensive coordinator who has done this before. All the Vikings needed was a rookie coach who would be pragmatic enough to manage it correctly, and it appears that's what Zimmer has done.
MANKATO, Minn. -- We've talked at various points about how Mike Zimmer's defense will have the benefit of unpredictability in a tough early-season stretch of the Minnesota Vikings' schedule, and how his teams have actually done fairly well against Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers in the past.

Count Vikings defensive end Brian Robison among those who believe that the Vikings needed to mix things up on defense.

Robison stopped short of saying the team's old Cover-2 scheme had become predictable, but pointed out how often the rest of the league -- especially the quarterbacks in the Vikings' division -- had seen the team in the same looks.

"There were some times we'd line up, and Aaron Rodgers is calling out our defense as we line up," Robison said. "I think the thing with Zimmer's defense is, he's going to definitely keep them off-balance. There are so many disguised looks and so many ways that we line up as a defense -- different fronts, I mean, it's just all over the board. It's a lot of stuff to learn in a short period of time, but if we can learn it and we can execute it, it's definitely going to keep offenses off-balance this season."

The Vikings certainly had problems with personnel and execution on defense last season, so it's probably overly simplistic to suggest they'll be able to solve all their problems simply by running a more unpredictable scheme this season. But consider this: Every time Rodgers has lined up against the Vikings' defense since he became the Packers' starting quarterback in 2008, he's seen the same general defensive concepts.

If nothing else, a move away from the Cover-2 base defense will give quarterbacks something else to think about this year. That'll be especially true early in the season, when Brady, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Rodgers will have minimal tape of the Vikings' new defense under Zimmer. If the Vikings can master the wrinkles of a new scheme, it can't hurt them as they try to survive a slate of matchups with prolific QBs in the season's first month.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- No one in the media knows more about quarterback play than ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski, a former NFL quarterback himself and a devout watcher of game film.

So it's always interesting to hear what he has to say about Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Rodgers
Rodgers
By now, everyone knows that Rodgers is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.

But what makes him such?

That’s where Jaws comes in.

On Monday, he released his latest quarterback rankings Insider.

It should come as no surprise that Rodgers is No. 3 on that list behind only Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Considering Rodgers is six years younger than Brady and eight years younger than Manning, there's a good chance he might soon top Jaworski's list.

Here's what Jaworski had to say about Rodgers, 30, as he enters his 10th NFL season:
"Rodgers may get the ball out of his hands quicker than any quarterback in the league right now. He is probably the best off-platform thrower in the NFL and doesn't need functional space to make a downfield throw. Rodgers understands coverages and can torch defenses with his legs, both running the ball and eluding rushers in the pocket. He has elite arm strength and, like Brady, pinpoint accuracy. There really aren't any holes in his game right now."


Earlier this offseason, ESPN.com’s Mike Sando polled league insiders to rank all the starting quarterbacks Insider, and Rodgers tied for first with Manning, Brady and Drew Brees.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Who do you trust to evaluate NFL players -- those paid to do so for a living or those who are paid to play the game?

ESPN NFL Insider Mike Sando polled 26 front-office executives and coaches Insider and found that Aaron Rodgers -- along with Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning -- belonged in the top-tier of quarterbacks. Even more telling was that the four tied for the top spot in the voting.

Rodgers
Rodgers
Yet when the NFL Network solicited the advice of current NFL players for its latest top 100 list, the Green Bay Packers quarterback came in as merely the 11th-best player in the league regardless of position.

How can that be?

The answer is simple. Like in many things NFL-related, players don't know what they're talking about. Every one of them is in the NFL for a reason -- whether it's blocking, tackling, catching the ball, running with it, throwing it or kicking it.

But that does not mean they are qualified to judge others who do so.

Maybe the players polled looked at last season, when Rodgers missed seven-plus games because of a broken collarbone, and forgot how good he is. But they should have been reminded of that when he returned for the regular-season finale and led the Packers to a Week 17 win against the Bears that gave the Packers their third straight NFC North title and their fifth straight playoff appearance -- all under Rodgers.

Listen to the players if you want, but Sando's 26 league insiders -- eight general managers, two former GMs, four pro personnel evaluators, seven coordinators, two head coaches, two position coaches and a top-level executive -- are far more qualified to judge talent.

In Sando's project, designed to rank all 32 starting quarterbacks and determine who among them are elite, here is what he wrote about Rodgers:
If Rodgers gives up anything to Brady and Manning before the snap -- which is debatable -- his athletic ability seems to make up for it.

"You can't fool him," a defensive coordinator said. "We watched some cutups on him and he was ridiculous. He sees everything. They'd have a blitz on and he'd throw it and he knows what the blitz is. I don't know how he knows it. He throws into this tight window that nobody would throw into. Brees is the same way."

A veteran cornerback I talked to this offseason put it this way: "He is very cerebral. I don't think he is quite like a Peyton Manning, but he can read defenses and all that stuff, and when stuff breaks down, he is mobile enough to get out of the pocket and run. That is what made him so good, especially a couple years ago. He is still playing well. He just got hurt last year."
MINNEAPOLIS -- Perhaps the sternest test of Mike Zimmer's ability to remake the Minnesota Vikings' defense will come in an 18-day stretch from Sept. 14 to Oct. 2, when the Vikings will play four consecutive games against Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers, effectively staking their playoff hopes on their ability to stand up to some of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.

In many ways, the Vikings will have to fix two of their biggest problems from last season in the first month of the season if they're going to have any shot at relevance. They didn't win a road game last season (their victory in London was technically a "home" game), and they'll start the year against a St. Louis Rams team that went 5-3 at home last season before playing games at the Superdome and Lambeau Field in the next five weeks.

[+] EnlargeCarlos Dunlap
AP Photo/David KohlMike Zimmer's defense made things challenging for Aaron Rodgers last season.
But the Vikings' struggles against top quarterbacks, if left unchecked, will be an even more pervasive problem in the first part of the season. The Saints, Packers, Falcons and Patriots were the league's second-, sixth-, seventh- and 10th-best passing teams last season, and the Vikings come out of that stretch with an Oct. 12 game against the Detroit Lions, who threw for the third-most yards in the league. Essentially, the message of the Vikings' 2014 schedule is this: Fix your defense and fix it quickly.

Fortunately for the Vikings, Zimmer's had some success slowing down the quarterbacks the Vikings will face -- particularly Rodgers. The Packers quarterback faced the Cincinnati Bengals twice while Zimmer was their defensive coordinator, and lost both games. Last year, he hit 26 of 43 passes for 244 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions against the Bengals, and was sacked four times. And while he threw for 311 yards against the Bengals in 2009, he was sacked six times and fumbled twice (losing one) in a 31-24 loss.

Brady also faced the Bengals twice in that time, with unimpressive results. He went 1-1 in a pair of games against Cincinnati, completing 43 of his 73 passes for 455 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. After picking them apart in a 2010 win, he had arguably his worst game of the season against them last year, completing just 18 of his 38 passes for 197 yards and an interception in a 13-6 loss.

Brees and Ryan both fared well in their lone efforts against Zimmer's defense, each beating a 4-12 Bengals team in 2010. They were two of just four quarterbacks to surpass 290 yards against Cincinnati that season, posting 313 and 299, respectively.

Zimmer's defense employs plenty of man coverage, mixed with some zone principles, and counts more heavily on cornerbacks winning one-on-one matchups than the Vikings' old scheme did. That seems like a good fit for second-year cornerback Xavier Rhodes, and Captain Munnerlyn should help the Vikings' defense, as well, but secondary depth is paramount to surviving matchups with teams that will put as many receivers on the field as the Vikings' early-season opponents will.

The other thing to watch is how effectively the Vikings can pressure the top quarterbacks they'll face, particularly with some of Zimmer's creative blitzes. The Bengals didn't bring extra pressure after Brady and Rodgers all that often last year -- on just 12 and 11 dropbacks, according to ESPN Stats & Information -- but what's worth noting is just how much they rattled those two quarterbacks. Brady had just a 2.2 QBR against the Bengals' blitzes last year, and Rodgers' QBR was only 8.0, as he was forced into checkdowns and didn't complete a pass of longer than 8 yards against the blitz. Considering how lethal those two quarterbacks have been against the blitz in their careers -- to the point where many teams don't try to send extra pressure -- Zimmer's ability to throw them off is impressive. He did it well against Matthew Stafford last season, too, holding the Lions quarterback to just 33 yards and a 5.0 QBR on 13 blitzes.

The key variable to all this, of course, is talent, and it remains to be seen if the Vikings' personnel is as effective in Zimmer's scheme as what the Bengals had last season. But the additions of Munnerlyn and defensive tackle Linval Joseph, the development of Rhodes and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd and the health of safety Harrison Smith should help. If Zimmer and defensive coordinator George Edwards can coax more out of players like defensive end Everson Griffen and figure out the Vikings' linebacker situation, they'll likely receive credit for it early, because the Vikings' progress will be graded against some of the toughest opponents they'll see all season.
A roundup of what's happening on the Green Bay Packers beat.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Packers have needs at every level of their defense, starting up front on the line and also including both the linebacker group and the secondary.

But to listen to ESPN Draft Analyst Mel Kiper Jr. on Thursday, it sounds like teams that need help on the defensive line should address it early before attacking their other weaknesses on that side of the ball.

“I don't think the defensive line is something you can wait on,” Kiper said during an hour-long conference call with reporters. “There's not a lot of depth at end or tackle. There's more depth in the secondary that you can get guys down the line, particularly at corner.”

Though the question that prompted that response from Kiper was specifically about the Chicago Bears and was asked by Rich Campbell of the Chicago Tribune, it was applicable to the Packers even though they pick 21st -- seven spots after the Bears.

The Packers' needs on the defensive line depends partly on whether or not they re-sign any of their own free agents. Their three starters -- Johnny Jolly, Ryan Pickett and B.J. Raji -- plus backup C.J. Wilson all are scheduled to be free agents next month.

In another Packers-related item from Kiper's conference call, he was asked about the pressures facing quarterbacks who are high picks in the draft to play right away, and he brought up Aaron Rodgers and how he did not have to play immediately.

“Quarterbacks now are expected to be the guy in Year 1 and Year 2,” Kiper said. “In the late 70s and 80s, it was a 3-5 year process developing quarterbacks. Look at Aaron Rodgers. He sat for [three] years behind Brett Favre, and look what happened. He wasn't ready to play as a rookie. Had he played as a rookie and been forced in there, everybody probably would've been calling him a disappointment and a bust. Who knows how his career would've gone?

“But they handled it properly and they were afforded the opportunity to develop him, and look how it paid off. These other young quarterbacks, Year 1, some of these guys aren't ready. I said that about Blaine Gabbert. I said when he was drafted, he's not ready. He needed a year or two to develop. He wasn't given that, now he may be kicked to the curb.”

In case you missed it on ESPN.com:
  • Safety Morgan Burnett denied saying anything to Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez, who in an ESPN The Magazine story claimed that Burnett insulted him and trash talked during the Dec. 8 game at Lambeau Field.
  • Of all people on the Packers' defense, Burnett would likely be the last one to do something like that.
  • On the three-year anniversary of Super Bowl XLV, we looked back at the 53 players who were on the Packers' roster for that game and where they are now.
  • Kiper and Todd McShay unveiled their latest mock drafts. Each had the Packers taking a defensive player.
  • And if you're wondering what Rodgers is up to this week, he's playing in the PGA Tour's AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. His professional partner is Madison, Wis., native Jerry Kelly. They were tied for 42nd at 6-under par when play was suspended in the first round. Rodgers was the low quarterback, bettering the scores by Pro-Am teams that included Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Alex Smith.
Best of the rest:
  • In the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Mike Vandermause conducted a wide-ranging interview with Packers president Mark Murphy, who defended the team's decision to raise ticket prices, offered his full support of general manager Ted Thompson and reiterated the fact that the team would like to retire Favre's number before he's eligible for Pro Football Hall of Fame induction in the summer of 2016.
  • In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Tyler Dunne wrote that if Thompson continues his practice of drafting players from the University of Iowa as he has done three of the last four years, then Hawkeyes tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz could be next to come to Green Bay.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Three Green Bay Packers ranked among the top 50 NFL players in total retail sales of items in their names.

In a release by the NFL Players Association at this week’s Super Bowl, quarterback Aaron Rodgers (No. 6 overall), outside linebacker Clay Matthews (No. 12) and receiver Jordy Nelson (No. 43) were among the league leaders in sales from September through November of 2013. Both Rodgers and Nelson missed time because of injuries during that period.

NFL Players Inc., the marketing and licensing arm of the NFLPA, releases the data quarterly. The players association said the list is compiled from “overall total sales of all licensed products from online and traditional retail outlets as reported by more than 65 NFLPI licensees.”

The top-six players on the list all were quarterbacks. Seattle’s Russell Wilson was first followed San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick, Denver’s Peyton Manning, Washington’s Robert Griffin III, New England’s Tom Brady and Rodgers.

Matthews was the third-highest ranked defensive player behind Houston’s J.J. Watt (No. 7) and Seattle’s Richard Sherman (No. 11), while Nelson ranked eighth among receivers.
At one point, Matthew Stafford seemed like a plausible answer to the NFL Nation survey question of who you would want to lead your team in the Super Bowl with two minutes left.

It didn’t have as much to do with Stafford’s inexperience in Super Bowl games -- almost every Detroit Lion has that problem -- but what he has been able to do in the past. The question initially came about midseason, right after Stafford had led the Lions to a come-from-behind win over Dallas where he made a fake spike call in the final seconds.

It was a play of moxie and one that showed he could lead a team and depending when certain players were asked, could have been seen as a possible choice for this answer.

Since then, of course, he kind of unraveled. Detroit lost lead after lead in the fourth quarter and the rallying Stafford had done earlier in the 2013 season had been washed away.

But in his five-year career, Stafford has led Detroit on 12 game-winning drives or come-from-behind wins in fourth quarters, including three this season. Of those games, only three of them came in the second half of seasons, though.

So while Stafford was a potential option here at one point -- and some Lions players showed confidence in Stafford for the poll -- by the end of the season he seemed like an unlikely choice.

Instead, the choices that make sense -- New England’s Tom Brady, New Orleans’ Drew Brees and Denver’s Peyton Manning among them -- ended up being the most realistic options.

But Stafford has a chance to get there. He just has two of the guys who helped mold Manning and Brees as his quarterback mentors now. They just have to get him there.
It's probably no coincidence that all 10 Minnesota Vikings players surveyed for ESPN's NFL Nation Confidential survey named a quarterback when asked whom they would take if they had to start a team with one player. New England's Tom Brady, Denver's Peyton Manning and Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers claimed all 10 votes, from a team that's been without a consistent starting quarterback for almost a decade and might not have had a bona fide franchise QB since Fran Tarkenton in the 1970s.

But the Vikings were hardly alone in that opinion. Of the 320 players ESPN surveyed, more than 220 provided the name of a quarterback when they were asked that question. Manning won the ballot, with 62 votes -- six more votes than Andrew Luck, his successor in Indianapolis. Brady finished third with 41 votes, Rodgers came in fourth with 40 and Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson finished fifth with 37. Johnson finished higher than any non-quarterback, and then the results dropped all the way down to Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who finished sixth with 20 votes.

It's impossible to know how every player answered the question, and Manning's age (37) might have led some players around the league to vote for Luck, who's the only quarterback in his 20s among the top four. But it's a hypothetical question, and if we're answering regardless of age, it's hard to come up with a name other than Manning, who just finished the most prolific season by a quarterback in NFL history.

Vikings players who voted for Manning certainly admired what he did this season, and given the team's current state at quarterback, the Vikings can't be blamed for wishing they had someone such as Manning, whose father finished his career playing in the Metrodome. As the Vikings prepare to possibly select their next quarterback in this spring's draft, Manning is still the gold standard of what they'd hope to find.
It's been a good day for Peyton Manning in ESPN's NFL Nation Confidential survey. The Broncos quarterback, who will play in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday and is an overwhelming favorite to claim his NFL-record fifth MVP award next month, was the winner in two categories. ESPN surveyed more than 320 players, who named Manning the player they'd start a franchise with and the player they respect the most.

Manning got votes in the Vikings' locker room for both awards, but was named by more Vikings players in the most-respected category than he was in the franchise player category. He claimed four of the 10 votes, largely from players who cited his consistency over the course of a 16-year career. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was the only other player to get more than one vote from the Vikings, with other players splitting among a handful of other choices.

The Broncos quarterback won in a runaway, claiming 86 votes around the league, but once again, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson fared well in the vote. He tied with New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for second place, with 24 players naming Peterson the player they respect most. Players were not allowed to vote for their teammates, so all 24 of those votes came from outside the Vikings' locker room.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Our latest NFL Nation survey asked players around the league to pick one player with whom they would start a franchise.

Nearly 13 percent of the players surveyed picked Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. While that doesn't sound like an overwhelming number for a former league MVP, the leading vote getter, Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, tallied only 19.3 percent of the vote.

Rodgers came in fourth behind Manning, Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (17.5 percent) and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12.8 percent). In all, 37 different players received votes in this category.

Keep in mind that most of the polling was done midway through the season, when Rodgers was sidelined because of his broken collarbone. In a fully healthy season, perhaps Rodgers would have garnered even more votes. Had this poll been conducted in 2011, when Rodgers was on the way to leading the Packers to a 15-1 regular season, he might have come in at the top of such a list.

The fact that more players chose the 37-year-old Manning and the 36-year-old Brady over Rodgers, 30, and Luck, 24, tells how players think -- they want to win now.
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings have seen for far too long, and know far too well, what it's like not to have a franchise quarterback. They've had a quarterback start all 16 games just three times in the past 10 seasons -- or as many times as they've used three starting quarterbacks in a season -- and they're looking at starting over once again after shuttling through two first-round picks (Daunte Culpepper and Christian Ponder), a second-round pick (Tarvaris Jackson) and an expensive free-agent acquisition (Brett Favre), among others, during that time.

But as the Vikings prepare for the possibility of looking for another franchise quarterback in the 2014 draft, they're undoubtedly aware of how expensive it can be to get caught in the middle with one who only looks the part some of the time.
The Chicago Bears proved that again on Thursday when they announced a seven-year, $126 million extension for Jay Cutler. According to ESPN NFL insider Adam Schefter, the deal has more than $50 million in guaranteed money. The total amount of the deal is interesting, though, because while the salary structure is obviously different, it's known as the Contract of Death in baseball.

Why? That deal has typically gone to players (Vernon Wells, Barry Zito, Jayson Werth) who are good, but not good enough to get the megadeals averaging more than $20 million a year. Those players have tended to fall short of expectations on their contracts, either through injuries or ineffectiveness, and though they're not getting absolutely top-shelf money, they're getting enough that they're expected to perform like franchise players, rather than just very good ones.

Baseball, of course, guarantees every dollar, but as the average annual value of NFL contracts continues to climb, the deals are starting to look more like baseball contracts, and Cutler's AAV of $18 million matches what the Dallas Cowboys gave Tony Romo. His guaranteed money puts him in an elite group, as well -- only seven quarterbacks are currently playing on deals that include at least $50 million in guarantees. Four of those (Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Joe Flacco) have Super Bowl rings, while two of the other three (Matt Ryan and Sam Bradford) were top draft picks before the NFL curtailed rookie spending.

Cutler, like Romo, has a history of wilting in big games, but his regular-season numbers have been even less impressive. He's only thrown for 4,000 yards once, has thrown at least 14 interceptions in a season five times and has never thrown more than 27 touchdown passes in a season. Flacco's put up plenty of pedestrian numbers, too, but he earned his deal after leading the Ravens to a championship last year. Cutler has only quarterbacked two postseason games, and before he got hurt in the 2011 NFC Championship Game at home against Green Bay, he had hit just 6 of 14 passes for 80 yards and an interception.

The deal the Bears gave him is an awful lot of money for a quarterback who remains an enigma at age 30, but after all the Bears gave up to get him, and all the time they'd invested in developing him, they might not have been able to risk starting over at the position. They're now essentially committed to Cutler for the rest of his prime, even if he has yet to reach an elite level, and he'll eat up a large chunk of their cap space during the deal. He'll have plenty of work to do to prove he's worth it.

On some level, the Vikings saw with Ponder what it's like to commit to a quarterback that's not providing commensurate returns, but their commitment to Ponder was a pittance compared to what the Bears have invested, and will continue to invest, in Cutler. They're spending premium dollars for a player who's yet to provide premium production, and they'll have spent a dozen years with Cutler by the time the deal runs out. If he only remains a quarterback who's just above average, the Bears will have wasted plenty of time.

The Cutler deal is an example of how high the stakes are at the quarterback position. The Vikings might not find a great QB in their next attempt, but if they make a Ponder-like mistake, their commitment is at least relatively short. It would be far worse for them to be where the Bears could find themselves at the end of Cutler's deal: having spent an astronomical amount of time and resources on a quarterback who never got past pretty good.

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