Does Randy Moss’s Exit End NFC North Race?

All I can guess is that Brad Childress got jealous of the attention that Mike Shanahan was getting as the NFL’s nuttiest head coach.

So just a day after Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan made the incredibly illogical decision to pull quarterback Donovan McNabb in a crucial game situation for – and I still can’t believe this – Rex Grossman (which resulted in, no duh, Grossman screwing up and losing the game) – Brad Childress and the Vikings waive Randy Moss.

That’s right. If they weren’t already (and let’s face it, they were), the Minnesota Vikings have officially become the butt of all jokes in the NFC.

Speaking of butts, it’s too bad for Moss that he didn’t have a chance to moon Childress like he did the fans at Lambeau Field back in 2005. Childress deserves it a lot more.

I don’t care how much of a cancer Moss had become (and his postgame rambling words of love for all things Boston – I think he might have even mentioned Boston Rob Mariano – was the first sign of trouble) or how poor his statistics were (in four games with Minnesota he caught just 13 catches for 174 yards and two touchdowns) or even if he gave up on a crucial play on Sunday.

Because defenses had to count for his unquestionable ability, Moss opened up the offense for the Vikings, particularly for Percy Harvin. After Moss’s second coming, the Vikings scored more points and gained more yardage, and Percy Harvin blossomed, including a career-best 104 yard performance in Foxboro on Sunday.

Wasn’t it just two weeks ago that Moss was getting credit for inspiring his teammates with a halftime pep talk? Wasn’t it Moss who television cameras continually showed on the sidelines instructing Harvin on routes?

But Moss made the mistake of crossing Childress with his comments yesterday and Childress, already seen as a joke for playing head coach while Brett Favre really calls the shots, couldn’t tolerate that.

Even if it meant worsening his team, further alienating himself from his players, leaving himself open to more media criticism (ESPN’s Tedy Bruschi immediately went on NFL Live and called Childress “inept”), and most importantly, wasting a third-round pick, crucially important for a team facing a rebuilding process.

But hey, Childress probably doesn’t care about rebuilding. He knows he won’t be around to be part of it.

So, after the Vikings continue to be the most-covered, most-talked about bad team in recent NFL history, are they really out of the NFC North picture now that they are (gulp) tied with the Detroit Lions for the division’s worst record at 2-5?

And what about the Chicago Bears? Even after an uninspiring 1-3 stretch (which included a win over godawful Carolina), they’re just a half game back of the Packers, with a head-to-head win over Green Bay to boot.

In short, how many teams are realistically competing for the NFC North crown?

Coming off a road victory over the Jets that was at once one of their most unwatchable wins but also one of their most impressive wins in recent memory, the Packers are clearly the class of the division. Their offensive line is playing well, Brandon Jackson is improving as a sub for the injured Ryan Grant, and their decimated defense is holding up remarkably well. Perhaps the biggest concern is one of the preseason’s smallest concerns, the play of Aaron Rodgers. Like his mentor Favre, Rodgers’s game has fallen off from last season, though not to the extent that Favre’s has.

The Packers face four teams with a winning record in their last eight games, but it is questionable if Chicago will be any more relevant than 70s crooners England Dan and John Ford Coley by the time they play again on January 2. So, even if they lose to the Patriots, the Falcons, and the Giants, the Packers can count on being at 10-6.

Coming off of their bye next week, the Bears, who have played the worst of any of the NFC North teams of late, get the advantage of facing the Patriots and Jets at Soldier Field. But if their offensive line doesn’t play better, it won’t matter if they play teams on Uranus, they ain’t beating anybody. With only two obvious wins upcoming, the Bears have a real shot at finishing under .500, which could spell the end of the Lovie Smith and Mike Martz era in Chicago.

Since losing by 14 points to Minnesota on August 26, the Lions have gone 2-2 with two close losses to the Packers and Giants, two of the NFC’s best teams. With Matthew Stafford back from a shoulder injury, it’s not hard to imagine Detroit beating the likes of Chicago and Minnesota at home and even the Bills on the road (despite the fact that they currently have a 24-game road losing streak). Trouble is, it is hard to imagine them beating the likes of the Jets, the Patriots, the Dolphins, the upstart Buccaneers, and even the woeful Cowboys in Texas. They are playing better, but the Lions are a lock for their tenth consecutive losing season.

That leaves the Vikings. Minnesota is the only team that, despite all the drama, one could envision getting on a roll. They’ve already endured the most difficult part of the schedule. Despite losing, they’ve played the Jets, the Patriots, and the Saints (all road games) tough. Outside of a road game at Philadelphia on December 26, they don’t have any obvious losses coming up. Despite the Favre dramatics, they’ve stayed relatively healthy. And despite the loss of Moss, they should get Sidney Rice back soon.

But looking at it another way, the Vikings have two wins on the season against teams with a combined record of 3-11. While it’s not impossible that they can beat the Redskins and the Bears of the world, it’s far from a given. Best case scenario for Minnesota – and I’m really looking through purple-colored glasses now – is probably finishing 9-7. And with the competitive races in the NFC East and especially NFC South, 9-7 is unlikely to earn a wild card spot in the NFC.

Given the Packers’ last two crucial victories and the Vikings’ last two tough losses, what Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth just last week called a race between two teams has suddenly devolved into a one-team contest.

But if we were giving credit for dramatics or asinine coaching, the 2010 Vikings would emerge victorious every time.


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