Aaron Rodgers is the difference in the NFC North. Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Have the NFC North rivals caught up with the Green Bay Packers?


The Free Agency period is meeting the girl for the first time and becoming twitterpated; the pre- and post-Draft period are the dating days; and the first four games of the season are the marriage and honeymoon.

Now that free agency has brought out all the big spenders, including the Detroit Lions, the Minnesota Vikings and even to an extent, the Chicago Bears, it’s time to step back and ask the question that everyone wants to know: Have these three teams done enough to begin the process of catching up to the Green Bay Packers – the winner of the NFC North for the past two years straight.

Not only have the Packers won that division, they have dominated the division. With a 15-1 record these past two seasons – their only in-division loss being that to the Minnesota Vikings in the final game of the 2012 regular season – the Packers have risen significantly over their competition.

But considering what the other teams have done in free agency – Detroit bringing in Reggie Bush, the Vikings adding Greg Jennings and the Bears bringing in Martellus Bennett, among others – is the talent difference between all four teams gotten a bit smaller?

Possibly.

There are so many factors that play into the divisional rivalries. When teams match up in the schedule, injuries, individual matchups on the field, and most importantly, coaching.

So many times we’ve seen coaches get out-coached; so many times we’ve seen injuries deplete a team’s talent level; so many times we’ve seen teams that meet in December being polar opposites of the two teams that met in September because of some of the reasons listed above.

But because this league has become such a pass-happy entity, the bottom line seems to so often come down to one person: the quarterback.

And because of that, as long as the Packers have that guy by the name of Aaron Rodgers, the Packers have got to have the edge in the division. You can have all of the Reggie Bushes, all the Adrian Petersons and even all of the Matt Fortes … the impact on the game by that one quarterback has been so great that he has tipped the balance of power in the division to the Packers and will continue to do so.

So, in essence, all three of those teams not named the Packers have done a good job of improving their rosters through free agency and all of the teams, Packers included, will continue to improve their talent base through the draft. The division has tightened and is still one of the best in either conference.

But because the Packers don’t have Jay Cutler, Matthew Stafford and even more importantly – because they don’t have Christian Ponder – the Packers hold the edge in the division and will do so until the other three teams figure out a way to stop Rodgers.

That might be a while.

Here are the free agency signings by each of the teams in the NFC North Division:

Chicago Bears

  • signed TE Martellus Bennett to a four-year contract
  • signed OT Jermon Bushrod to a five-year contract
  • re-signed DT Nate Collins to a one-year contract
  • re-signed CB Zackary Bowman to a one-year contract

Detroit Lions

  • re-signed LB DeAndre Levy to a three-year contract
  • re-signed WR Kassim Osgood to a one-year contract
  • re-signed FS Amari Spievey to a one-year contract
  • re-signed CB Chris Houston
  • signed DT Jason Jones
  • signed RB Reggie Bush to a four-year contract
  • re-signed LS Don Muhlbach to a one-year contract
  • re-signed FS Louis Delmas to a two-year, $9.465 million contract
  • re-signed G/C Dylan Gandy

Minnesotta Vikings

  • re-signed WR Jerome Simpson to one-year contract
  • re-signed RT Phil Loadholt to a multi-year contract
  •  re-signed C/G Joe Berger to a one-year contract
  • re-signed S Jamarca Sanford
  • re-signed FB Jerome Felton to a three-year, $7.5 million contract
  • re-signed LB Erin Henderson to a two-year contract
  • signed WR Greg Jennings to a five-year contract

Green Bay Packers

  • re-signed LB Robert Francois
  • re-signed ILB Brad Jones

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