If you judge teams based on their headlines, it hasn't been the greatest few weeks for our presumed NFC North front-runners.
The Packers dealt with allegations of sexual assault against cornerback Brandon Underwood. The story came three months after tight end Spencer Havner crashed his motorcycle, fractured his scapula and was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving. Defensive end Johnny Jolly's felony drug possession case also has been hanging over the team.
In Minnesota, All-Pro tailback Adrian Peterson skipped the Vikings' mandatory minicamp to attend a hometown parade in his honor. His absence generated larger questions about the state of a veteran roster and whether exceptions made for quarterback Brett Favre have created an untenable double standard.
The big question is the extent to which any of these events matter. How much should we make of off-field news? Will the Packers' won-loss record be impacted by potential charges against a player who might be their dime back? Should the plight of a third-string tight end play any role in the NFC North title? And do we really think Peterson's minicamp absence will limit the Vikings' offensive firepower this season?
In Green Bay, the impact will be limited but not unfelt. Coach Mike McCarthy addressed the pattern in a team meeting last week and said later that "poor judgment was used." McCarthy added that players have been "in the paper way too much with things other than football." A few might need to watch themselves, but it would be difficult to suggest the Packers have been set back in a substantive way.
In Minnesota, it's not as if Peterson will have much to catch up on when he reports to training camp. (For now, I'm not taking into consideration the possibility that his absence was contract-related and could lead to a training-camp absence.) The impact of his absence, as we discussed Monday, is the legitimate question it raised. Namely: No one knows what, if anything, Peterson has done to remedy his career-long fumbling problem.
If he's unable to reverse that trend in 2010, it will be an ample hindrance to competing with the Packers for the division title. For the most part, however, the significant of these off-field news strands will be limited to where they occurred -- off the field.