Finally, the NFL season is upon us once again.
Our favorite teams are in training camp, and soon will get the long tiresome pre season under way. They really do need to shorten it, but that's something to be discussed at a different time. This season the NFC North will be as competitive as it was back in the day when it was called the NFC Central. Three of the four teams are realistic playoff contenders, and with a few lucky breaks could be Super Bowl contenders.
Minnesota Vikings - 10-6 record (4-2 in the division)
17th overall offense (330.5 YPG) - 5th run (145.8 YPG) & 25th pass (184.8 YPG)
6th overall defense (292.4 YPG) - 1st run (76.9 YPG) & 18th pass (215.6 YPG)
12th points scored (23.7 PPG) - 13th points allowed (20.8 PPG)
The defending division champions missed a golden opportunity to make themselves a legit Super Bowl contender. They weren't able to wrangle Brett Favre out of retirement, and that left them with two unproven guys to lead the team. Coming into the season they have question marks at the most important position on the field. Tavaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels will compete for the starting job. Neither of them has really been that impressive over their short careers.
Jackson - 25 G 58.4 CMP % 3442 YARDS 20 TD 18 INT 76.5 QB RATING
Rosenfels - 32 G 62.5 CMP % 4156 YARDS 30 TD 29 INT 81.2 QB RATING
Jackson will probably end up winning the starting spot; because of his knowledge of the offense, and his impressive end to last season. They will have him on a short leash though with a capable back up waiting if needed.
In the backfield the Vikings have an awesome one-two punch, Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor, that is the key to this offense. Peterson only played around 65% of the offensive snaps last season, and only had 12 catches, 125 yards, and 0 TD's. This season the Vikings will look to get Peterson more involved in the passing game. If they can achieve that, this will be one tough offense to stop.
Both of this seasons draft picks will look to make an immediate impact. First round choice, Percy Harvin, adds another big play threat to go along with Bernard Berrian. They'll need more production from the wideout position this season, as their best receiver last season was Bobby Wade; who ended the year with 53 catches. On the offensive line, Phil Loadholdt the second round pick from Oklahoma, will start at right tackle. This is one of the best offensive lines in the league with Bryant McKinnie and Steve Hutchinson anchoring the left side. The only weak spot could be at center, where John Sullivan replaces perennial Pro Bowler Matt Birk.
On the defensive side of the ball this team is as good as anyone. The front seven can really get after the QB, and has been the best in the league the past few years against the run. Jared Allen is coming off a stellar year where he recorded 14.5 sacks. The only problem could come from a pending court case. The NFL has appealed Pat and Kevin Williams case, in the hopes of getting what is now a state case turned into a federal case. If the NFL wins their appeal the Williams will most likely be suspended for four games to start the season.
The linebackers are solid. With EJ Henderson returning from injury they should be better this season joining Chad Greenway and Ben Leber. The secondary is the weakness of this defense. The Vikings just resigned 32 year old Antoine Winfield to be thier top corner, and after him it's just a jumbled mess. Tyrell Johnson, Madieu Williams, and Cedric Griffin round out a suspect secondary.
Without steady QB play, no real productive receivers, and the Williams impending court case, I don't think this team will be able to win the division once again.
Prediction: 9-7 3rd in the division
Chicago Bears - 9-7 record (4-2 in the division)
26th overall offense (295.9 YPG) - 24th run (104.6 YPG) & 21st pass (191.3 YPG)
21st overall defense (334.7 YPG) - 5th run (93.5 YPG) & 30th pass (241.2 YPG)
14th points scored (23.4 PPG) - 16th points allowed (21.9 PPG)
The second biggest story in the division this off season was the Bears acquasition of disgruntled Denver QB Jay Cutler. I'm still on the fence about the pick up. Sure it makes the Bears better, but by how much. Cutler is coming from a very good offensive situation, to a team that has historically been mediocre on offense.
Cutler - 63.3 CMP % 4526 YARDS 25 TD 18 INT 86.0 QB RATING
Don't expect these type of numbers in Chicago. They're inflated from his teams lack of defense in Denver. This was his best season statistically in his career, he still threw for the second most INT's in the league, and still couldn't muster a QB rating in the 90's. He'll have to prove that he can do more with less before I'm a believer.
Cutler won't have a whole lot to work with on offense. Matt Forte, coming off a good season will be his best weapon. He's a very versatile back who can pound the ball between the tackles, but then also has great hands out of the back field.
The receivers are a below average group. Chicago has named its starters, Devin Hester and Earl Bennett, both unproven at best. Bennett hasn't caught a professional pass, and Hester is still learning the position. That doesn't quite inspire a whole lot of confidence. The tight ends are some of the better ones in the league though. Greg Olson and Desmond Clark were the teams second and fifth leading receivers last season, but they'll need to duplicate or surpass that production to help this team reach the playoffs.
The defense is coming off a shaky year; where a slow pass rush allowed teams to pick them apart through the air. Recently, defensive tackle Tommie Harris admitted to having a second surgery in March on his still sore knee. That could be trouble for the Bears as they depend on that front four to get pressure for their defense to be effective. This isn't any where near the vaunted Bears defense of years past. CB Nathan Vasher is still trying to regain his form of two years ago, and the Bears still haven't settled on who will be playing the safety positions.
There are questions all over this team, "Can Cutler make the receivers and offense in general better?" and "Will Tommie Harris be healthy enough to make an impact on defense?". Until we see answers to those questions, I just don't see this team winning the division.
Prediction: 10-6 record 2nd in the division, Wild Card team
Green Bay Packers - 6-10 record (4-2 in the division)
8th overall offense (351.1 YPG) - 17th run (112.8 YPG) - 8th pass (238.3 YPG)
20th overall defense (334.3 YPG) - 26th run (131.6 YPG) - 12th pass (202.8 YPG)
5th points scored (26.2 PPG) - 22nd points allowed (23.8 PPG)
Without all the off season distractions this season Packers training camp has seemed eerily quiet. This has become Aaron Rodgers team, and he will be expected to add some more wins to go along with the numbers he put up. Rodgers became only the second QB to pass for over 4,000 yards in their first season as a starter in NFL history. This season though he'll need to be more consistent in the red zone and in the two minute drill; especially if GB expects to win this division.
Rodgers - 63.6 CMP % 4038 YARDS 32 TOTAL TD 13 INT 93.8 QB RATING
Ryan Grant is back healthy and looking to regain his '07 form where he rushed for the most yards in the second half of the season. The receivers are the best in the division. Greg Jennings and Donald Driver were only the second tandem in the NFC to each have over 1,000 yards receiving.
The offensive line is probably the only weakness on offense, but they're also looking for continuity for the first time in the last two seasons. If they're able to stay healthy this could become one of the better groups in the division, as even last year through injuries and shuffling of personnel they were able to open up enough running room for Grant to rush for over 1,200 yards.
The defense was GB's achilles heel last season. Helping contribute to seven losses by four points or less. They brought in 3-4 guru Dom Capers to revamp a defense slowed by injuries last season. Capers has had success in the past in converting 4-3 teams into 3-4 teams; doing so twice in the last decade, and making both top five defenses in the league within his first season there. With veterans Cullen Jenkins, Nick Barnett, Ryan Pickett, Atari Bigby, Al Harris, and Charles Woodson all healthy after last season, it's not a stretch to believe that the transition could go smoothly. If they want it to go even smoother they'll need to get first round draft choice BJ Raji into camp sometime soon, as contract talks have stalled.
Green Bay has plenty of talent on both sides of the ball, and could definetley win this division. They'll need to stay healthy and get more consistent play from both the offense and defense. I don't think it's too much of a stretch to believe they'll do just that, as this is the same core team that is only two years removed from the NFC Championship game.
Prediction: 11-5 record NFC North Champs
Detroit Lions - 0-16 record (0-6 in the division)
30th overall offense (268.3 YPG) - 30th run (83.8 YPG) - 24th pass (185.0 YPG)
32nd overall defense (404.4 YPG) - 32nd run (172.1 YPG) - 27th pass (232.3 YPG)
27th points scored (16.8 PPG) - 32nd points allowed (32.3 PPG)
Well things can't get any worse in Detroit. They got rid of the bumbling imbecile Matt Millen, and were able to draft possible franchise QB Matthew Stafford. They have good young pieces in place at skill positions with RB Kevin Smith, WR Calvin Johnson, and TE Brandon Pettigrew. They'll need to improve their offensive line before throwing Stafford into the fire. Daunte Culpepper should be the starter, as they give Stafford the necessary time to find a comfort zone within the offense.
The defense should be much improved. The additions of Grady Jackson, Julian Peterson, Larry Foote, Phillip Buchanon, and Anthony Henry should help the leagues worst defense. At the very least they're showing their fans that they're willing to try to win this year. Even if this does look like a couple year rebuilding project.
With parity being ripe in the NFL, would it be surprising to see this team maybe finish with an 8-8 record? Maybe not surprising, but probably not realistic. The rebuilding process is under way in Detroit, and in 2-3 years this could be a team on the rise. Just not this season.
Prediction: 4-12 Last in the division
So to recap:
1. Packers 11-5
2. Bears 10-6
3. Vikings 9-7
4. Lions 4-12
It should be an all out battle till the bitter end in the NFC North. Let the trash talking begin! GB all the way!
GO PACK GO!