NFC North Preview
How will the teams finish in the regular season?
Detroit Lions –For just over a decade the Lions have resided at the bottom of the league. Having last being in the playoffs in 1999, the Detroit fans have been looking for anything to give them a glimmer of hope. Enter Matthew Stafford and Ndamukong Suh. Last year Matthew Stafford showed he had the guts and leadership to go along with his rocket arm. Stafford has to show he can stay healthy. He suffered from a partially dislocated kneecap and a separated shoulder last year. In this year’s draft the Lions were able to draft Ndamukong Suh, who many are saying may be the next Reggie White. Calvin Johnson is Calvin Johnson. The additions of Nate Burleson, Kyle Vanden Bosch, and Tony Scheffler should prove to be huge. The Lions are still a year away from being a good team and maybe two away from being a playoff contender, but nobody can just check Detroit of as a “W” any more. (6-10)
Chicago Bears – Since there Superbowl appearance in 2006 the Bears have been on a decline. Last year they traded for Jay Cutler who they thought would give them the legitimate QB they never had. Cutler had a forgettable season and now people are questioning will the promising gunslinger be Brett Favre or Jeff George? New offensive coordinator Mike Martz and Cutler seem like a match made in heaven. Cutler likes to show off his big arm and Martz like to throw it deep. The problem is they don’t have any legitimate receivers. Their entire receiving corps would be 2’s or 3’s on any other team. Running back Matt Forte has to show that his sophomore slump was the fluke and not his sensational rookie year. But this is Chicago; defense runs the show in Chicago. Lately the defense hasn’t been the “Monsters of the Midway” mainly because they cannot stay healthy. Hopefully they will have a healthy Brian Urlacher, Tommie Harris, and Lance Briggs to go along with free agent Julius Peppers. If the defense can stay healthy the offense won’t have to score many points to win anyway. The Bears will probably still be in the wild card race in late November/early December but will ultimately end up missing the dance. (9-7)
Green Bay Packers – The Packers have become the sexy Superbowl pick and rightfully so. The Packers ranked in the top 6 in total offense and defense last season. Championships aren’t won on paper and the Packers have to show and prove. Although they loss in the wild card round, Aaron Rodgers became a star with the performance he put on in the playoff game. Rodgers has become an elite QB in the league and is a legitimate MVP candidate. He has an array of weapons at his disposal in Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, James Jones, Jordy Nelson, Jermichael Finley, Donald Lee, Ryan Grant, and Brandon Jackson. The Packers problem might be keeping Rodgers upright for him to get the ball to all those weapons. The Packers ranked 32nd in sacks last year with 51. Although the defense statistically ranked 2nd in total defense last year, you could tell they were still trying to get acclimated to Dom Capers new 3-4 scheme. It’s hard to improve on number two but the Packers D should be better. There weren’t any big name free agents added in the offseason but Rookie safety Morgan Burnett should be an improvement over an injured Atari Bigsby in the secondary. If the defense doesn’t have another playoff collapse, this team could be bringing the Lombardi trophy home. (13-3)
Minnesota Vikings – The Vikings were a Brett Favre bad decision away from playing for the Superbowl last year. The Vikings have to deal with mental aspect of being so close to their goal and coming up short, as well as many physical ailments. Key players in their NFC Championship run have huge injury question marks. Sydney Rice will miss at least half the year with a serious hip injury, Favre is returning on an extremely gimpy ankle that may not hold up throughout the season, and Percy Harvin can suffer from a migraine attack at any moment. With all those injuries the Vikings should be relying heavily on running back Adrian Peterson. Peterson had a down year by his standards and needs to have a huge rebound year if the Vikings want to see any of success they had last year. The defense should be good with that stellar front four and the return of EJ Henderson from a broken femur bone. The Vikings may take a half a step back from a 12-4 season, which is not bad, but in a division where Green Bay looks to have taken a couple steps forward…it’s not good either. (11-5)
Who to Watch For?
Detroit Lions –Matthew Stafford When Stafford was drafted I immediately thought in two years the NFC North will be the toughest division in football. He showed glimpses of greatness and toughness, especially in the win versus the Browns, last year but glimpses is all you can expect from a rookie. Now in year two there should be stretches of greatness but still expect mistakes.
Chicago Bears – Jay Cutler Cutler loves to rely on his huge arm. Now he has an offensive coordinator that will let him cut it loose. He doesn’t have the best of weapons around him but those guys can make some plays. Don’t be surprised if at the end of the year he is back around the top in QB stats.
Green Bay Packers – Jermichael Finely Finely is a freakish athlete. Combine his athleticism with the other weapons the Packers have and you have one on one matchups across the board. There is no safety or linebacker that can match up with Finely. By the end of the year he should be mentioned with the Antonio Gates and Jason Witten(s) of the world.
Minnesota Vikings – Adrian Peterson This may catch some people by surprise since AP is considered by most to be one of the top two running backs in the league. It will be interesting to see how Peterson rebounds from a down year. He isn’t considered the consensus best back in the league anymore, he has to address his fumbling issue, and he has to deal with the Favre effect. Meaning are the Vikings Favre’s team with a great RB or are they Peterson’s team with a great QB. Either way it will be interesting to see how he plays this season.
Don’t Be Surprised If He Plays Poorly…
Detroit Lions –Ndamukong Suh I never saw somebody dominate the college football trenches the way Suh did last year. Many people had him as the best player, at any position, in all of college football last year. That is pretty high praise for a defensive tackle…but this aint college. Defensive line is the hardest position to transition from college to the pros outside of quarterback. On top of that he’s playing defensive tackle; a position where only hardcore football fans will understand the impact he is having on the outcome of the play and ultimately the game. If he stays injury free I’m pretty sure he will avoid the “bust” label but Lions fans shouldn’t expect to see the dominance he showed at Nebraska for another year or so.
Chicago Bears – Brian Urlacher I could have gone a few ways with this one. Matt Forte, Devin Hester, Julius Peppers, etc but I chose Urlacher because of his age. The media still views Urlacher as an elite middle linebacker that has just been plagued with injuries and I disagree. Even when he was healthy you could see him beginning to decline. While he still may have a couple more good seasons in him, he is no longer the leader of the monster of the midway.
Green Bay Packers–Charles Woodson The reigning defensive player of the year isn’t getting any younger. He did a phenomenal job in Dom Capers new scheme last season. With Al Harris still trying to return from a knee injury Woodson might be asked to do more and that’s a task his body might not be capable of doing.
Minnesota Vikings-Brett Favre The legendary quarterback will be 41 this October. Throughout his career he has been a medical mystery but old age has to begin to show its effects at some point right? Also with the loss of his top receiver and the iffy-ness of Percy Harvin, don’t expect Favre to put up the career numbers he did last year.
Storyline of the Year
The biggest storyline of the year in the NFC north will battle for the division crown between the Vikings and the Packers. Even more specifically, the performance of their quarterbacks Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers has come into his own as a star in the league, but will continue to live in Brett Favre’s shadow until he can beat him head to head, win the division, win a playoff game, and win a Superbowl. Luckily for him he has a chance to scratch off that entire checklist this year.