Friday, September 11, 2009

NFC North Preview

This year, the NFC North looks to have gone through a major transformation from last season. You could make a point that the NFC was one of the most disappointing in pro football. Detroit did not win a game, the Favre-less Packers plummeted to 6-10, the Bears just missed the playoffs and Minnesota won the division only to have all of their weaknesses (Tavaris Jackson) exposed by the Philadelphia Eagles in the playoffs. The Vikings had trouble selling out their playoff game by the way. Ouch. This year, this could be the Division with the best QBs and RBs top to bottom, including the best player in football Adrian Peterson.

NFC North Order of Finish

1. Green Bay Packers- Green Bay was a good team with a bad record last season, and I see them turning around their defensive problems and winning the division crown. QB Aaron Rodgers came in for Brett Favre and showed why the Packers had so much faith in him. He threw for over 4,000 yards and 28 TDs. He battled through injuries and displayed toughness and was mobile all season. He was 0-8 in 4th quarter comebacks last season, but that will change. His weapons led by WR Greg Jennings, ageless WR Donald Driver and soon to be star Jermichael Finley return but the offensive line could give HC Mike McCarthy fits all season. The tackles are both uncertain, but the interior of the line is young and promising. The revamped defense under Dom Capers should be vastly improved. Rookies BJ Raji and Clay Mathews lead the defense into the new 3-4 system. The secondary is very solid (Charles Woodson and Al Harris are a little old) with newcomer Atari Bigby taking the role of hard hitter with Nick Collins being the ball hawk. The LB core is very very good. AJ Hawk and Nick Barnett are great up the middle and Clay Matthews and (converted DE) Aaron Kampman bringing pass rush. A very good, improved and younger team will compete in the NFC North as well as the Super Bowl this year.

2. Minnesota Vikings- Yes, they have the biggest carnival in the NFL this side of Philadelphia, but the Vikings are a solid unit. The DL is the best in the NFL with the Williams Wall and "Crazy Uncle" Jared Allen, but the Williams wall may face a suspension. The LB crew is solid with Madieu Williams, EJ Henderson and Chad Greenway and Ben Leber. Henderson looks to rebound after missing most of last season with injury. The secondary is overrated and played last season against a lot of bad aerial attacks. The OL is solid but has rookie Phil Loadholt starting at RT but huge LT McKinnie will anchor the line. Brett Favre looks to manage the games more and use the talents of emerging TE Visanthe Shiancoe, speedy WR Bernard Berrian and electrifying rookie Percy Harvin. This team is very talented, and has a good special teams and all the pieces to win the Super Bowl. But something is up with the Vikings. They always choke, and HC Brad Childress is an awful coach, mismanaging game plans, not taking enough chances and list goes on and on. A real NFL coach could have won a playoff game by now and make it to a NFC Championship with this team. With adding Favre, Childress is going all in and his job is on the line. The Vikings are going to make the playoffs but probably not far past that.

3. Chicago Bears- The Bears went out and traded for a franchise QB with a super cannon arm but questionable maturity. They sound him with marginal WR talent, a superstar young RB and an emerging talent at TE. The Defense is getting real old real quick, so the window of opportunity is closing on this version of Da Bears. Devin Hester is more committed to being a wide out this year and will not even return kickoffs. He will still handle punts and try to use his speed to be the deep threat for Cutler. The Bears need the defense to find the fountain of youth on defense and have the Wide outs make a huge leap. I do not think they are good enough to win the division, or make the Wild card this year. And with the lack of draft picks, this could get ugly for Chicago.

4. Detroit Lions- The biggest rebuilding project in the history of the NFL starts playing games this Sunday. After a huge off season signing decent FAs and have good draft, the Lions look to rebound and actually win a game. Detroit is in a rebuilding mode, even with 31 new players and an upgrade in talent. I can not see the Lions winning more than 5 or 6 games, but that would be a vast improvement. There should be more noticeable game days for the Lions, as HC Jim Schwartz will bring his cerebral approach to football and adjustments. Of course I have hope that the Lions can win games and surprise like Miami and Atlanta did last season, but this scenario is not realistic. The OL and DL are pretty awful and need to be addressed next off season. Stafford is going to struggle at times but make big plays and get valuable experience, and remember Peyton Manning had 3 TDs and 11 INTs his first three games. I look for the Lions to win some games and learn how to win games. They need to bring momentum into next off season to continue our rebuilding plan.

NFC Playoff Teams: Packers, Giants, Saints, Cardinals Wild Card: Vikings, Falcons

AFC Playoff Teams: Steelers, Patriots, Colts, Chargers Wild Card: Ravens, Texans

NFC Championship Packers over Falcons

AFC Championship Chargers over Patriots

Super Bowl: Packers over Chargers

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