NFC North Outlook 2009
The NFC North has been living in the shadow of the power house markets of the NFC East divisions since the NFL realigned to eight divisions in 2002.
With major personnel and coaching changes made throughout the division the NFC North division looks primed to steal the lime light away from the East in 2009.
With the NFC North having the softest combined schedule of all the other divisions, don't be surprised if the division is won by tie-breakers.
The Bears were the talk of the NFL when they uncharacteristically acquired quarterback Jay Cutler from the Denver Broncos, giving them that ever-elusive franchise QB.
Chicago also has nine defensive starters returning, with position battles going on at both Safety positions and at SAM linebacker between Nick Roach and Hunter Hillenmeyer.
The offense is returning just as many starters with some obvious improvements at the QB position, while also grabbing a couple wide receivers-Juaquin Iglasias and Johnny Knox- in the draft upgrading that position while also infusing some youth.
Running back Matt Forte should benefit from having Cutler as his QB and give him some much needed relief after such a heavy workload in 2008.
The Bears have the easiest schedule throughout the NFL and if they can get their rookies to perform, expect them to be in the hunt for the division title.
Expectations: The Bears will be competing for the division title as long as they have Cutler as their QB. If the defense can get a their pass rush going throughout the season the Bears will be in the hunt, not only for a playoff spot, but a trip to Miami for Super Bowl XLIV
The 0-16 Detroit Lions...
There's not much you can say about the only team in NFL history that couldn't manage to win a single game.
But with Matt Millen finally fired and a new coaching regime the Lions look to rebuild, beginning with a new image, or logo.
Then they drafted Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford with the first overall pick, hoping he will develop in the areas where Joey Harrington and Jon Kitna failed: the win column.
Middle linebacker Larry Foote, who was signed as a free agent, will give the Lions defense a proven leader and should light a fire under a defense that couldn't stop a grandmother pushing a stroller. Expect the defense to be better in 2009.
The offense will still have some holes along the offensive line. Running back Kevin Smith will still be developing his skills in when he's not hurt.
Don't be shocked if Stafford starts at some point in the upcoming season if incumbent starter Daunte Cullpepper cannot perform well with stud receiver Calvin Johnson and rookie tight end Brandon Pettigrew.
Expectations: We probably won't see the Lions in the playoff chase this season, but if Stafford can perform up to expectations the Lions future will be a bright one.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers are the wild card of the NFC North.
The potential within the team to succeed immediately is there, but will they?
The defense went from looking like a Chicago city street to a yellow brick road over draft weekend. The biggest question is how far until the defense looks like the yellow brick road?
Rookies B.J. Raji (DE/NT) and Clay Matthews III (OLB) could become opening day starters in new defensive coordinator Dom Capers 3-4 scheme and help propel the team to a return to the playoffs after a one year absence.
The offense returns 10 of 11 starters from a team that ranked eight in the NFL for total yards per game. The most important position battle in Packers camp will be at the right tackle position. Rookies T.J. Lang and Jamon Meredith are projected to be the two to duke it out for the starters role.
Expectations: Ted Thompson gave the Pack a bright future, but will the future be as early as the 2009 season?
Green Bay has the third easiest schedule based on opponents records from the 2008 season. If they want to return to the playoffs, 2009 would be a good season to make a push.
As the reigning division champs should be the favorite to win the division after a strong draft that secured the right side of the offensive line and added depth at the wide receiver position and throughout the defensive side of the ball.
Depending on what, currently retired quarterback, Brett Favre decides to do involving his possible return will determine how competitive the division will be.
The defense lost aged safety Darren Sharper to free agency but is confident in his heir apparent Tyrell Johnson.
The start of the season could be rough on the Vikings however, with the possible suspension of Kevin and Pat Williams, the anchors of their defensive line.
If Favre returns, expect the Vikes to win the division by a game or two.
If not, fans will enjoy another tight race to the finish.
Expectations: The Vikings have the second easiest schedule in 2009 and should benefit.
The drama created by the possible arrival of Favre could be a distraction and mess up some team chemistry, but only time will tell.
Either way expect the Vikings to push, once again, for the playoffs.