NFC North: The Future Is Uncertain, the Recent Past Is Dubious

Casey CallananContributor IMay 13, 2009

CHICAGO - DECEMBER 22: Matt Flynn #10 of the Green Bay Packers runs for a first down on a fake punt against the Chicago Bears on December 22, 2008 at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois. The Bears defeated the Packers 20-17 in overtime. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

In 2008, the NFC North division was as bland as unseasoned Ramen noodles. The old black and blue division indeed did have two squads above .500, but just one went to the playoffs (Minnesota), where they went one-and-done at the hands of Philadelphia.

If it wasn’t for such a down year in the AFC and NFC West, the division of Adrian Peterson, Barry Sanders, Vince Lombardi, and Mike Ditka could have been labeled the worst in football (to be fair the NFC West was salvaged by a near Super Bowl winner in Arizona).

Minnesota, with their formidable defense carved from a Williams wall, Jared Allen, and the ferocious, budding superstar Chad Greenway, looked at times like the one team that could make a deep playoff run despite an 0-2 start.

The Vikes had inconsistency issues plaguing them all season long, and it all led back to the most important position on the field.

The season started with an aging youngster named Tarvaris Jackson. As good as the Vikings could be, every fan in the Land of 10,000 Lakes knew the team would only go as far as Jackson’s arms and legs would take them.

Needless to say it wasn’t far enough, Jackson was benched by week three.

In came Gus Ferrotte and he played well, but when you start the “King of The Redskin Ram,” you know what you’re getting. It doesn’t take Jimmy the Greek to realize by the year 2008, Ferrotte was not a Super Bowl quarterback.

Jackson was brought back by the end of the season, but he still wasn’t enough.

Through all the turmoil under center, there was the consistency of superstar Adrian Peterson, first year Vike Bernard Berrian, and an entire defense that completely lived up to the name, the "Purple People Eaters."

With the Vikings able to defeat the Giants in week 17 they finished 10-6 and hosted an old playoff foe in the Philadelphia Eagles for Wild Card weekend.

The Vikings were defeated with ease, but they will be looking forward to doing big things in 2009. They acquired National Champion Gator wide out Percy Harvin in April’s draft and former Texan Sage Rosenfels to be quarterback.

Needless to say, "Is Sage Rosenfels the answer?" is the new catchphrase this summer in the Twin Cities.

Green Bay and GM Ted Thompson found their replacement for Brett Favre in 2008, but little else was accomplished.

Detroit turned in the worst single season performance in NFL history just to ensure all the black and blue greats of yesteryear had something fresh to roll over in their graves about.

And then "dare was da Bears. Daaaaaa Bears."

Oh, how they wished 2008 wouldn’t involve Rex Grossman. But there he was in week nine on a cloudy, mild afternoon at Soldier Field decked out in midnight blue and orange and scrambling around the field.

This was because the Mile High Neck Beard of Kyle Orton hurt his ankle and in came Rexy.

Rex won that day. But with all due respect to his abilities, Chicago was playing the worst team in the history of professional football, and they were doing so at home.  

The now-departed-king-of-getting-sloppy-drunk-and-posing-so-the-Chicago Sun-Times-has-something-hilarious-to-print named Kyle Orton did all he could when he was healthy, but results still varied.

Orton was clutch at times, and then he was downright awful. Usually, to his credit he was decent (decent enough to be trade bait as it turned out).

Ironically, the No. 1 play in the mighty Bears playbook all season long was a very deep ball to Devin Hester down center field that, by the grace of Ed Hoculi, could somehow end in defensive pass interference.

The Bears were in the playoff hunt up until week 17 after back-to-back necessary and last second wins over New Orleans and Green Bay.

Then came week 17, when rookie Super Steve Slaton, stud-among-studs Andre Johnson, and the Texans absolutely took it to the Monsters of the Midway.

Chicago was a 9-7 team headed to the golf course.

Changes had to be made, and Jay Cutler was brought in at a hefty price in perhaps the most notable offseason move not involving the letters T or O.

With super senior Orlando Pace added at tackle the Bears still have many holes to fill, starting at wide receiver and ending with the rest of the offensive line.

Will 2008 first rounder Chris Williams from Vanderbilt prove to be a bust after injuries turned him into a non-factor last year at tackle?

Then there’s Matt Forte, an incredible second round steal from Tulane and a fantasy football workhorse. As a running back that can catch the rock, he was often a breath of life to an otherwise comatose offensive attack.

The Bears, like the division itself, just didn’t give a good indication of how good or bad the future might be.

Yes, it was an up-and-down type of year in the division that brought you Ray Nitschke and Dick Butkis. Because for a long time in 2008, it looked more like the division that brought you Tony Mandarich and Cade McNown.


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