The NFC North: Who Knows?

JP FrederickCorrespondent IMay 14, 2009

DETROIT - SEPTEMBER 14:  Calvin Johnson #81 of the Detroit Lions runs for one of his two touchdown receptions against the Green Bay Packers on September 14, 2008 at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Domenic Centofanti/Getty Images)

Some television prognosticator will pick the Detroit Lions to win the NFC North this year. The pick will be fueled by amphetamines, brain damage, love, or some other reason not based on reason and facts.

But that deranged and helpless ESPN employee could be right, because the Lions could win the NFC North. 

Why not?

Former Tennessee defensive coordinator and new Lions head coach Jim Schwartz might be Rod Marinelli part deux, but he could also be Jim Fisher part deux.

They've added Julian Peterson, Larry Foote, Anthony Henry, Grady Jackson, and Phillip Buchanon on defense—they might be past their prime, but they can't be any worse than what they had last year.

On offense, Daunte Culpepper will have a full year to learn the schemes and plays. He's not the 2003 Daunte model, but couldn't he have a good year with his former and new offensive coordinator, Scott Linehan? Isn't Megatron poised to unleash holy hell on the NFL?

And Kevin Smith, and Brandon Pettigrew, and their offensive line...well, the offensive line will probably be their undoing.

But they have the resources and talent to compete now, and that will you give you a chance in the NFC North.

The Minnesota Vikings are always an Adrian Peterson injury away from being just another bland, nondescript team in the NFL's long history of bland, nondescript teams. The Chicago Bears added Jay Cutler to an offense that has Matt Forte and nothing else, while neglecting a defense that is aging by the second. The Green Bay Packers are trying to plug square pegs into round holes on defense.

Of course this is just Lions' advocate here, but every NFC North team has possible season-destroying problems, outside of the omnipresent possibility of an ACL tear.

The team with the most potential—as currently constructed—is the Packers. A young, talented team that had a deluge of injuries last year. With Aaron Rodgers and the weapons around him on offense, scoring points shouldn't be too much trouble.

If Ryan Grant can find whatever made him play so good two seasons ago, that's cherry. Their offensive line had some turnover, but who's offensive line didn't?

The Packers' problem, if you can call it that, is the 3-4 defense they are implementing. It seems when a team switches their base defensive formation, it takes that team half of a season to really understand the new system. Changing perennial Pro Bowl defensive end Aaron Kampman to outside linebacker appears to be doing the opposition a favor, also.

Still, they have a lot of defensive talent and Dom Capers at the helm.

If it works, they could be as good as 12-4, knocking on the NFC Championship door. But if the switch takes a little bit longer than expected, if Nick Barnett can't play like Nick Barnett, if Harris and Woodson start playing like their ages...they could easily be on the outside, looking in.

The Bears received a lot of national press and tongue baths after they acquired Jay Cutler, and rightfully so. Franchise quarterbacks don't come along everyday, and they definitely don't get traded for everyday; whoever writes the tell-all book about Denver's mental breakdown will be a rich man.

Unfortunately, a franchise quarterback can't block, catch the ball, and play defense.

Brian Urlacher, while still one of the top two or three middle linebackers in the conference, is no longer the natural disaster that made the defense so feared.

Their corners were beaten regularly last year, their defensive line disappeared, and Lance Briggs has to be tired from covering up for everyone's mistake. 

When Cutler looks at Devin Hester, a number two receiver to be named later, and Greg Olsen he's going to miss Denver. When he looks at an old Orlando Pace, an old Olin Kreutz, and the rest of the Chicago line he's going to miss Denver. Maybe he won't miss Denver when he throws to Olsen, actually.

It's still the NFC North, though. The Bears have as good a shot as the Packers—especially if Forte plays as is expected. The Bears have more "ifs" than the Packers, however.

While the Vikings have less ifs than the Packers and Bears, their biggest if just happens to be—stop if you've heard this before—quarterback.

Great place to have an if.

But this team won the division last year with Gus Frerotte and Tarvaris Jackson playing quarterback. They could win the division again this year, just like any team in the NFL could, but they don't have the Super Bowl potential that the Packers have—or even that the Bears have, despite their question marks. Not with Sage Rosenfels taking the place of Gus, and Tarvaris still Tarvaris.

Bb-bbb-but if Tarvaris improves...or if Sage plays smart...and what about Brett?

It's a crap-shoot in this division again. There is no dominant team, no also-ran. Evenly matched, imperfect, potential-riddled teams. The division winner will come down—as it always does—to who wins the most division games, who can escape the big injuries, turnovers, heart, determination, yada yada yada...

Rocket science, ain't it?

One thing we know for sure—the Lions have no chance. Nilch. Nada.