Let’s just say the NFC North could use a little work. When you’ve got a team in your division that became the first since the Ford administration to lose every game it played a year ago, that’s a safe assertion.
Now the question is, "Who will rise to the top of this mediocre collection of teams and earn a berth in the 2009 postseason?"
All bets considered, let’s assume the Lions need more than Matthew Stafford to get into this debate (sorry, Detroit).
So that leaves three teams vying for that coveted division crown. And if things shake out the way talent and overall strength appear on paper—and a little dab of Brett Favre is added to the Gopher State’s recipe—it appears the Minnesota Vikings are bound for their second consecutive NFC North title.
No matter how you shake it down, Minnesota’s roster is above average in most areas. Except quarterback—for now. Let’s take a look.
Two things are virtually synonymous with winning football teams: Dominant running and stone cold run stoppers. Minnesota has both.
Let’s face it: The Vikings have the best backfield in the league. Adrian Peterson— fumbles not included—is quickly becoming the finest back in the NFL, and he’s got Chester Taylor right beside him on the depth chart as a backup. Not too shabby for any team’s running attack.
It doesn’t hurt having guard Steve Hutchinson on the line, and for all the shortcomings tackle Bryant McKinnie might have in defending a pass rush, the 335 pound behemoth sure can open a lane for his backfield. And despite Matt Birk leaving for Baltimore, the Vikings have what will be a formidable line that can protect enough to move the ball.
Meanwhile, Minnesota finished as the top run defense in the league a year ago. Save for potential suspensions to defensive tackles Kevin and Pat Williams stemming from testing positive for a banned diuretic last winter, the Vikings will likely be near the top again. By that same token, Jared Allen sure can cause problems in the opposition’s backfield, too.
The question, as always, is the passing game. And this year, the receiving corps has a lot of potential.
With receivers Bernard Berrian and Sidney Rice teamed with Percy Harvin, Minnesota has what could become within a stone’s throw of the flashy passing attack it had in the Carter-Moss-Reed years a decade ago. Okay, maybe not that good—but they could be awfully successful if a few things fall into place.
For one, Harvin needs to have a constant presence in the offense. I'm not asking him to be the reincarnate of Randy Moss, but he's got to produce. Hard to predict if he’ll sway more toward Troy Williamson-like numbers—likely not what the Vikings hoped for on draft day—but the potential is there.
As for the biggest question of all: When is Favre heading to Winter Park? With all due respect to Sage Rosenfels and Tarvaris Jackson, the Vikings have all the components to be a contender. Except at quarterback. And knowing the life expectancy of a competitive team in the NFL, the days are getting numbered.
So with the NFC North ripe for the taking in ’09 (I know what you’re thinking, Jay Cutler, but your record in Denver won’t put your boys in Chicago over the hump this year), Minnesota’s best hope is a future Hall of Famer that spent a generation making those in purple and gold miserable.
Looking for a bold prediction? Favre heads to Mankato for training camp, Minnesota finishes 11-5 and takes the North again. Chicago finishes second with a 9-7 record, just like last year, and Green Bay takes third at 8-8.
Without Mr. Favre? Cutler’s chances of leading the Bears into the playoffs got a lot better.