After a disappointing 6-10 campaign in 2008, the Green Bay Packers are looking to return to the top of the NFC North in 2009.
The climb will be arduous however, with the defending NFC North winner Minnesota Vikings looking poised to make another playoff run, and the Bears adding the talented Jay Cutler to an already solid team.
With the Bears, Vikings, and Packers all looking like potential playoff clubs on paper, the division appears to be as tough as it has been in many years.
Of course, the Lions are still in the division to beat up on, but they have to win a game sometime right?
Here is a look at each team in the division and the threat they pose to the Packers as they look to rebound in 2009.
The Good: Detroit Lions
The good news for Green Bay Packers fans is that the Lions are still around for everyone in the division to kick around, and in spite of a regime change in Motown, that is unlikely to change next year.
While new head coach Jim Schwartz is well-respected in football circles, and the Lions did add some solid talent in the offseason, Detroit is still a few years away from making much headway in the North.
The additions of Larry Foote, Matthew Stafford, Brandon Pettigrew, and the bounty of draft picks Detroit received by trading Roy Williams should ensure that the Lions actually win a few games this season. However, Detroit will be hard-pressed to steal more than a game within the division.
Their defense is still woefully short on talent, and the Lions will find it difficult to stop the likes of Cutler, Rodgers, and Adrian Peterson as they continue to rebuild.
The Lions haven’t defeated the Packers in Green Bay since the elder George Bush was our nation's president, and that doesn’t appear likely to change next year. The Packers do tend to make things interesting in Detroit, however, and will have to avoid a slip-up in the Motor City to keep pace in the division.
Remember, the score of that 48-25 drubbing in Detroit last season was slightly misleading, as the Packers were actually down at one point in the fourth quarter, before a flurry of turnovers and defensive touchdowns provided the final margin.
The Lions will be improved, but when you go 0-16, that isn't saying a whole lot.
The Bad: Chicago Bears
For the first time since Jim McMahon was doing the Super Bowl Shuffle, the Chicago Bears have a bona-fide star at quarterback in Jay Cutler.
While Cutler may have some maturity issues, he is an immensely talented young quarterback who should stabilize the position for years to come.
Pairing Cutler with a solid running game, led by 1,300-yard rusher Matt Forte, and a normally stout defense means that Chicago will be a formidable obstacle for the Packers in 2009.
The Packers played perhaps their finest game of 2008 in a 37-3 home drubbing of Chicago last season, but they failed to put the Bears away at Soldier Field and will now have to deal with a more balanced offensive attack from the Bears.
The defense also had a surprisingly poor year in 2008, mostly due to being ravaged by injury. If Urlacher's back holds up and the unit avoids another rash of injuries, it should be ferocious once again.
Overall, Chicago is better than they were a year ago and will pose a serious threat to Green Bay’s playoff aspirations.
The Ugly: Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings won the division a season ago with a 10-6 mark, riding All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson and their traditionally stout rush defense to the playoffs in 2008.
However, their playoff run was cut short by their traditionally lousy quarterback play.
Starter Tarvaris Jackson went 15-for-35 in the game and threw a crucial interception that Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel returned for a touchdown in a disappointing home loss to Philadelphia.
In the offseason, the Vikings looked to address their quarterback situation by adding veteran signal-caller Sage Rosenfels, while also reportedly looking into adding some guy named Favre to stabilize the position.
They also added perhaps the best playmaker available in the draft in Florida's Percy Harvin. This gave the Vikings another vertical threat to compliment all-world running back Adrian Peterson.
Considering the fact that nobody can run on the Vikings, few can stop the freight train that is Peterson, and pass-rushing terror Jared Allen and solid corner Antoine Winfield are still wearing purple, the Vikings look poised to make a strong run at the divisional crown again in 2009.
Protecting the home field within the division will be crucial, and the Packers will need to go at least 4-2 against their counterparts to secure the north.
Minnesota appears to be the strongest threat to the Packers ascending to the top of the division, but the Packers have an offense to compete with anyone.
That said, the division will likely come down to how effectively the Packers make the transition to the 3-4 and if they can hold the Bears and Vikings down just enough to outscore them.
The NFC North race figures to be a tight three-team battle that should go down to the wire in 2009. The Packers certainly have their work cut out for them in a strong division.
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