Whether you call it "The Black and Blue Division" or maybe, as Chris Berman refers to it,"The NFC Norris Division"; the fact is that there will be a lot of excitement and new faces in the upper midwest this fall.
In Minnesota some think the Vikings have a Super Bowl caliber team. Though the looming suspensions of the Williams Wall have the purple people nervous. And, oh yeah, there is a quarterback soap opera involving our favorite diva Brett Favre, newly acquired Sage Rosenfels and Tavarius Jackson.
Down in the Windy City both Cub fans and White Sox fans actually agree on something in late May, that Jay Cutler is the anointed one to lead "da Bears" to Super Bowl glory. Like Jesus himself, these fans think Cutler can work miracles and convert pedestrian receivers into elite ones.
There is even optimism in Detroit as beleaguered Lions fans hope 1st overall draft pick Matt Stafford can repeat the success the Falcons found last year with their rookie quarterback Matt Ryan. After all, they do have the same 1st name! Of course so does Matt Millen, but that is past history.
However, when I consider all this intrigue and plug it into my crystal ball, I see the Green Bay Packers re-capturing the NFC North crown by the time the snow starts to fly.
It looks more and more like the Williams defensive tackle "Wall" in Minnesota will serve a 4 game suspension. Heck, we may know the outcome of this legal battle before we even know who will be the Senator up in Minnesota! This four game suspension coupled with the quarterback dilemma could work towards the advantage of the Green and Gold.
Offensively the Packers are loaded. They have perhaps the best wide receiver group in the league. Greg Jennings is showing he is an elite player and a game breaker. Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson, and James Jones are also reliable targets.
They have a deep and healthy backfield led by Ryan Grant who will have a full offseason to show that he is indeed more like the runner of 2007 and not the runner of 2008 who didn't break a run longer than 30 yards.
Though there are some holes to fill on the offensive line, the Packers have a bounty of young prospects to battle it out. Coach Mike Mccarthy has indicated the Packers will mix some power running and straight line blocking in with their zone blocking.
And leading this offense will be second year starter Aaron Rodgers. With over 4,000 yards passing in 2008 and a 28-15 touchdown/interception ratio, statistically that matches some of Brett Favre's best seasons. Rodgers should improve with experience. His scrambling ability and good decision making will make it tough on opposing defenses.
With an explosive passing game , a solid rushing game, the Packers should once again be a top ten offense in the NFL this season.There is no question that the Packers have the most balanced offense in the division.
The biggest question is, however, how well will the defense perform with some new blood, new coaches, and a brand new scheme? Last season injuries and poor play cost the Packers dearly as they lost close game after close game by fading in the 4th quarter.
Dom Capers come in with four new coaches, two new 1st round draft picks, and the task of replacing the old 4-3 alignment with his 3-4 scheme. He may have a leg up on the division rivals.
None of the other teams in the NFC North employ the 3-4 scheme. For 13-14 weeks next season, the other teams in the division will prepare to play against the 4-3 scheme. They will form their blocking to combat four defensive lineman. They will prepare to play teams that don't blitz too often.
Then in a weeks time these division foes must shift their blocking assignments to combat the Packers new 3-4 scheme. And judging from past history, Capers will have plenty of surprises in store for them.
It will be challenging enough for Packers division rivals to adjust to new quarterbacks of their own, but even tougher for them to prepare to play against a 3-4 scheme only 3 or 4 times next season.
With exciting young players like nose tackle BJ Raji and outside linebacker Clay Matthews III coming in, the Packers will be deeper on the roster.
With talented veterans like middle linebacker Nick Barnett and defensive end Cullen Jenkins returning from season ending injuries last fall the talent level overall will be much better than the unit that limped to the finish in 2008.
If young players like safety Atari Bigby and defensive lineman and former 1st round draft choice Justin Harrell return from their injuries and play to their potential, this defense could be down right scary.
Throw in three pro bowlers in cornerback Charles Woodson and safety Nick Collins as well as converted outside linebacker Aaron Kampman and it would seem the Packers have all the necessary ingredients to cook up a much improved defense unit.
I see more sacks, more interceptions and better play against the run.
The Packers would face the task of playing the Vikings in Minnesota on the final week the Williams Wall would be suspended. The overall schedule looks to be softer than the last two seasons. They also have a chance to take one early from the Bears on prime time in week one.
This division will be a three horse race. If they can avoid serious injuries and see even marginal improvement on defense the Packers can emerge as the winning horse!