The NFC North: Four teams, four dreams, and only one prize…a trip to the almighty post-season.
Green Bay returns to the mix after the draft with a revamped offense. Minnesota continues to struggle over whom to start at quarterback.
Chicago returns a number of strong starters, and Detroit hopes to rebuild after an abysmal season.
In the midst of all of this though there must be some winners and losers.
This NFC North recap should simplify what should be a surprisingly competitive division, especially after it saw its best team only go 10-6, and it’s worst team…well. let’s just say the word “worst” has been redefined.
The Vikings rose from mediocrity to surprise the NFC North last season finishing a respectable 10-6, and making their first playoff appearance since 2004, only to make an early exit at the hands of Philadelphia.
The absence of QB Gus Frerotte leaves a question mark in the Vikings roster. Normally, the departure of a back up player doesn’t spell disaster for a team, but it should leave Vikings fans worried.
Battling for the job will be returning starter Tarvaris Jackson, and career backup newcomer Sage Rosenfels.
Both have their finer points, but both also have issues that should have Minnesota fans muttering under their breath.
Simply put, head coach Brad Childress has already taken the ball away from Jackson once. Perhaps that served as a wakeup call for him, but if Childress has to do it again, Jackson becomes nothing more than a liability for the Vikings.
And as long as the Vikings are assessing their liabilities, Childress needs to reconsider Jackson’s role when it comes to rushing.
Granted, rushing is not a big part of his game but in the last three seasons he has rushed for 20 yards or more 11 times, his team has only won three of those games.
To his credit though, after ample time sitting on the bench thinking about why he wasn’t on the playing field, he made some adjustments to his game, redeeming himself and his team, winning three of his last four games of the season.
Although, in the lone loss during that stretch, Jackson rushed for 76 yards.
Rosenfels, meanwhile, floundered at best in his time Houston. His biggest problem was also the simplest.
He can’t win games.
After going 4-5 in the 2007 season, and just 2-4 in the 2008 season, some people are still scratching their head as to why the Vikings bothered with him at all.
Last season his passer rating was an anemic 79.5, and 2007 wasn’t much better, coming in at a sub-par 84.8
Also, still playing out in Minnesota courts are the cases of Kevin and Pat Williams who are fighting suspensions of allegedly taking a banned substance.
If the matter can be resolved without suspensions the Vikings can breathe a sigh of relief, however should the two lose their cases in the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Vikings defense could be looking at some serious problems to start the season.
While Minnesota may be taking the heat for having a weak secondary (and sometimes primary), they do at least have a secondary.
Chicago is playing a dangerous game with their lineup, should one of their stars go down.
Case in point: center Olin Kreutz. There’s no doubt that he’s a good center, and plays the position well, but what are the Bears to do if he goes down?
Granted, it’s hard to take down a guy who tips the scales at 292 pounds, but can guards Josh Beekman or Roberto Garza really get the job done in his absence?
Garza…maybe…he did start in all 16 games last season, but he did so as a Guard, not a center.
Beekman, appeared in one game in week six, and really has little else to his credit.
The Bears are playing the same dangerous game at running back with Matt Forte.
He did rush for more than 1,200 yards last season, but his backup Kevin Jones, who appeared in 11 games, barely cracked 100.
The Bears are just one tough practice, or one rough game away from throwing in the towel for the season.
Their starters look strong, and they are strong, but Chicago has no safety net to fall back on, and without it this could be a very long season.
During the Brett Favre era, there were no worries, there were no holes, there was only Favre, and that’s all Green Bay needed.
But after threatening to retire, a trade to the Jets, and one season of Aaron Rodgers, it does appear that the Packers are in fact beatable.
The Packers finished a lackluster 6-10 last season, and used the bulk of their draft to beef up the defense. The good news is…that should help the team win more than six games.
The bad news is, if this rookie class doesn’t get the job done, a lot of cheese heads are going to start complaining about the mold growing on their stagnant defense.
Scoring points hasn’t been the problem for Green Bay, as they racked up at least 16 in every game they played last season.
The good news…Rodgers really isn’t a bad quarter back, he just needs more defensive support to keep opponents from running up the score.
If defensive tackle B.J. Raji can prove he was worth the ninth overall pick for Green Bay, this could be a turnaround season for the team.
He was a standout at Boston College; now fans and coaches are hoping he can be the same in Green Bay.
Raji though can’t save the team alone and Green Bay’s biggest downfall been giving up way too many points.
Only once did they allow fewer than 14 in a game last season, and that came in a Week 11 demolition of the Bears where they won 37-3.
However, it appears that they over-celebrated that victory because they were humiliated in Week 12 giving up a staggering 51 points against New Orleans.
As long as the defensive meltdowns of last season are avoided, look for Green Bay to be a contender in the North this season.
Kids playing Pee Wee football or Pop Warner are often told, “Winning isn’t everything.”
Unfortunately, the Lions are a professional team, and they took that statement a little too literally last season and didn’t win at all, they put together what in many ways was the worst season in NFL history.
The forgettable season also earned a lot of coaches the pink slip, when Detroit’s front office fired head coach Rod Marinelli, defensive coordinator Joe Berry, secondary coach Jimmy Lake, assistant offensive line coach Mike Barry, defensive line coach Joe Cullen, and assistant director of pro personnel Dave Boller.
Their year was a lot like a video game with the opposing team’s skill set to “easy,” and much like a video game at its conclusion it was “game over” for a lot of the staff.
By default the Lions are going to have to call this a rebuilding year, because short of posting another 0-16 season, they can’t possibly get any worse.
There is a glimmer of hope for these Lions however. With the first pick of the NFL draft the Lions went out and got themselves a quarterback by the name of Matt Stafford from the University of Georgia.
Scouts had rave reviews for him, and with a well practiced team of Stafford, Running Back Kevin Smith, and Wide Receiver Calvin Johnson, the Lions could start scoring points.
Smith rushed for 976 yards last season… not bad for a team that didn’t win a single game, and Johnson caught for more than 1,300 yards.
With a revamped coaching staff, and a little luck this Lions team may once again be a group worth challenging.
Don’t expect the Lions to go roaring into the playoffs just yet, but look for a much improved team this season.
The Skinny: Team finish in order
1. Green Bay takes the NFC North despite some questions at defense
2. Minnesota looks promising but simply has too many unanswered questions at QB
3. Chicago: Consider them the dark horse of the bunch; they could be formidable, but they must stay healthy
4. Detroit: Much improved, but still a lot of work to be done