The NFC North has seen quite an overhaul this past offseason with each team receiving some key players.
The Bears made the biggest move in the history of their franchise by acquiring Pro Bowl quarterback Jay Cutler and a fifth-round draft choice from the Broncos in exchange for quarterback Kyle Orton, two first-round draft picks (2009 and 2010), and a third-round draft choice.
The Packers had an amazing draft, picking up two first-round draft choices. They used the picks to acquire B.J Raji from Boston and linebacker Clay Matthews out of USC. They will use both players as they transition to a new 3-4 defense.
The Lions added people everywhere on their roster. They added some solid free agents in Grady Jackson, Shaun Smith, Larry Foote, and Bryant Johnson. They also had a great draft, picking up two first-rounders in Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford and Oklahoma State tight end Brandon Pettigrew.
The Vikings didn't have much of an offseason. They acquired Sage Rosenfels from Houston for a fouth-round draft pick. In the draft, they picked up wide receiver Percy Harvin out of Florida. Their biggest move occurred recently, picking up aging quarterback and future Hall of Famer Brett Favre.
It will truly be an interesting ride. Let's take a more in-depth look into each team.
The Bears have huge expectations for newly acquired quarterback Jay Cutler this season.
The Pro Bowler will be without his usual dominant receiving duo, but instead will be joined with the fastest player in the NFL, Devin Hester, and up-and-coming tight end Greg Olson.
Compared to the Jay Cutler trade, every other offseason move the Bears made seemed so small. In reality, they did make two more big splashes by acquiring future Hall of Famer Orlando Pace and hard-hitting linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa, who were both released by the St. Louis Rams.
The defense of the Bears was beaten up last season, largely due to the defensive line's inability to rush the quarterback. They finished the season with only 28 sacks.
They didn't add much to the defensive line to make them any better. Instead, they grabbed defensive line guru Rod Marinelli to help them become more complete.
Their secondary has been injured as of late. The team hopes that it can get its players back healthy and ready to go for the regular season.
The Bears still lack a legitimate receiver to help out their passing game. Devin Hester is still having trouble with his route running abilities, while no one on the team is ready to take the No. 2 spot.
In order for the Bears to be successful in 2009, they are going to need some help in the receiving corps.
What the Bears do have is a steady running game led by rookie sensation Matt Forte, who rushed for 1,238 yards en route to leading the league in yards from scrimmage.
Major Draft Selections:
68. Jarron Gilbert, DT, San Jose State
99. Juaquin Iglesias, WR, Oklahoma
105. Henry Melton, DE, Texas
119. D.J. Moore, CB, Vanderbilt
154. Marcus Freeman, OLB, Ohio State
190. Al Afalava, FS, Oregon State
The Bears didn't have a lot to work with, but they made the best out of it and had a solid draft. I give them an A- for getting great talent across the board.
Season Prediction: 10-6 with losses to the Packers, Vikings (2), Steelers, Falcons, and Eagles
Possible Wild Card entry (sixth seed)
The Lions had the biggest overhaul of any team in the NFL after going 0-16 for the first time in NFL history.
It all starts behind center for the Lions. Who will get the starting nod, first-round pick Matthew Stafford or veteran Daunte Culpepper?
Culpepper has lost over 30 pounds since the end of last season and is back in shape. Stafford has impressed many throughout the offseason and into the preseason. I give the nod to Culpepper out of the gate.
The Lions picked up key players through free agency and trades including wide receivers Dennis Northcutt and Bryant Johnson, linebackers Larry Foote and Julian Peterson, and quarterback Anthony Henry.
The additions create massive upgrades to a terrible Lions team.
One of the lone bright spots on the team was superstar receiver Calvin Johnson, who had a spectacular season, reaching double-digits in touchdowns with 12 and catching 78 balls for 1,331 yards.
While the Lions finished dead last in nearly every offensive and defensive category last season, their roster is much improved and could very well be a surprise around the NFL.
Their offensive line has some big issues. In order for this offense to be successful, these guys must do their jobs.
Rookie Kevin Smith provided a solid running game for the Lions in 2008. He will look to improve on his 976 yards under new coaches.
The Lions made a big splash of their own to upgrade their linebacking corps by trading defensive tackle Cory Redding and a fifth-round draft pick for Pro Bowler Julian Peterson. Next to him will be former Steelers star Larry Foote, whom the Lions acquired via free agency.
Major Draft Selections:
1. Matt Stafford, QB, Georgia
20. Brandon Pettigrew, TE, Oklahoma State
33. Louis Delmas, FS, Western Michigan
82. Derrick Williams, WR, Penn State
115. Sammie Lee Hill, DT, Stillman
The Lions had a great draft, but at the same time, a very bad one. They needed a left tackle, but didn't pick one up until the seventh-round. They did get a franchise quarterback, a talented tight end, and a very underrated hard hitting safety in Louis Delmas. I give the Lions a B- for not filling one of their biggest needs.
Season Prediction: 6-10 with wins over the Rams, Bengals, Browns, Saints, 49ers, and Redskins.
The Packers have a top-three secondary in the NFL led by Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Woodson.
So what's new with the Packers in 2009? How will they be different this season?
They didn't add any free agents of any value, but they didn't lose anything of value, either.
They've only had a few minor adjustments. They're switching to a 3-4, they've got a healthy defense for the first time since week three last season, they've got a healthy running back, they had an amazing draft...well, I guess this team is flat out better than last year's.
The Packers are lead by future Pro Bowl quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who had a magnificent "rookie" season by throwing over 4,000 yards and 28 touchdowns to only 13 interceptions.
They have an extremely talented group of receivers in Greg Jennings (highly underrated) and aging veteran Donald Driver. If these two stay healthy, they are one of the best one-two punches in the NFL.
The problem for the Packers last season was their defense. That's something that will hopefully be turned around this season thanks to Dom Capers and Kevin Greene and their 3-4 overhaul.
The Packers have the right people to pull it off with a talented group of linebackers including Nick Barnett, A.J Hawk, Jeremy Thompson, and rookie Clay Matthews, among others. It will be their job to make this team successful.
Capers has a good track record of turning defenses around. He has all the tools in Green Bay. They just need to let Dom lead the way to the playoffs.
Something that concerned many Packers fans last season was the "fall" of running back Ryan Grant, who went into last season injured. He's back to full health, but is he really just a one-year wonder? He will have to prove doubters wrong this season.
One of the few areas of concern for the Packers will be their offensive line. They are very young and very inexperienced. If the offense wants to keep points on the board, they need the young guys to step up.
Major Draft Selections:
9. B.J. Raji, NT, Boston College
26. Clay Matthews, OLB, USC
109. T.J. Lang, OT/G, Eastern Michigan
145. Quinn Johnson, FB, LSU
162. Jamon Meredith, OT, South Carolina
182. Jarius Wynn, DE, Georgia
Their draft was highlighted by a draft-day trade that gave the Packers the 26th overall selection and a fifth-round pick from the Patriots for a second-round pick and two third-round picks. They used that extra first-round selection on Clay Matthews. Overall, I give them a B+ for getting some real value in the first round, even if they reached a little for Matthews.
2009 Predictions: 12-4 with losses to the Bears, Vikings, Cowboys, and Steelers.
Definite Wild Card Entry (fifth Seed)
The Vikings boast the league's best defensive line and rushing attack, but their passing attack and pass defense has been sub-par.
The Vikings made huge news only a couple days ago by signing future Hall of Famer Brett Favre. That leaves the former starter Sage Rosenfels to carry the clipboard for a year and Tarvaris Jackson to be dumped onto another team.
Other than signing Favre, the Vikings didn't sign any free agents of any value. They did lose two veterans in strong safety Darren Sharper and longtime center Matt Birk.
Adrian Peterson leads the Vikings offense, which will look to give people a few more headaches than it did last season when the play-calling was very predictable.
The story for the Vikings will be their defense. They let go of aging veteran Darren Sharper and welcomed second-year player Tyrell Johnson. He played some last season and found himself out of place a lot, but the kid can hit.
The defensive line will look to stuff the run and get to the quarterback even better than last season, when they finished first in the NFL in rush defense and totaled 45 sacks.
The main area of concern for the Vikings will be their secondary, which finished in the bottom half of the league last season.
Another area that could create problems is the offensive line, where Matt Birk is no longer the anchor. The good news is Ryan Cook is no longer a starter and they've still got Steve Hutchinson.
This Vikings team will be very similar to the 2008 version. The only real difference is a different quarterback. That alone should be enough to again propel them to the playoffs.
Major Draft Selections:
22. Percy Harvin, WR, Florida
54. Phil Loadholt, OT, Oklahoma
86. Asher Allen, CB, Georgia
150. Jasper Brinkley, ILB, South Carolina
The Vikings had very few draft picks, but drafted the positions they needed most. Their biggest pick was probably Phil Loadholt, who will hopefully bring an upgrade to the right tackle position. I give them an A- overall for filling their needs the right way.
2009 season predictions: 15-1 with only loss coming from the Packers
The NFC North could very well have three teams in the playoffs. People are spending too much time drooling over the NFC East, and I think each East team has gotten a little worse thanks to free agent losses and injuries.
The NFC North looks to be much stronger. We won't see another 0-16 team. The Lions are better than that and have a much easier schedule to work with.
At the very least, the NFC North should have two playoff teams. It could be any combination of the Bears, Packers, or Vikings.
It's time to make the Black and Blue division stand among the best! Let's see our division represented strong in the NFC Championship Game.
Vikings over Packers as the NFC North reigns supreme!