It is finally upon us. The waiting is over, teams have broken training camps, the national heavyweights have all chimed in, now the real business of football can begin.
But before the real business of football can begin, we here at Bleacher Report must first bludgeon you with that most reprehensible of journalism cliches, the season preview.
There have been a lot of shakeups in the NFC North this offseason. Now regarded as one of the strongest divisions in Football, we have taken it upon ourselves to offer you, the reader, a breakdown of the Vikings' opponents in the NFC Norris Division.
The Chicago Bears
The much ballyhooed trade for Jay Cutler has Chicagoland buzzing with excitement and expectations. Unfortunately for Bears' fans, It will be difficult for Cutler to live up to the hype.
With Jay Cutler at the helm, the Bears are sure to make improvements in their offensive game; however, this isn't saying a whole lot. While Cutler is clearly an improvement over the likes of Kyle Orton and friends, simply put, there is nobody to throw the ball to in Chicago, with the sole exception of WR Devin Hester (and perhaps TE's Greg Olsen and/or Desmond Clark).
Matt Forte, on the other hand, is a powerhouse and should continue to pile up huge numbers in 2009. This versatile running back should give opposing defenses fits, though against the Vikings' cartoonishly good defensive squad, Forte should be all but a non-factor this year.
The offensive line in the windy city is an embarrassment. A mishmash of has-beens and never-will-bees, this collection of lumbering oafs should prove to be a huge thorn in Jay Cutler's side all season long, much to Jared Allen's chagrin.
Look for that deer-in-the-headlights, wistfully confused look on Cutlers face shortly after Allen dances Cutler's head off the Metrodome floor, for the second time, on November 29th.
That's about all Chicago's offense brings to the table. If there is one thing upon which nearly everyone can agree, the Bears' offense is lacking in exactly what appears to be missing on the defensive side of the ball: Depth.
Here's where the story gets sad. Brian Urlacher is just too old and without enough help to carry this defense anymore. Already decimated by injuries in the offseason, this bears squad is riddled with inexperienced underachievers and is sorely lacking in reserves, as was already mentioned.
A position breakdown of the Chicago defense would be a pointless waste of time, as there simply nobody worth mentioning. While the fans in Chicago are jumping for joy and patting coach Lovie Smith on the back for the acquisition of Jay Cutler, Mr. Smith seems to have forgotten one small fact:
The Bears have to stop Adrian Peterson for at least 120 minutes this season. In four games, Peterson has rushed for more than 550 yards against Chicago. Look for this trend to continue in 2009.
The Detroit Lions
The Lions should probably win a game this year. Probably. While they certainly can be no more hideous than they were last season, don't look for any dramatic turnarounds from this ball club.
Number one overall pick QB Matthew Stafford should provide with some quality highlight reel action, and phenom WR Calvin Johnson is always fun to watch. But aside from Daunte Culpepper, can you name any other single player on the Detroit Lions' roster? No you can not.
However, as Vikings' fans, we are all well aware of the Detroit Curse. The Lions nearly won their only game of the season in 2008 at the Metrodome, something the team seems able to do year after year, for some inexplicable reason. This is clearly the worst team in the NFL, but Detroit should have a few surprises in store.
The Green Bay Packers
If, as a Vikings Fan, you're not already a little nervous about the Green Bay Packers, you should be. With one of the most productive offenses in the league, and a scary new 3-4 defensive scheme in place, the Packers are one of the only serious threats to Minnesota's supremacy in the NFC in 2009.
Aaron Rodgers is a formidable presence who continues to improve, and should establish himself as one of the league's elite quarterbacks this year, with some already predicting an MVP season from the man. With the stellar tandem of Donald Driver and Greg Jennings at his disposal, look for Rodgers to show the World that the Pack is now his team.
Complimenting the Green bay receiving corps are a whole host of pass-catching tight ends and versatile threats from the backfield. The Packers have a lot of weapons on offense and they represent one of the few challenges the Vikings' defense should face in the coming months.
A solid offensive line rounds out an impressive squad, and is one of the many reasons the Packers will be in a very tight race with the Vikings for the NFC North divisional crown.
This unit is what should be keeping Vikings' fans awake at night. Dom Capers, the new defensive coordinator for Green Bay, has a history of fielding lightning-fast, hard hitting, hard blitzing defenses. Favre controversy aside, "The Gunslinger" is going to need every moment of his vast NFL experience to keep Green Bay in check.
First-round draft pick B.J. Raji appears to be the real deal, and he is surrounded by a defensive line that is big, fast and very deep. Constant rotation, off-beat blitzing schemes, and a fearsome linebacking corps should all contribute to the effort to improve Green Bay's dismal defensive performance in 2008.
Cornerback Charles Woodson is likely to be one of the main benefactors of Capers' aggressive game plan. Brett Favre just might get his bell rung at Lambeau on some sneaky corner blitz.
Minnesota is nearly a shoe-in to repeat as NFC North Division champs in 2009, though Chicago and Green Bay do present their own unique challenges. Detroit is a non-issue. If the Vikings' secondary can manage to contain two of the better quarterbacks in the league in Rodgers and Cutler, and if Minnesota's offense can manage to gel into some sort of cohesive unit, none of the other teams in the Norris division stand a chance.