1. Vikings—10-12 wins
2. Green Bay Packers—8-10 wins
3. Detroit Lions—6-9 wins
4. Chicago Bears—2-4 wins
The Minnesotta Vikings were a few plays away from the Superbowl. They threw it away however, and now must face the long road again this year. The reason the Vikes are succesful every year is their dominant defensive line. DE's Ray Edwards and Jared Allen are relentless in their pass rush, Kevin Williams is the best DT in the NFL, and Fat Pat can beat the double teams better than anybody.
They have solid LB's in Henderson (if he returns from injury), Greenway, and Leber. Cedric Griffen and Benny Sapp aren't ideal as the CB's, but Winfield is still playing at a high level, and the Vikings addressed the positon with CB Chris Cook with their first pick. The safeties could also use an upgrade, but their deficiencies are hidden by the lack of time they have to spend in coverage.
Whether Brett Favre returns or not is fairly irrelevant because of AP. The line is average at best, and yet Peterson finds a way to get 1400 yards behind it. If they had addressed it via the draft or FA they could have been even better. The Vikes receivers are special. The combination of Rice, Harvin, Berrian, and Shiancoe are lethal.
Green Bay have a special QB in Aaron Rodgers, but the line remains a concern. Their veteran OT's Clifton and Tauscher are a year older, and were never great in the first place. The interior is sorely lacking with the exception of Colledge. I liked the addition of Bulaga, and thought he was great value at 23, the problem is I think he'll take some time to get used to premier pass rushers in the NFL. With Jennings, Driver, Finley, and Grant, GB have solid offensive weapons.
GB have a solid defensive line, but its not special. It won't create the pressure that Minessota's will, and it was torn to shreds by the Cardinals in the NFC wildcard game last year. Cullen Jenkins is a pass rushing beast, but they lack the ability to generate pressure from the other players on their D-line.
In Clay Matthews and Nick Barnett, the Packers have studs at ILB and OLB, but Hawk is underwhelming and Brad Jones will have to take a massive leap to give GB a genuine threat on the other side. The Packers have the DMVP from last year in Charles Woodson, but the truth is he's 35 and whether he'll be able to maintain his level of play remains to be seen. Collins is a beast and Williams showed good potential, but Bigby and Harris could both be upgraded.
Detroit arguably had the best offseason of any NFL team. Stafford will be entering year two with a season under his belt, and they improved the O-line with the addition of mauler Rob Sims at LG. Backus is an adequate LT, and Raola and Peterman showed good potential in year one. Best will help spell Kevin Smith who is returning from a nasty injury. The Lions also now have sufficient playmakers in the form of Megatron (ie Calvin Johnson) along with (although overpaid) Nate Burleson, Brandon Pettigrew, and Tony Sheffler.
The biggest improvement however came on the D-line, where the Lions added Corey Williams via trade, and the consensus best player in the draft in DT Ndamukong Suh. KVB is not the player he once was, but he dominates with good DT beside him and the Lions should hopefully now have that.
At LB they have a load of guys who can do a serviceable job in Levy and Peterson, although the loss of Foote may hurt. The biggest hole is at CB where the Lions will need an immediate contribution from Amari Spievey, or risk the position holding the team back. At Safety, second year man Louis Delmas should continue his progression.
The Chicago Bears went hard at free agency this year, the problem is the players they acquired didn't necessarily fit their needs, and they lacked a pick in the first 2 rounds of this year's draft. The Bears O-line was simply awful last year with Garza and Kreutz the only decent players and nothing more.
At TE they have Olsen and receiver Hester and Knox. Each in their own right are solid but nothing more. Chicago will hope the promising Aromashodu continues where he left off late last year. The backs are merely average and the Bears didn't help themselves by adding a 3rd down back into a group that already has a receiving RB in Matt Forte.
On D the Bears lack serious talent on the D-line. They cut Alex Brown, their most consistent contributor last year, but did add Julius Peppers. Whether the high priced FA plays hard this year remains to be seen however, a very boom or bust pickup. The movement of Israel Idonije to DE looks a solid move on paper although whether he'll be able to succesfully transition lined up against OTs rather than OG and C remains to be seen.
At LB Urlacher was hurt, while Briggs had a down year, and Hillenmayer simply isn't starting material. The Bears would be better pressed to give guys like Nick Roach and Jamar Williams a shot. Probably the biggest problem however is at CB, where Tillman is wearing down and Bowman lacks the ability to start at the NFL level. At S Afalava had a rocky rookie year, and Manning didn't successfully make the transition. The Bears will hope they can get solid production out of rookie Major Wright. Cutler will get all the flak, but I doubt much of it will be his fault.
Team stat predictions:
1. MIN—top 5 overall D
2. GB—bottom 5 in sacks
3. DET—top 10 run D
4. CHI—bottom 5 offense