This will be part of a series of eight articles where I briefly go over the teams’ offseason moves and their drafts (which will not be factored in that heavily unless I feel the two teams were on equal footing prior to the draft). I will also list these teams in the order I predict they will finish and give a range of wins that each team can expect next year.
This team was very impressive last year. While the offense is what many of us expected it to be (very pass heavy and explosive, as Rodgers was brilliant), the defense far surpassed my expectations. The Packers transitioned to a 3-4 and Dom Capers had this defense as the number one overall defense at various points in the season. Charles Woodson and Nick Collins excelled in this defense with the former earning defensive player of the year honors and the latter earning a hefty contract extension. However, every four or so games this defense would throw in an absolute stinker, such as Green Bay’s inexplicable loss to Tampa Bay, or the Pittsburgh game, and most notably their playoff game against the Cardinals in which it appeared that neither defense opted to show up for most of the game. Rookie Clay Matthews also played brilliantly in the 3-4 and almost nabbed the defensive rookie of the year award.
The Packers had to make some moves in the offseason if they wanted to knock off the Vikings in the division. Their offensive tackles were a major liability last year as Jared Allen abused the Packers’ offensive line en route to eight sacks in his two games against Green Bay. That position was addressed in the draft as Bulaga inexplicably fell right into the Packers’ lap. Other than that, the Packers were content to resign many of their own free agents, which needed to be done to ensure that the core of this team would remain together.
The Packers have a rough schedule next year, having to face the AFC and NFC East as well as Atlanta and San Francisco as a result of their second place schedule. However, the Packers have a good enough team to be able to beat most of these teams. Packers fans can expect 11-14 wins next year, a division title and likely a first round bye.
2. Minnesota Vikings
Everyone knows the story of the 2009 Vikings. Brett Favre signed in August and the team did excellently with a viable starting quarterback (sorry, Tarvaris Jackson is not a viable starter). The defense was stifling early in the season and the only blemish on their record until late in the football season was a poorly refereed loss to Pittsburgh. At the end of the season, Peterson’s fumbling issue reached new heights and Brett Favre seemed to regress into the quarterback that played for the Jets in 2008 and the defense seemed to collapse. All of that was forgotten after the Vikings stomped on the lethargic Giants and the Cowboys, who were in desperation mode, as Wade Philips termed it. However, the Vikings, despite dominating a game against the Saints, turned the ball over too many times (thanks mostly to Adrian Peterson’s inability to hold onto the football) and some horrific coaching decisions by Brad Childress caused the Vikings to lose a game that they could have easily won. Now, we get another wonderful offseason wondering whether or not Favre will retire.
The Vikings were rather quiet this offseason, only signing Lito Sheppard to be their number two cornerback as well as drafting Chris Cook, which is good since Sheppard was often burnt with the Jets last year. The Vikings also replaced Chester Taylor, who defected to the Bears this offseason, with Tony Gerhart, who was drafted in the second round of the 2010 draft. The Vikings also drafted a possible replacement for Ray Edwards who may leave after this year seeking a long term contract, by drafting Everson Griffen in the fourth round.
Like the Packers, the Vikings have to play the AFC and NFC East as well as New Orleans, to open the NFL season and Arizona as well as the six division games. While it is a challenging schedule, the Vikings are also a very talented team and should have little trouble making it back to the playoffs. Vikings fans should expect 9-12 wins this year, and a wild card berth.
The Lions improved by two games over their 2008 season, but then again winning any games was an improvement after their historically laughable 2008 season. Matthew Stafford spent the year learning on the job and as of now is best known for his comeback win over the Browns, when he threw the game winning touchdown with an injured shoulder. Other than that, the Lions needed a lot of work as Cherilus, one of Millen’s many poor draft choices, is a bust and the left guard spot was a mess, which hurt Backus’ play. Their defense was a mess as well, but safety Louis Delmas was a bright spot on that side of the ball. The Lions needed to have a great offseason in order to compete in this division.
And the Lions did just that. They acquired defensive tackle Corey Williams and guard Rob Sims in trades that resulted in the giving up late round draft picks for quality starters. They also acquired Tony Scheffler in a trade that resulted in the Lions jettisoning disappointing linebacker Ernie Sims. They signed a questionable receiver in Nate Burleson, who is notorious for only playing hard in a contract year and defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, who is very familiar who Jim Schwartz from playing under him in Tennessee. The Lions then proceeded to have an incredible draft, acquiring Ndamakong Suh, who, when paired with Corey Williams can terrorize even the stoutest interior of an offensive line and Jahvid Best, who, while injury prone, is a very dynamic running back and is a very good compliment for the injured Kevin Smith. I would call this a very good and productive offseason, wouldn’t you?
The Lions have a difficult schedule next year facing the AFC and NFC East as well as the rest of their division, but they get a reprieve when they get to feast on the lowly Rams and Buccaneers. The Lions’ record should markedly improve from last year as they could get 6-8 wins in 2010.
4. Chicago Bears
Going into the 2009 season, it seemed that everyone and their mother was picking the Bears to win the NFC North. After all, they just traded the house for the overrated Jay Cutler. Well, their 2009 season was a disaster, as they finished 7-9, and it is worse when you consider that the Bears had a very easy schedule in 2009. Jay Cutler was a disaster throwing 26 interceptions, which must have had Philip Rivers laughing his butt off in San Diego. Matt Forte and the defense regressed from 2008, and their offensive line looked awful. Lovie Smith looked lost as a coach and while Bears fans could have looked forward to the draft, Jerry Angelo traded away their first two draft choices to acquire Jay Cutler and Gaines Adams, rest in peace.
Since the Bears had no draft picks, they did the only fiscally irresponsible thing they could do. They did their best Dan Snyder impression during free agency, signing the unmotivated Julius Peppers for 92 million dollars; running back Chester Taylor and tight end Brandon Manumaleuna were also handsomely paid to come to Chicago. The Peppers signing is mind boggling as Peppers is notorious for taking plays off, even in his contract year, and Lovie Smith could not motivate anything, so expect Peppers to slack off, and prove he was not worth the 92 million dollar investment. They drafted a safety in Major Wright who should help the Bears’ anemic defense, and defensive end Corey Wooton who will help provide a pass rush but neglected their woeful offensive line, that makes David Carr think his line with the Texans was comprised of All-Pros.
As with the other members of the NFC North, the Bears have a brutal schedule. Winnable games include the Lions (at home), Bills, Seahawks and Redskins. Bears fans can expect their team to win 3-6 games in 2010.