They say the way to the playoffs is beat the teams in your division so how does the NFC North stack-up?
Which team has the best set of linebackers or offensive line and by how much?
Let grade all four teams in six different categories using a five point scale with;
5 points - Top six in the NFL. You need multiple pro bowl caliber players and depth for this ranking.
4 points - Real good unit, maybe a pro bowler or two but at least across the board very good players.
3 points - Average unit, got some strengths but some weaknesses too.
2 points - Area of concern, you are basically talking about the 20th to 26th best unit. Generally not sure about all the starters and very little depth.
1 point - Think 2008 Detroit Lion defense. Okay, it doesn't have to be that bad, just among the very worst in the league.
For fans of those "other" teams in the division I will throw in a couple of links to some of my articles about the Lions. We are coming and we are coming hard so you better find out what you are in for.
As usual I will start with the defense and like everybody says it starts up front.
Defensive Line - Three 4 man fronts and I like to count pass rush out of the two outside LBs in a 3-4 defense.
Minnesota - 5 points. Let's see, Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, Pat Williams, Ray Edwards. Good depth with Jimmy Kennedy and Fred Evans plus the rookie Everson Griffen. Yep, I think that qualifies as a five.
Chicago Bears - 4 points. This one was a little tough to judge, if Tommie Harris is back in form and Julius Peppers is, well, Julius Peppers they could be a top unit. But it's those ifs and the rest of the line is a little unsettled so I want a little more proof before I give them a five.
Green Bay - 4 points. Real solid across the front with good depth. Counting the pass rush from Clay Mathews here too. Would need a true big time player to make a five.
Detroit - 3 points. What an upgrade over the last two years with Williams, KVB, Sammie Hill and now Suh. Need to get something out of a DE, maybe Avril? I want to give them a four but I just can't. Not until Suh is dominate.
Line Backers - Not as strong as those defensive lines but still pretty good.
Chicago - 4 points. They need Urlacher to be at least very good for this ranking but they still have Briggs and Hillenmayer is pretty good. Even some depth. If it was the Urlacher of say three years ago they would be a five.
Minnesota - 4 points. Real solid unit with some underrated players like E. J. Henderson, Greenway and Leber. Brinkley did a nice job filling in last year too. Not impossible that they move up in the rankings.
Green Bay - 3 points. Remember we counted Mathew's pass rushing with the DL so the rest of his game is only okay and the same could be said for Hawk and Brad Jones. People have talked about how under rated Barnett is for so long he is over rated now, still very good but not real special. A key injury and this rating goes down in a hurry.
Detroit - 2 points. A second year MLB, an aging OLB and who knows at the other OLB spot. It could come together to be decent if Levy and Follett catch fire but we can't count on that yet. At least they have built it in with their kind of player.
Defensive backs - Are you a chicken or the egg type guy because either all those NFC North QBs have made the DBs look bad or maybe these bad DBs have made the QBs look good. I'm taking the middle ground, the QBs are good and these secondaries are bad.
Green Bay - 4 points. That could be a stretch with a lot riding on how well Al Harris bounces back. Problem is he is 36 and missed 10 games over the last two years. Woodson cemented his place in Canton last year but he is 34 so who knows. Williams gives them some depth and the safeties are good, especially Collins.
Minnesota - 3 points. Another team hoping a veteran CB bounces back after their leader Winfield missed the last six games and all of the playoffs last year with a broken foot. The rest of the DBs are pretty ordinary and I am not impressed by adding Lito Sheppard. If the Vikings have a chink this is it.
Chicago - 2 points. When your best player is Tillman you have issues. I like Tillman as a #2 or #3 CB but not as my stud. Did I mention he had broken ribs last year, not good.
Detroit - 1 point. Maybe that is a little harsh. Delmas should be worth something but the whole rest of the secondary is up in the air and Delmas might be a prime candidate for a sophomore slump. This unit is in total rebuild mode with young players so maybe by the end of the year they are decent but not now.
So let's add up the defenses here.
Minnesota - 12 out of 15 possible points. I'll buy that, can be dominate at times but there are some holes.
Green Bay - 11 points. Some believe the Packers have an upper tier defense but I refer them to that play off game against the Cardinals, 51 points is a lot of points. The Steelers put 37 on them and when Tampa Bay can get 38 you might want to reconsider that upper tier rating.
Chicago - 10 points. Showing their age a little and some major question marks. This could go down with the normal half a dozen injuries the Bears always seem to have.
Detroit - 6 points. In Detroit we call that an improvement. But they are building something.
On to the offense.
I know the game has changed but the Black and Blue division is known for power running and field position football so let's take a look at those bruising running games.
Wait - is this the right place?
Where are those knock it down your throat OLs and you say Bret Favre is the QB least likely to throw an interception?
We better take a look and it still starts up front.
Offensive line. Teams in cold weather places need those big, nasty offensive linemen. Sorry, I had a little flash back there. Now on to the NFC North OLs in this century.
Minnesota - 4 points. Let's see, pro bowlers with Hutchenson and McKinney and wasn't their people saying this was the best OL just a year ago? That was a year ago, the rest of the line struggled and even McKinney got benched against Peppers. Wait - that name sounds familiar. Let's keep this at four for now.
Detroit - 3 points. No, I'm not crazy. At least not when I wear my tin foil hat so the aliens can't control me. Four spots are settled with good, solid players in Backus, Raiola, Peterman and now Sims. The stats were almost respectable last year and we should see some improvement in their second year. This could actually go up to a four this season.
Green Bay - 3 points. Tempted to give them a two but I will pretend that Clifton and Tauscher stay healthy and Baluga makes an immediate impact. But don't make me mad Packer fans or I'll drop this to a two in a heartbeat.
Chicago - 1 point. It's not all their fault, I'm giving some blame to Martz and Cutler too. Kreutz is a decent center and maybe Chris Williams develops but even then a two might be a little out of their reach.
Skill Players - I like to throw the RBs and WRs together, even the pass catching TEs fall here. It takes a lot of weapons working together in the NFL nowdays.
Minnesota - 5 points. This rating does depend on Favre coming back or we could see a relapse out of the WRs. So we got maybe the best RB in the game with Peterson, provided he remembers to take the ball with him. Some real explosive options like Rice and Harvin. Very strong at TE with Shiancoe and Kleinsasser. Decent secondary WRs like Berrian. This could be the best set of skill players in the NFL.
Green Bay - 4 points. Jennings and Driver is a nice set of starting WRs and they have depth there. Finley could blow up this year and Donald Lee is decent. But Grant is kind of ordinary and depth at RB a little questionable. Need another big playmaker to move up.
Detroit - 4 points. I am going to give them the benefit of the doubt here with some of their players. Calvin will explode this year and that is worth a ranking point by itself. Best, Scheffler and Burleson must be as advertised but there is no reason to believe they won't be and healthy returns by Pettigrew and K Smith would make this a deep unit. If Stafford takes that next step a four point rating could be low.
Chicago - 3 points. This one is real iffy. There are some weapons but how they fit in a Martz scheme makes we wonder. Should bring up that it usually takes a year for his offense to gel so I could have easily given them a two. Still, Hester scares defenses anytime he touches the ball and Olsen is a very talented TE. Taylor and Forte are a nice tandem but Martz probably doesn't even know their names yet. Don't let me think about this one because a two sure seems to fit better.
Quarter Back. Let's see, a top ten all-time QB coming off one of his best seasons ever, two QBs just approaching their prime who already have a pro bowl under their belt and last year's #1 overall pick. Remember the days when Jim McMahon and Eric Hipple were the norm? Staying on schedule is old fashioned now and these QBs fit right in.
Minnesota - 4 points. I still have to give it to Favre. He has been there and done that plus that was one great season last year. The only thing holding Favre back is the play calling. Depth is good but the Vikings sure wouldn't want to go there.
Green Bay - 4 points. Aaron Rodgers is legitimate MVP candidate so why isn't this a five? I need to see some more big wins against tough defenses firdt. It could happen this year but until it does he is a notch below the best. That QB depth ain't helping this rating either.
Chicago - 3 points. Let's don't start dreaming of Martz introducing Cutler at Canton just yet. Martz likes his QBs to be accurate and making quick, smart decisions. Does that sound like Cutler? Not exactly is right. This could work or be the worst pairing since Ross Perot picked Vice Admiral Stockdale. Having a good OL and skill players would help.
Detroit - 3 points. By the end of the year Stafford could turn the rankings upside down but putting him down as average seems about right for now. For the Bear fans I point you to the article it's the little things if you are having problems separating Cutler from Stafford. Hill was a nice pickup too.
Totallying the offense we get;
Minnesota - 13 points. Of course that is with Favre, without him give the Vikings an eight.
Green Bay - 11 points. Could go up if Rodgers takes another step. Could go down in a pile of sacks too.
Detroit - 10 points. This offense is on the cusp of some great things. Could be the best offense by the end of the year depending on the development of Stafford.
Chicago - 7 points. Let's just say I am not real impressed with what they have done since trading for Cutler. Not 100 percent sold on Cutler either. I did give them a higher score then the Lions defense. I'm really looking forward to that match-up.
So let's pretend that special teams don't count and add this up.
Minnesota - 25 out of 30. Top five team in the league and #1 in my power rankings right now. If you are Brett Favre don't you have to come back for this team? Don't leave money on the table and don't pass up opportunities to win another ring.
Green Bay - 22 points. Very good team, could challenge for the title if things go right. Could be 8-8 if they don't.
Chicago - 17 points. This is an average football team at best. They have gaping holes everywhere and no depth. Tell you the truth the Bears are closer to the #1 pick in the draft than a play off berth.
Detroit - 16 points. This may be a bad team yet but at least they are headed in the right direction. Wait, knock on wood and cross my fingers while I rub this horse shoe. This is another rebuilding year out of a rebuilding century so playoffs don't matter - yet.
That leaves us with two interesting races in the NFC North.
Green Bay hoping they can stay healthy and Minnesota dropping back a little. Have to figure both teams make the playoffs, unless one sweeps the other they both should get 4 or 5 wins out of the division and 6 out of the other ten games puts them in.
The I-96 race could be just as fun though.
Well, if you are a Lion fan. Just being in any kind of race besides the race for the first pick would be nice.
Not sure Chicago Bear fans would feel the same way about it.