If the front-office people in the NFC North have any sense, they are starting their training camps without visions of Brett Favre dancing in their heads. When this drama is over, not only will he not be a Green Bay Packer, but Favre will not quarterback any team from this conference. (Actually, Don Banks wrote a very interesting column on SI.com, in which he postulates that Favre will likely not play football at all this year. But I digress.)
I may be totally off-base here, but this doesn't look to be a really promising season for the NFC North. A 9-7 record may be good enough to win this division. Expect the divisional matchups to be hard-hitting, though, and expect three of these four teams to be battling for the division title in the final weeks.
The Vikes boast perhaps the league's most potent rushing attack; but this team's prospects rely mostly on the continued development of young QB Tarvaris Jackson. If he takes a step in the right direction, so will the Vikings. If he falters early, it's back to the drawing board with Brooks Bollinger or—ugh!—Gus Frerotte at the reins.
Circle this date: Sept. 8, at Green Bay. All the elements for a juicy drama are there: A Week One battle between two division rivals with two young quarterbacks. For the icing, Brett Favre's jersey-retirement ceremony at halftime (maybe). Should make for fun TV, and maybe even some watchable football.
Outlook: Adrian Peterson and a tough Minnesota defense should help win games when Jackson stumbles—and he will stumble. I've seen predictions that have the Vikes finishing as low as third in the division, but I'm going to go out on a limb here and pick them for a first-place tie with Green Bay.
Projected finish: 9-7.
Green Bay Packers
This is the time of year when some coach, somewhere, stands at a podium and tells the assembled gaggle of reporters, "We're only going to talk about the players that are here right now." Right now, that coach is Mike McCarthy. I'll let you guess what player he doesn't want to talk about.
Circle this date: Same as above, for obvious reasons.
Outlook: Only a record-setting season could save Aaron Rodgers from the kind of scrutiny he's in for this year. If he's tough enough to withstand it, then the Packers will have their quarterback of the future, and Green Bay should have a good-enough record to contend for the playoffs.
Projected finish: 9-7.
They say the great athletes and coaches all share a stubborn streak. By that yardstick, Lovie Smith is one of the all-time greats. Why else would Rex Grossman still be in a Bears uniform?
Circle this date: Dec. 7, at home vs. Jacksonville. I'm calling this my upset special. The Jags may well have sewn up a playoff berth by then and might slack off a little.
Outlook: The defense is solid, as long as Brian Urlacher can anchor the middle for a full season. Devin Hester has been re-signed to a new four-year deal, but can the offense score any points?
Projected finish: 7-9.
Someone tell me Matt Millen's secret. He has presided over one of the league's worst teams and has engineered some of its worst personnel moves since being hired as the Lions' General Manager in 2001. How has he kept his job? Only God, Matt, and Isiah Thomas know for sure.
Circle this date: Dec. 14, at Indianapolis. Detroit routinely pulls off one or two improbable upsets per year, and I'm thinking this could be the one.
Outlook: This could be John Kitna's best year. A great wide receiver can make a good quarterback look great (ask Daunte Culpepper, Donovan McNabb, or Tony Romo), and Calvin Johnson has the look of a great one. That combo may be worth two or three additional wins this year. Otherwise, it's more of the same for these Lions.
Projected finish: 6-10.