How Will the NFC North Fare in 2010?
The NFC North is quickly becoming one of the NFL's toughest divisions. With the exception of the Lions, finding out that your team has to face the NFC North this season gives you some serious adversity to overcome. A team from the NFC North has made it to the NFC Championship game in three out of the past four seasons.
In 2006, the Bears not only had an outstanding defense, but they had the most feared return man on the planet in Devin Hester.
The 2007 Green Bay Packers were led by that always potent Favre offense and seventh ranked defense in terms of points allowed per game.
Last season, the Vikings arguably had the most well-rounded team in the NFL. Their Hall of Fame QB lived up to his expectations, making them just as deadly through the air as they were on the ground. They were also one of the best pass rushing teams in the league.
On top of that, they drafted a talented return man and slot receiver in Percy Harvin, who ultimately won the "Offensive Rookie of the Year" award.
All the uncertainty that this division has witnessed in the past few seasons begs the question, "What's in store for 2010?".
Coming off a 7-9 record and third straight season without a playoff appearance, the Chicago Bears are desperately trying to turn things around and have been one of the busiest teams this offseason. With the addition of S Chris Harris, DE Julius Peppers, and the return of LB Brian Urlacher, their defense is looking to solidify and return to its 2006 form.
On the offensive side of the ball, they brought in a proven offensive coordinator in Mike Martz, who at one point called plays for "The Greatest Show on Turf" in St. Louis. They also brought in RB Chester Taylor, who is a proven third down back as well as a receiving threat, and TE Brandon Manumaleuna, who is known for his blocking.
Offensive line switches have been made in hope of being able to give Jay Cutler enough time to be the playmaker he was in Denver and perhaps limit his bad decision making.
Although I extremely dislike the Bears, I have to admit I like Jay Cutler's enthusiasm for learning Martz' system. Calling up Warner, who had his best years under Martz, isn't something that many quarterbacks would have done.
Lovie Smith, this is your last chance.
Despite having one of the worst decades among all sports franchises, the Lions are in search of a new beginning. Management has made major upgrades this offseason through free agency and the draft, mainly on defense. They have added DE Kyle Vanden Bosch, DT Corey Williams, DT Ndamukong Suh, and DB's Chris Houston and Dre' Bly. On paper, they have a solid pass rushing team, but who knows if that will materialize on the field.
As far as offense goes, they still have a very young QB, but the arrival of WR Nate Burleson is a nice complement to Calvin Johnson. They also have high hopes for first-round pick and speedster Jahvid Best. Even with all the upgrades, the Lions still have one of the worst, if not the worst, offensive line in the NFL. The Lions still have their fair share of problems, but I think they have done enough in the offseason to be a five or six win team in 2010.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers have been in the news a lot this offseason, and I'm not really sure that's a positive thing. Brandon Underwood, a married man, was accused of sexual assault and being a "problem" ever since his arrival in Green Bay.
Aaron Rodgers, even though I agree with the majority of things he's said, has been running his mouth.
Oh, and Nick Barnett is guaranteeing a Super Bowl. As much as I believe this team is capable of making an impressive run, lets not get too ahead of ourselves.
The Packers, along with the Vikings, haven't been making any noise in free agency and there's good reason for that; they don't need to. Offensively, the Packers and their dynamic aerial attack ranked third in points per game last season. They still have a very good receiving core led by Greg Jennings and Donald Driver, who both caught for more than 1,000 yards last season. With veteran offensive tackles Mark Tauscher and Chad Clifton returning, it looks like the Packers offensive line woes will be held to a minimum.
Defensively, the Packers ranked second in overall defense and first in takeaways. However, when they played against a proven quarterback, they were put in their place. With the return of Brandon Underwood, Pat Lee, and Al Harris, and the addition of Morgan Burnett, their secondary has potential to significantly improve. A lot of people expect big things from this Packers defense next season, but will they live up to the hype?
Will he stay or will he go? Like 99.9 percent of the NFL community, I'm under the impression that Brett Favre will be back for his 20th season.
Why? Not only is he coming off one of the best seasons of his career, but he signed a two-year deal for a reason. He's coming back, but assuming a repeat of last season's performance after ankle surgery and a much harder schedule is pure insanity.
However, the Vikings are still the favorites to win the division in 2010. They still have a Hall of Fame quarterback, one of the best backs in the league, and a very good receiving core. Although their offensive line seemed to be falling apart near the end of the season, it is still going to be a tough challenge for opposing teams to break through and get to No. 4.
Their defense for next season is questionable. It's still unknown how CB Antoine Winfield or LB E.J. Henderson will respond post-injury, or if the Williams brothers will remain a formidable wall after testing positive for a banned diuretic.
That being said, they still have a very good pass rush with DE's Jared Allen and Ray Edwards, who can give any offensive line nightmares.
No one knows who will bring home the division crown in 2010, but we're in for one hell of a fight.
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