To finish off my division by division breakdowns, we have the NFC West. This division has become a two headed monster. There are two very good teams at the top, one mediocre squad, and a very weak team at the bottom. When Brett Favre officially announces his return, which will hopefully be sooner rather than later, the Vikings and Packers will begin duking it out for divisional supremacy. Lets get ready to rumble in the NFC North.
NFC North: Bears, Lions, Packers, Vikings (alphabetical order)
Detroit Lions (4th place): Detroit’s suffering will continue for at least another year. This team has only won 2 games over the course of the past two years and has not won more than 7 games in a season since the year 2000. It has been a brutal last 10 years. Well expect this year to be pretty typical for the Lion’s faithful. This team had the worst defense in the League last year and an almost equally as bad offensive attack. Lots of weight will placed on 2nd year quarterback Matthew Stafford. Can he live up to the lofty expectations? Calvin Johnson is one of the best receivers in the game. It is a shame that the Lions cannot really give him another solid receiver to play alongside. Guys like Dennis Northcutt and Bryant Johnson have not been able to cut the mustard. From a rushing standpoint, they still have Kevin Smith, who will hopefully be fully recovered from a devastating Week 14 ACL tear (last season). They also have rookie Jahvid Best. Do not expect too much from this duo though due to lack of an offensive line. Defensively it gets worse. There is really not one player of note on the entire unit other than recently drafted Ndamukong Suh. Lions’ fans better pray this guy gets signed, lives up to the hype, and is ready to be an instant leader for this team on the defensive side of the ball. That is a lot to ask of a rookie. Do not expect the Lion’s
to win more than 5 games this year.
Chicago Bears (3rd place): Da Bears! Yes Chris Berman is in the Hall of Fame, but the Bears still do not have the look of a contender sadly. No matter how excited Chris Berman can get people when talking about the boys out of the windy city, the team is not ready to be a force yet. The Bears have not been to the postseason since 2006, and do not count on that streak ending this year. This team suffered without Brian Urlacher last year defensively, and did not do much with the newly acquired Jay Cutler from an offensive standpoint. Though the Bears finally added a complement to Matt Forte in Chester Taylor, this does not appear to solve the rushing issues. This team was near the bottom of the League in rushing yards last year, and though Taylor should help a little, these guys do not really compliment each other well in that they each have a very similar style. I just hope for the Bear’s sake, conflict does not arise between Forte and Taylor. The receiving corps has not improved either. This team is still lacking a number 1 threat for Jay Cutler to use his “super” strong-arm to throw too. So do not expect this team to put up a flurry of points on a weekly basis. Defensively, the unquestioned leader is still the man with “swag,” Brian Urlacher. Urlacher along with Lance Briggs make up one of the League’s best linebacker duos. Also, the addition of Julius Peppers to the defensive line should make an instant impact. If Urlacher can stay healthy, expect this team to be much better defensively than they were last year. The secondary did do a solid job against the pass so hopefully with Peppers rushing the opposing quarterback, their jobs can be even easier this year. The Bears will be a decent team. But do not expect them to sneak into the playoffs. I am predicting 7 or 8 wins due to the lack of offensive stability.
Green Bay Packers (2nd place): The Cheesheads may be disappointed with another 2nd place appearance, but count on this team to roll deep into the playoffs. I have them cruising all the way to the Super Bowl. It will take this team time to gel and it will help when Favre tires down the stretch for the Vikings come playoff time. This team is led by a lethal offensive attack. Aaron Rodgers has become one of the top 5 quarterbacks in the League hands down. They got a great duo at receiver in the up and coming Greg Jennings and the seasoned veteran Donald Driver. Hopefully Driver is healthy after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery on both of his knees this off-season. But luckily for the Packers, they have young guns James Jones and Jordy Nelson waiting in the wings. Not to mention they have a very solid tandem of receiving tight ends in Jermichael Finley and Donald Lee. I also forgot to mention that though this team lives on the pass, do not sleep on Ryan Grant pounding the rock. The question is who can complement Grant down the stretch? Possibly the seasoned veteran Ahmad Brooks or the Florida product DeShawn Wynn. Offensively, this is the only question mark this team has if any. Defensively the Packers number 2 defense of a season ago will be led by the linebacking trio of Nick Barnett, AJ Hawk, and Clay Matthews. This the best linebacking trio in the League in my eyes. They are young, tough, and very fun to watch. Lastly, you have 2 very strong veterans in Charles Woodson and Al Harris anchoring the secondary. Good luck scoring points on these guys. Neither AJ Hawk nor Clay Matthews has really entered their prime yet. There is lots of upside. The Packers have the best combination of offense and defense in the entire NFC.
Minnesota Vikings (1st place): This team came up just short of making an appearance in the Super Bowl last season. They are determined to go one step further this year and bring a Super Bowl title back to the twin cities of Minnesota. And why shouldn’t they be confident? They have a great core group of guys returning. Minnesota also possesses both a great offense and defense. Last season, the Vikings became a pass first offense. I think Brett Favre is the only player in the League that could make a team that has the one they call “All Day” (Adrian Peterson) a pass first team. Brett can still really play and put on quite a show last season. And I fully expect him to put up great numbers again this year. Sidney Rice, Percy Harvin, and Bernard Berrian are a great trio of targets for Favre. All 3 are young and have a ton of upside. Look for Favre to be slinging the ball all over the field again this year. My question is will Sidney Rice be healthy? Either way the passing attack will be lethal. Then of course the Vikings do have the luxury of handing the ball off to Adrian Peterson, who has the ability to turn any play into a big time play. If AP starts fumbling again though, who is the next guy in? Ryan Moats or the rookie Toby Gerhart? This team does not really have a sure-fire compliment for Peterson nor do they really need one. As long as Peterson stays healthy, it will be paradise in the Minnesota backfield. Then from a defensive standpoint, this team stops the run with the best of them. Guys like Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, and Pat Williams are absolutely outstanding. They not only stop the run, but they pressure the quarterback early and often. Then in the secondary, the addition of veteran cornerback Lito Shephard should help turn this unit from average, to pretty good. Big things will also be expected from the outstanding cornerback Antoine Winfield, and their injury prone safety, Madieu Williams. All I can say is, watch out, because this Viking’s team will be scary. Do not be surprised to see this team roll deep into the postseason.
So the NFC North should have a repeat champion in the Minnesota Vikings. But do not sleep on the Green Bay Packers, who I think could overtake the Vikings come playoff time on their way to making an appearance in the Super Bowl for the first time since 1997. Both of these teams are very strong in nearly all aspects of the game.
Stay tuned for the next edition of TheSportsKraze.