Tuesday, September 7, 2010
In 2009, two NFC North teams--the Vikings and Packers--finished above .500, with the Vikings taking the division title and the Packers a Wild Card spot. The Bears, who went 3-3 in the division, finished third and 7-9 overall. The Lions won just two games. Will there be a new North champ this season? Will the Lions make noise? Will the Bears contend?
ESPN had 16 "experts" make their playoff predictions, and the Bears are on there as often as the Rams (uh, never). Fifteen of the sixteen picked the Packers to win the division. But who needs ESPN when you have me?
Led by a vaunted passing attack featuring Aaron Rodgers, Greg Jennings and Donald Driver, along with a 1,200-yard season from Ryan Grant, the Packers put up the third-most points in the NFL last season. All of those players, along with talented tight end Jermichael Finley, return in 2010. The unit's 2009 production is amazing given the struggles of the offensive line, which allowed the most sacks in the NFL. The offensive line is still a question mark, but this could be the best offensive team in the league.
The Pack's defense allowed the second-fewest yards per game and the seventh-fewest points in the league in 2009. They've got the reigning Defensive Player of the Year in Charles Woodson (who will turn 34 in October), though fellow cornerback Al Harris is coming off knee surgery. It's scary to think that their success last year came in the first season after a switch to a 3-4 system.
One of the two teams who scored more points than Green Bay last year, the Vikings return every offensive starter. Brett Favre seemed on a mission to match his age in touchdowns in 2009, ending up with 33 of them and just seven picks. He's on a potentially bum ankle this year and won't have Sidney Rice to throw to until for at least six weeks. The Vikes also lost Chester Taylor, though I think they have a decent #1 back.
Minnesota finished 10th in points allowed and had a stifling rush defense that allowed just 87 yards per game (second in the NFL). Amazingly, they return all 11 defensive starters as well. This certainly looks like a strong team, though it's impossible not to wonder what kind of drop-off we'll see from the 40-year-old vermin.
Mike Martz has been brought in to try to improve upon an offense that finished 19th in points per game last season. The young receiving corps returns and can hopefully build on some success last year, while Jay Cutler will look to beat last year's career high in TDs but avoid another career high in picks. Chester Taylor provides a nice pass-catching ability and is a good blocker. But holy Jesus the offensive line has looked terrible this offseason.
The D was even worse last year, allowing over 23 points per game. While the safety positions are in a bit of flux, Urlacher returns (fingers crossed for a healthy season) and Julius Freak of Nature Peppers (editor's note: not his real middle name) brings a legit pass rush to the defensive line. This unit should be better than '09, but it's hard to envision them having a top-flight defense.
When your leading rusher has under 800 yards and your QB throws seven more INTs than TDs, you're probably going to have the 27th ranked offense in the league. Probably. No, definitely, cuz that's what the Lions did last year. But now Matthew Stafford has a year under his belt and they have 1st-round draft pick Jahvid Best in their backfield. Translation: this offense should take a step forward in 2010.
What's worse than having the 27th ranked offense? Having the league's worst defense. Detroit added second-overall draft pick Ndomukong Suh to the defensive line along with free agent Kyle Vanden Bosch. On the flip side, they lost two of their linebackers. The secondary appears to be a weakness as well. In short, the Lions might improve upon their run defense but may struggle against the pass.
[shout out to xtrapointfootball.com]