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Fearless Rick's NFL Preview - NFC North

Rick Gagliano | July 26, 2011

NFC North

Green Bay Packers

2010 record: 10-6 (wild card, won Super Bowl)

Predicted finish: 12-4 (division winner)

Head Coach: Mike McCarthy

Departed: LB Nick Barnett, LB Brandon Chillar, G Daryn Colledge, RB Brandon Jackson, C Jason Spitz, S Danieal Manning, T Mark Tauscher, DT Justin Harrell, LB Brady Poppinga, DT Cullen Jenkins

Incoming: FS Michael Greco; Rookies: RB Alex Green (Hawaii), OT Derek Sherrod (Mississippi St.), CB Davon House (New Mexico St.), WR Randall Cobb (Kentucky). G Caleb Schlauderaff (Utah), TE D.J. Williams (Arkansas)

Strengths: As Super Bowl champions, one would have expected the Packers to stand pat with their roster, but exactly the opposite happened once camps opened. A load of defensive players were released, but the strength of this championship squad lies in the strong and capable arm of QB Aaron Rodgers, who has emerged as one of the top signal-callers in the league.

Being bleesed with one of the best lineups of wideouts ever put together surely helps Rodgers pile up the stats. Among the talent in the receivuing corps are James Jones, Donald Driver, Jermichal Finley, Donald Lee, Jordy Nelsom, Hreg Jennings and Andrew Quarles.

With the ability to line up four or even five receivers, the Packers were statistically near the bottom of the league, with just 100.4 yards rushing per game. Theymay not be looking for more balance, having re-signed fullback John Kuhn, but letting free agent Brandon Jackson depart for Cleveland.

Weaknesses: If there are any, it would be in the linebacking corps, where wholesale changes have been made. The Packers were second overall in the league in points allowed, giving up just 15 per game, by coach McCarthy wanted better, especially in stopping the run. Green Bay was not even average in that department, allowing 114.9 yards per game.

Key Games: Thurs., Sept. 8 vs. New Orleans (season opener), Sun. Sept. 25 @ Chicago; Sun., Dec. 25 vs. Chicago, Sun. Jan. 1 vs. Detroit (week 17).

What if?: Opposing defenses start lining up opposite the Packers with five or six defensive backs as many did against Tom Brady and Randy Moss in New England?

Being that Rodgers is very mobile, he'd still be able to pick apart defenses on the run or pitch the ball to Kuhn, who can run over DBs. The absence of a quality running back could be an issue, however.

Chicago Bears

2010 record: 11-5 (won division)

Predicted finish: 10-6 (wild card)

Head Coach: Lovie Smith

Departed: WR Devin Aromashodu, WR Rashied Davis, P Brad Maynard, TE Greg Olsen, TE Brandon Manumaleuna, DT Tommie Harris, LB Hunter Hillenmeyer, OT Kevin Shaffer, DT Tommie Harris, LB Pisa Tinoisamoa

Incoming: P Adam Podlesh, WR Roy Williams, DT Vernon Gholston, DT Amobi Okoye, RB Marion Barber, WR Sam Hurd, QB Matt Gutierrez, TE Matt Spaeth, NT Tank Tyler; Rookies: QB Nathan Enderle (Idaho), LB J.T. Thomas (W. Virginia), DT Stephen Paea (Oregon St.), OT Gabe Carimi (Wisconsin), S Chris Conte (Cal)

Strengths: The Bears will once again feature the run-stuffing defense that had them as the second-best unit in the league - behind Pittsburgh - and tops in the NFC at 90.1 ypg. Chicago seems content to keep their secondary and linebacking corps mostly intact, while making some changes to the defensive line to improve on their 34 sacks from 2010, which was close to the bottom of the league. The offense will once-more be in the hands of Jay Cutler, but it will focus on more downfield throwing with the addition of Roy Williams and Sam Hurd.

Weaknesses: The running game is probably the weakest part of the Bears' team, which ranked 22nd in the league at 101 yards per game. Matt Forte will return as the featured back, with Marion Barber coming over from Dallas as a potential backup.

Key Games: Sun, Sep 25 vs Green Bay; Mon, Nov 7 at Philadelphia; Sun, Dec 25 at Green Bay.

What if?: Jay Cutler doesn't throw the ball to the other team as often as he usually does but instead finds open receivers on deep routes?

More offense in Chi-town could return another NFC North title.

--- Story continues below ---

Looking for the best NFL Handicapper? Good luck. Most of them suck.

Detroit Lions

2010 record: 6-10

Predicted finish: 9-7

Head Coach: Jim Schwartz

Departed: LB Jordon Dizon, LB Zack Follett, WR Bryant Johnson, WR Jared Jenkins, QB Drew Stanton

Incoming: LB Justin Durant, WR Rashied Davis, CB Eric Wright, WR Maurice Stovall, LB Stephen Tulloch, DE Turk McBride, DE Hilee Taylor; Rookies: CB Brandon Stephens (Miami OH), WR Denario Ballard (Western Oregon), CB Jamal Robinson (Houston), LB Doug Hogue (Syracuse), OT Johnny Culbreath (S. Carolina St.), WR Titus Young (Boise State), RB Mikel LeShoure (Illinois),

Strengths: Explosive offense: As long as Matthew Stafford remains healthy, the Lions will be an offensive force with which to reckon. With wideouts Calivn Johnson and Nate Burleson and tight end Brandon Pettigrew starting and Boise State standout Titus Young expected to see slot action, Stafford will have plenty of targets downfield. Add to the aerial game the running Jahvid Best and rookie Mikel LeShore, who set records at Illinois, and the Lions look to be one of the highest-scoring offenses in the NFC.

Weaknesses: Stopping the run will be a key issue during training camp and preseason as the Lions were 22nd overall in run defense, allowing 124.9 ypg, just slightly better than Indianapolis. The linebacking corps has been strengthened with the addition of free agents Justin Durant and Stephen Tulloch, and rookie Doug Hogue out of Syracuse should receive playing time.

The Lions need to also bolster the offensive line and provide more protection for Stafford, because without him, they are less than ordinary offensively. Stafford managed to play just three games in 2010, winning in week 8 against the Redskins, but losing to the Jets in week 9 and also losing in week one at Chicago.

Key Games: Mon, Oct. 10 vs. Chicago, Sun, Oct. 23 vs. Atlanta, Sun, Dec 4 at New Orleans, Sun, Jan 1 at Green bay.

What if?: Stafford actually stays healthy all season?

The Lions - with a little improvement on defense - could challenge for a wild card spot, but probably not the division title. The scedule is not bad, with inter-conference games against the AFC West, two against a sub-par Minnesota squad and home dates with Atlanta, San Francisco and Carolina.

Minnesota Vikings

2010 record: 6-10

Predicted finish: 6-10

Head Coach: Leslie Frazier

Departed: WR Sidney Rice, S Madieu Williams, DE Ray Edwards

Incoming: QB Donovan McNabb

Strengths: Defense, especially against the run, is still good, but the pass rush will suffer with the loss of defensive end Ray Edwards, who terrorized NFC North QBs six times every year. Wiht his loss, the entire defense will suffer, because teams will be more prone to throw deep against a secondary that is being rebuilt but is still good.

Adrian Peterson is one of the top three running backs in the league, and, if he stays healthy, could rush for upwards of 1800 yards. The Vikings may become a run-first offense instead of relying on the pass to get them downfield.

Weaknesses: The offense which has been guided by Brett Favre over the past two seasons will be in the hands of an aging - and often inaccurate - Donovan McNabb. Wideout Sidney Rice is gone, along with Randy Moss, leaving the Vikings with Bernard Berian, Percy Harvin and Michael Jenkins as wideouts and Visanthe Shiancoe (who may become McNabb's favorite target) at tight end.

Key Games: October 23 vs. Green Bay; Monday, Nov. 14, at Green Bay, Nov. 20 vs. Oakland, Dec. 11 at Detroit.

What if?: McNabb is a bust at age 34 (turns 35 Nov. 25)?

It will be a long season in Minnesota, punctuated by occasional 60-yard runs by Adrian Peterson and the defense will look like, well, like the Buffalo Bills.

McNabb's numbers went South in a season with the Redskins, putting up a QB rating of just 77.1, with 14 TDs and 15 INTs in 13 games.

Copyright 2011, 2012, Rick Gagliano, Downtown Magazine. All rights reserved. Downtown Magazine is located in the Uinted States of America and is not affiliated with the National Football League or the NCAA. For more information, contact us here. Use of this site is for entertainment purposes only.


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