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NFL Pro Football 2009 NFC North Preview

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Fearless Rick's NFL Preview - NFC NORTH

Rick Gagliano | 8/2/2009

NFC NORTH - Predicted order of finish and (predicted record)

Minnesota Vikings (12-4): Winners of the division last season without the benefit of a seasoned quarterback, the Vikings' brass went out and got Sage Rosenfels from Houston to either replace or back up Tarvaris Jackson. Whichever QB starts (could be both as the season progresses) the signal-caller will have the luxury of handing the ball off to the league's best running back, Adrian Peterson, who led the league in rushing with 1760 yards in 2008.

Peterson will be spelled by the very capable Chester Taylor and the Vikings will once again be a run-oriented offensive machine. On the occasions in which Minnesota throws the ball, the addition of Florida's Percy Harvin will be a bonus to the regular wideouts, Bernard Berrian and Bobby Wade. The offensive line may need some retooling, but the Vikings look to take the next step forward and challenge for superiority in the NFC with a more explosive offense that scored at a 23 PPG rate in '08.

Defensively, the Vikings are superior against the run and should be even better when opponents are forced to throw. 3rd round draft pick Asher Allen (Georgia) will be an instant addition to nickel or dime packages, fitting into a secondary that already includes Antoine Winfield and Cedric Griffin, both extremely capable at the corners.

The defensive line, anchored by tackles Pat and Kevin Williams, is among the best in the league against run-blocking, and is capable of holding up the middle for blitzes from a solid linebacking group that features middle linebacker E. J. Henderson.

After a 4-4 start in 2008, the Vikings cruised to the NFC North title by winning 7 of their last nine games, but lost in a wild card game to Philadelphia, 26-14. They should have much the same look, but with an improved offense this season, and could conceivably start out 7-1 or before their bye week in Week 9.

Their first five opponents are Cleveland, Detroit, San Francisco, Green Bay and St. Louis. They host Baltimore in Week 6, travel to Pittsburgh in Week 7 and travel again, to Green Bay in Week 8. The remainder of the season isn't all that difficult, though late-season road games at Arizona, Carolina and Chicago could be a cause for concern. They close out against the Giants, in New York, a game that could either be a throw-away or a battle for playoff positioning.

In any case, the Vikings appear to be the class of this division and should win it.

Chicago Bears (9-7): The Bears were supposed to have one of the best defenses in the league in 2008, but they allowed almost as many points as their grinding offense scored (375-350) and finished 9-7 and out of the playoffs for the second straight year.

Under the leadership of Kyle Orton at QB, the Bears were 9-6 heading into the final week, but a 31-24 loss at Houston ended their season. While Orton was effective and improving, the team brass felt he wasn't a long-term solution, and opted to get Jay Cutler from Denver to lead the team. Orton was dealt to Denver along with draft picks.

If Cutler can meld into the offense well and find a go-to receiver out of Earl Bennett, Rashied Davis, Devin Hester and rookie Juaquin Iglesias, the Chicago offense will be more explosive than it has been in years. The return of Matt Forte after a stunning rookie debut (1238 yards on 316 carries) adds to the allure, and a healthy Kevin Jones should be a suitable backup.

Defensively, the return of Tommie Harris to full health is a huge positive. With him at left tackle and either Dusty Dvoracek or Anthony Adams at right tackle, the Bears will be able once again to stuff the run and turn many third downs into throwing ones, setting up their improved pass rush. Brian Urlacher has to step up in the middle once again, but all of the Bears seem to believe that the offense is going to be better and that will motivate the defense.

In the secondary, safety Mike Brown has moved over to the Chiefs, leaving a big hole to fill for either Craig Steltz or Josh Bullocks. The corners are in good hands with Nathan Vasher and Charles Tillamn in coverage.

While it might be too much to ask of Jay Cutler to bring home a division title, it's not out of reach in one of the league's weaker divisions. Chicago's schedule isn't very rough early on, with the exception of Pittsburgh in Week 2. The Bears open at Green Bay, but in weeks 3-8, play at Seattle, then Detroit at home, a bye, at Atlanta, at Cincy and home for Cleveland. A 6-1, 5-2 or even a 4-3 start puts the Bears in the thick of it and should give them time to work out kinks on both sides of the ball. Ending the season at Detroit is an added bonus, should they need a final win to reach the playoffs.

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Green Bay Packers (7-9): Suffering through a 6-10 season in the first post-Favre year, the Packers made huge changes to their defense in the off-season, firing Bob Sanders and replacing him with veteran coordinator Dom Capers.

Capers will install a 3-4 defense, hoping to improve on their finish at 20th in overall defense. Whether or not the change will help depends largely on how quickly players adjust to new roles and especially the progress of rookie B.J. Raji, drafted in the first round out of Boston College, who will play nose tackle.

Raji will be flanked by Cullen Jenkins and Justin Harrell, but the strength of the defense will be at linebacker. Four studs will defend the middle of the field, with A.J. Hawk and rookie Clay Matthews (USC) inside and Aaron Kampman and Nick Barnett outside.

In the secondary, Charles Woodson starts his 11th season at one corner and Al Harris has been up and down throughout his career. Safties Aaron Rouse and Nick Collins may not hold up the entire season, though the front office seems to have confidence in the secondary. Covering receivers may be more of a problem than Capers and his staff anticipate.

Offensively, Aaron Rodgers gets to try to erase more Favre memories in his second full season at QB. Season #1 was solid with Rodgers throwing for 4038 yards, 28 TDs and 13 INTs. With Donald Driver and Greg Jennings at wideout, Rodgers will have two familiar targets.

The Packers will have problems if Ryan Grant doesn't regain his 2007 form. He was nagged by injuries in 2008, but a larger problem could be in the offensive line, which didn't get the job done much of the time. The running attack and the overall protection scheme are big question marks.

Bottom line is that the Packers may be better than they were in 2008, but only marginally. Without a reliable rushing game and with players filling new roles on defense, this team could wind up the head case of the league. The talent is there, but the coaching staff may not be organized enough to withstand the rigors of a 16-game schedule. If trouble develops early, look for Mike McCarthy to get the axe. The Packers aren't playoff quality, at least not yet.

Detroit Lions (3-13): After the worst season in NFL history, the Lions will likely be starting Matthew Stafford (their #1 pick and first pick overall out of Georgia) over Daunte Culpepper before their bye in Week 7. How a team that finished 0-16 in 2008 can receive a schedule of New Orleans, Minnesota, Washington, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Green Bay over the first six weeks says little about the so-called "balance" the NFL seeks to achieve.

Later in the season, the Lions may win a few games from the likes of St. Louis, Seattle, Cleveland, Cincinnati or San Francisco, but three wins is likely their limit. Detroit led the league in points allowed, with a whopping 517 (32.3 per game) and only scored 268 in 2008. They simply don't have the bodies or coaching skills required to compete in the NFL, and, not surprisingly, will remain the laughingstock of the league in '09.

As with every season in Detroit, it's a rebuilding year, but the Lions have a long way to go. With Stafford at the helm and Calvin Johnson at one wide receiver spot, they have a go-to tandem, but the o-line is weak and the running game pretty much non-existent.

Defensively, they can build around linebacker Julian Peterson and corners Anthony Henry and Phillip Buchanon, though they need linemen who can either stop the run or rush the QB, and they don't have a star in that mold yet. Getting big Brandon Pettigrew (Oklahoma St.) in the second round was a steal, but draft picks should have been used on more defensive linemen, of which they picked only one - Sammie Lee Hill from Stillman College, in the 4th round.

The Lions won't beat any of the league's best teams unless there are significant injuries on the opposite side of the field. Another long season awaits Detroit fans, who have economic issues of greater importance. If attendance dwindles, there may be a call to relocate or sell the franchise.

Copyright 2008, 2009, 2010 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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