Sunday, August 30, 2009

NFL 2009 Preview - NFC North

Chicago Bears

Last Year: 9-7

Do the Bears finally have a franchise quarterback? Maybe. Jay Cutler produced like a franchise QB last year, but that was with one of the best O-lines in the league, and with much better receivers than he'll have in Chicago. Devin Hester will start at WR. Last season he made the full conversion to wide receiver, and showed significant development. However, he'll have to improve just as much this season to become a viable starter. Earl Bennett is a second year possession receiver, who didn't play last year, but played with Cutler for one year at Vanderbilt. TE Greg Olsen is likely to be the go-to receiver and should have a breakout year. Rashied Davis has made little of numerous chances, and Desmond Clark is declining rapidly.

Cutler will also have good receiving RB Matt Forte at his disposal. In addition to helping out the pass attack, Forte's a decent grinder who only fumbled once last year. His backup, Kevin Jones, has always been a talented runner, but it's unknown how much injuries have taken out of him.

Defensively, the Bears have been very good. The front 7 has been solid against the run, but last year had trouble getting pressure. They added Piso Tinoisamoa to combine with Urlacher and Briggs for one of the best LB units in the league. Up front they could really use a healthy Tommy Harris. In the secondary, Vasher and Tillman will struggle, and the Bears new safeties Josh Bullocks and Craig Steltz aren't impressive.

We'll learn a lot more about Cutler this year. I expect a drop-off from his efficiency last year, but an improvement over what the Bears got at QB last year.

2009 Projected Record: 9-7

Detroit Lions

Last Year: 0-16, laughingstock of NFL

The Lions drafted Matt Stafford but he'll surely struggle if forced to start this year. Journeyman Daunte Culpepper is also in the mix, but neither figure to have much success behind the Detroit 0-line. The one plus in the passing game is Calvin Johnson, who has produced at a high level despite playing for a terrible team, and is still getting better. Journeyman punt returner Dennis Northcutt is listed as the other starting WR. They are going with rookie Brandon Pettigrew as their pass catching tight end, and Will Heller as the blocking tight end. Kevin Smith is the starting RB. His 4.1 ypc might seem acceptable considering the awful line he ran behind, but it's not as impressive when the Lions were in very few obvious running situations last year. Career backup Maurice Morris is around to continue being a career backup, or perhaps more if Smith falters. Basically, outside of Calvin, this offense is junk.

The defense was even worse than the offense last year, and should continue to struggle despite a massive overhaul. Gone are Shaun Cody, Cory Redding, Corey Smith, Paris Lennon, Ryan Nece, Leigh Bodden, Travis Fisher, Dwight Smith, and Bryan Kelly. Added are Grady Jackson, Julian Peterson, Larry Foote, Philip Buchannon, and Anthony Henry. All of their adds are players who are past their prime, with the exception of Foote. The defense should still suffer through the transition.

This team looks different (on defense at least), but is still the worst team in the league.

2009 Projected Record: 2-14

Green Bay Packers

Last Year:6-10

I have to admit, I saw Aaron Rodgers as just another Tedford-coached quarterback whose college success wouldn't translate to the pros. I'm still not 100% convinced, and I expect him to struggle a bit this year, now that defenses know what to expect. This could mean Green Bay's terrific WR duo of Greg Jennings and Donald Driver have their numbers decline as well. Ryan Grant is not a great runner and should be closer to last year's 4 ypc than the previous year's 5 ypc.

The Packers defense, like Tampa, are also switching to a scheme that doesn't match their personnel at all. Unlike the Tampa situation, I think this is going to result in a big step back in this transition year.

This entry is short, but there haven't been a lot of player changes (just a lot of scheme changes). The Packers were an unlucky 6-10 last year, but they should be worse on both sides of the ball. So even if their luck reverses, they're looking at another 6-10 season.

2009 Projected Record: 6-10

Minnesota Vikings

Last Year: 10-6, NFC North Champs
Brett Favre steps in at QB, and even at his age, he's a big improvement over incumbent Tarvaris Jackson. He'll need to stay healthy though, the Vikings consistently have poor pass protection. Bernard Berrian has emerged as one of the most legit deep threat receivers in the league, and it'll be fun to watch what he does with a better QB. Other receivers include third year possession receiver Sidney Rice, journeyman Bobby Wade, and rookie kick returner/trick place specialist/wide receiver? Percy Harvin. Vikings TE Visanthe Shiancoe had a breakout year as a receiver last year, and could duplicate or improve on those numbers now that Favre is under center.

Adrian Peterson is an absolute monster and the ingredients are there for two things. One, a hall-of-fame type of season. The kind of season young RB's dream about. The other, based on his workload last season, and his running style, is injury. He's boom-or-bust for sure, and as a neutral I hope it's BOOM because it will be fun to watch.

For all the excitement on offense, the defense might be a huge letdown this year. The Vikings might lose both the Williams DT's for at least 4 games, and they really have no one to take their place. If even one of them is missing, the Vikings traditionally stout run D will look really mediocre. The Vikings jump to an elite defense last year was the addition of Jared Allen's pass rush, and he's back for more. The Vikings have a very good corner tandem as well, but the safeties could be a trouble spot. Madieu Williams is never healthy, and Tyrell Johnson is an unknown. For a change, the Vikings weakness on D is now up the middle.

They are big if's, but if Favre, AP, and Allen all stay healthy, this team belongs back in the playoffs.

2009 Projected Record: 10-6 NFC North Champs

Current Division Future Odds:

(Disclaimer: I don't bet futures or suggest you tie up money for that long)

Minnesota Vikings +165
Chicago Bears +185
Green Bay Packers +185
Detroit Lions +1215

Maybe small bets on the Vikings and Bears...but nah, just avoid it.

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