Wednesday, August 12, 2009

2009 NFC North Preview

For years, the NFC North has built a reputation of being the “black and blue” division in pro football. Each team is built on a hard-hitting brand of defense with a strong running game, but this season, the emphasis could shift to the quarterback position. With the arrival of Pro Bowler Jay Cutler to Chicago and the first overall pick Matthew Stafford to the Motor City, add in the second year of the Aaron Rodgers experiment in Green Bay and whoever is starting in Minnesota, the winner of the NFC North could be decided on which QB is having the best season.
In order of finish:

1. Minnesota Vikings
This season, it doesn’t matter that Brett Favre isn’t playing in Minnesota because they have the best overall squad in the NFC North. To win the division, the Vikings will need to stay on same page all season. Arguably, their offensive line is the best at opening holes, and oh yeah, it doesn’t hurt to have the best running back (Adrian Peterson) in the league. If they stick to the running game, it will not matter who is the Vikings starting quarterback. Their most intriguing player could Percy Harvin, as he is a dual offensive threat. Harvin can either line up in the backfield or in the flat as a receiver. The Viking biggest weakness could be their defensive secondary with the off-season release of S Darren Sharper, as that has left them vulnerable to the big pass play.

2. Chicago Bears
Uncharacteristically, the Bears broke from tradition and gambled their future away by trading two #1s for Cutler. He brings a cocky swagger that has been missing from the Windy City since the Jim McMahon days. Bear fans will have to accept that Cutler is mistake prone, but his arm could win a majority of their games. This team is still defined by their defense, especially against the run led by Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs from the inside linebacker position.

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3. Green Bay Packers
This season, the success of the Packers will rely heavily on the progression of their number one draft pick, B.J. Raji. They’re taking a defensive tackle and trying to convert him into a nose tackle. If Raji struggles, this will have an adverse effect on the production from their talented linebackers (A.J. Hawk, Nick Barnett, Aaron Kampmann and rookie Clay Matthews). Greg Jennings has quietly emerged as one of the best wide receivers in the NFL, as he is capable of breaking a game open with one play. Rodgers is not an elite quarterback but he makes plays in the Packer’s offensive scheme.

4. Detroit Lions
Following a winless season, the Lions needed a complete makeover much like nation’s auto industry. They brought in a new front office, a new coaching staff and a new face of the franchise in their off-season restructuring. Stafford has a difficult task of trying to rally a city around a team that didn’t win a game all last season. And even if they win one game this season, he becomes an instant hero. Thankfully, he will have at least one target to throw to all season in WR Calvin Johnson. The Lions have finally found their playmaker after suffering through the Charlie Rogers and Mike Williams fiascoes, as Johnson catches everything in sight. Their defense should be much improved, as new head coach Jim Schwartz is considered a defensive genius in the league. The front office brought in LBs Julian Peterson, Larry Foote and CB Anthony Henry for veteran leadership and that should hopefully make them better, but that not saying much after the 2008 season.

Written By Thomas Conroy

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