Wednesday, August 15, 2007

2007 Sports As Life NFL Preview - NFC North

Yikes, and you thought the NFC West was a lame duck division - just wait until we get done with the NFC North today. First team to .500 wins the division.

Chicago Bears

There is almost always a Super Bowl hangover for teams that played in it the previous year - this can be true for both the winner and loser. As the loser in last year's Super Bowl Chicago is going to be feeling that hangover pretty hard this year. But that may have less to do with the hangover and more to do with the fact that they may not have been that good in the first place. This is the year Chicago shows its true colours. First of all running back Cedric Benson is a step down from Thomas Jones, the starter last year - Jones is underrated by most people and Benson is overrated by most people. Probably not a good sign when Benson's own teammates, by some accounts, don't even like him. Benson is also going to have twice as many carries this year as he has ever had in his career - that work load is going to take a serious toll on someone who's a little injury prone at the best of times. And then there's quarterback Rex Grossman - where does a person even start? Let's just say it's a bad sign that most people think Grossman should have been the MVP of last year's Super Bowl - because his terrible performance basically gave the game to Indianapolis. The Bear's wide receivers, Mushin Muhammed and Bernard Berrian, are actually pretty solid but Chicago is a run first team - and let's be honest, the Bears might not have a quarterback who can get the ball to the receivers anyway. But in Chicago, as it has been since the dawn of time, it's all about defence. This team is only going as far as the defence can take them. However, with a diminished offence this year the defence is going to be on the field a lot more than they were last year. The Bears D is still going to be great but just don't expect it to be as suffocating as it was last year. And to top it all off, as a Super Bowl team the Bears have a reasonably difficult schedule this year - much more difficult than they had last season.

2007 Prediction: 8-8. That's a 5 game difference from last year's 13-3 and I think that feels about right. It could go one game in either direction, 7-9 or 9-7. I have them at 9-7 if they can win in Washington in Week 14. Quite honestly though, 8-8 is probably going to be enough to win this division.

Detroit Lions

Oh the Lions. Where does a person even start? I don't even know if there are any Lions fans left in the world. It's a good thing the city of Detroit has the Tigers, Pistons and Red Wings to help them forget about the shame that is the Lions. Their starting running back from last year, Kevin Jones, has a nagging broken foot that might not allow him to play at all this year (worst case senario). However, Detroit did pick up Tatum Bell from the Denver Broncos in the off season. This is going to be the ultimate test to see if the Broncos turn absolutely everyone into a highly productive running back. Don't expect Bell to do in Detroit what he was able to do in Denver. Detroit does have a great pair of receivers in Roy Williams and Calvin Johnson - at least potentially. It remains to be seen how quickly the rookie and #2 overall pick, Johnson, will adjust to the NFL. Unfortunately it will be Jon Kitna trying to throw these guys the ball. Kitna would be a great back-up on any team in the NFL but he's just not a quality starter. He did throw for over 4,200 yards last season with 21 touchdowns - but he also threw 22 interceptions. Oh well, at least it's not Joey Harrington I suppose. While the offence does have some limited potential, Detroit's defence is just plain awful. They have been ranked at or near the bottom of the league for the better part of a decade and don't expect that to change. The Lions traded away corner back Dre' Bly in the off season, their only "big name" defensive player to get Tatum Bell - which is not going to help anything on the defensive side of the ball. And as if all that wasn't enough - the Lions have, what appears on paper to be, a pretty difficult schedule this year.

2007 Prediction: 4-12. I suppose that's an improvement over last year's 3-13 - although it's probably not enough for fans who already want to run general manager Matt Millen out of town. It's possible the Lions could get to 5-11 if they win in Washington in Week 5. Who ever thought football fans in Detroit would miss the days of Wayne Fontes.

Green Bay Packers

The frozen tundra of Lambeau Field is one of the most hallowed places in professional football - it's like Graceland for football fans. I would suggest staying away this year though - it might not be pretty. At running back the Packers will rely on last year's back-up, Vernand Morency and 2nd round draft choice Brandon Jackson, who could end up being the starter. Either way you look at it though, there's not a whole lot of experience there. Success for the Packers on offence rests solely on the shoulders of quarterback Brett Favre. However, through the use of carbon dating and complex mathematics based on the half-life of Boron 27, it's estimated that Favre's age is roughly 132. I don't know if you want to go to war with a guy who gets a Social Security check every third Friday. If Favre can somehow turn back the clock and not kill the Packers, they might have a chance to be around. 500 - or thereabouts. Don't count on it though. Green Bay's defence is probably somewhere around the middle of league in terms of rating - they'll probably keep the Packers in some games but probably won't win any games for them either. There also seems to be a trend developing of NFC North teams having schedules with above average difficulty - Green Bay is no exception.

2007 Prediction: 5-11. This is the year that the wheels come off in Green Bay and Brett Favre really starts to kill them - of course now that I say this he'll probably sell his soul and win the MVP. But barring a deal with the Devil, it's going to be a long season in Green Bay. Unless the Packers can surprise a few teams early in the season, I have them starting 1-8.

Minnesota Vikings

Quick - name one Minnesota Viking wide receiver. How about the quarterback? That's what I thought. Doesn't bode well does it? Long gone are the days when Daunte Culpepper could chuck the ball up to Randy Moss whenever he felt like it. Now the Vikings' strength on offence is on the ground. Chester Taylor had a pretty decent season last year for a guy who'd never been the feature back before. This year however, he'll be sharing time or possibly losing his job outright to rookie and 1st round draft pick Adrian Peterson. If Peterson can stay healthy I think he's got Rookie of the Year potential. However, coming off a broken collarbone it remains to be seen if he can hold up. The Vikings better hope he stays healthy to provide some run protection for second year quarterback Tavaris Jackson (who?). Jackson has to be one of the early favorites for the coveted "Worst Starting Quarterback in the NFL" title. And who does he have to throw to you might ask? How about immortal names like Bobby Wade and Troy Williamson, who blamed his terrible season last year on the fact that he has awful eyesight. I'm hoping this turns into a Rick "Wild Thing" Vaughn situation. The Vikings do have some serious strength on the defensive side of the ball - at least in terms of run defense, which they were ranked best at last year. Overall they are a top 10 defence - possibly top 5. And continuing in the trend of difficult NFC North schedules, the Vikings have one the most difficult in the NFC - in terms of opponents' win percentage.

2007 Prediction: 6-10. Which is exactly where they were last year. Despite what the statistics say about their schedule, the Vikings have a few more winnable games than some others in the NFC North. Of course the Vikings also have the defence to keep them in more games than Green Bay and Detroit. The offence will be a whole other story.

I can tell you this for sure, the NFC North is not going to be pretty to watch this year. Only by default is a team going to make the playoffs out of these four - as the division champs get in automatically. And looking back now there is the potential for a team with a losing record to win this division - .500 might have been overstating it a bit. Here's how it's going to finish:

NFC North

Chicago Bears...............8-8
Detroit Lions................4-12
Green Bay Packers.........5-11
Minnesota Vikings.........6-10

I think I see a pattern forming in the NFC.

Tomorrow - the NFC South.

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