NFC North preview
As a Bears fan, I have become way too overconfident. Winning the NFC North the past few years has seemed like a mere formailty, and the 6 games a year against Green Bay, Detroit, and Minnesota all seem like sure wins (unless the game is being played on New Years Eve and Rex has to par-tay that night).
But in recent years, I’ve learned that the NFL is nothing if not surprising. Every year, one or two divisions are won by the team picked to finish third or fourth (see the Saints last year). So I have to temper my excitement. Especially with a few of the question marks surrounding the team from the Chi.
Anyhoo……here is my preview of the NFC North, 2007 style:
–Chicago Bears: Just as last year, it begins and ends with Rex Grossman. Rex’s ups and downs have been well-documented, and we all know that he could very easily put up a 300 yard, 4 TD performance almost every week. We also know that 11-for-30, 107 yards, and 4 interceptions is also a possibility every week. But last year, the Bears had an easy schedule, a solid one-two punch at running back, and a defense ranked number two in the NFC. Also, Devin Hester absolutely exploded, returning 6 kicks for touchdowns. That will make up for a few mistakes.
This season the Bears have a much tougher road. Their schedule includes road games at San Diego, Philadelphia, Washington, and Seattle. Denver, Dallas, and the NY Giants come to Soldier Field, all games which are possible losses. Also, with the trade of Thomas Jones, the Bears now will depend on Cedric Benson, who hasn’t carried the load for an entire game for an NFL team without getting injured…….ever. Also, there is no way opposing teams are going to allow Hester to get 6 TDs again. They’ll kick away from him. Combine all this with the fact that Rex, through two preseason games, seems to be the same type of up-and-down guy we saw in 2006.
So how will the Bears do? I’m going with 10-6. As the defending NFC Champ, they will have a target on their back, and with the tougher schedule they could be in some trouble. But I think the defense is good enough to carry this team some of the way, and the six games against the other teams in the division should produce at least five wins.
–Green Bay Packers: Brett Fav-ruh needs to go away. Listen, I like him. He’s a great quarterback, perhaps the best of all-time. But he’s holding this franchise back. If he has retired two years ago, the Packers would already know if Aaron Rodgers has what it takes to lead this team and would of either built around him or gone in another direction. Now, Favre and his 20 interceptions a year come back for a 17th NFL season. (Notice that no one talks about how Favre is a really unpredictable guy behind center who is holding his team back, even though he had a lower passer rating and more interceptions last year than Grossman).
I like what the Packers have done the last couple of years. I think their defense really is capable of surprising people, as Nick Barnett, Charles Woodson, Al Harris and AJ Hawk are steady and sometimes spectacular players. The addition of rookie running back Brandon Jackson was a fantastic get; he seems like an exciting player who could thrive in the Packers system. And Donald Driver is one of the most underrated players in the NFL, and with Greg Jennings he makes a dangerous 1-2 punch at receiver.
I see the Packers finishing 8-8 again. Honestly, with a more cautious game manager at quarterback, I could see this team winning 9-11 games and challenging for the division title. But Favre makes way too many silly throws, and unlike Rex, he doesn’t have the supporting cast to make up for it.
–Detroit Lions: Trendy, trendy, trendy. Look at all the weapons! Yippee! We have Mike Martz calling plays! Yahoo!
Settle the fuck down.
Jon Kitna is a great fantasy quarterback. In reality, he’s not very good at football. The Lions’ running back situation is a mess. Will Kevin Jones come back from his injury in time for Halloween? Is Tatum Bell ready to carry the load? If not, who in God’s name will be ther lead running back until Jones comes back? Sure, the Lions receivers are outstanding. But last time I checked, a team who’s number one strength was their wide receivers hasn’t won a Super Bowl since………..wait, that’s never happened.
Here’s the deal. The Lions will be lucky to get to 6-10, and there are two main reasons for this. One, their defense is absolutely atrocious. They can’t stop the run or the pass. Other than that, they’re in great shape. And two, and here is what no one else seems to mention: Mike Martz, for all his ‘geniousness’, is not that great of a play caller. Sure, he had a few good years as the offensive mind behind the Rams’ great teams of the late 90s and early 2000s. But when he was head coach, ask some Rams fans about the horrid play calling he made. Why do you think St. Louis went in a totally different direction when they hired grind-it-out Scott Linahan as head coach? Because they were sick of Martz calling a 4-wide receiver, everyone-go-deep play on 3rd and 2. The Lions will get 6-10 and like it.
–Minnesota Vikings: Oh god. Tavaris Jackson? Really? And your lead receiver is Troy Williamson? Are you sure? Yes, you have the number one rush defense. Where did you finish against the pass? 32nd? Oh.
This is a really bad team. Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor are a great one-two at running back, and they have a solid defensive front seven. Outside of that, there is nothing there. Until the Vikings can formulate some sort of passing game, they have no chance to make any noise. If they win 4 games, they should be thrilled. Expect the Vikings to get a top 5 pick this year, grab a quarterback, and begin the rebuilding process in 2008.
So there it is: Chicago 10-6, Green Bay 8-8, Detroit 6-10, Minnesota 4-12. Pretty ugly. But as a Bears fan, I’ll take it.