Well, it’s about that time. The 3rd round of preseason games is finished where we traditionally see the maximum time for each teams projected starters. I’m going to run down the NFC North, my home team’s division, and give my prediction of the final ranking and their corresponding records. I invite any and all to predict their divisions and to generally snipe and banter about my picks.
Chicago Bears (10 -6)
I know you are all expecting me to rave about the prospects of the Super Bowl bound Bears, to wax poetic about the defense and to toss on my rose colored shades as I describe the thrill of donning a Rex Grossman jersey. Ain’t gonna happen. Yes, I think they will win the division but that’s largely by default. They undeniably have tons of talent and a Super Bowl caliber defense. At the conclusion of last year I was blooming with optimism for this season, I was hoping for a solid draft where the few holes they had were addressed and a couple key free agents signed to aid that offense. None of that happened, the only real bright spot was the addition of Brian Griese as a back-up QB, which is of course blowing up in our face as a QB controversy looms. The draft was simply awful, some talent was found, but most of it on role players instead of impact guys. We desperately needed to improve the passing game and failed miserably, we didn’t land a impact TE to be Grossman’s security blanket, we didn’t get a speed merchant to stretch the field. The other areas of need were DB, LB and Special Teams. Our attempt to improve the secondary netted us a criminal and it’s unclear if the front office realizes that there is a kicking aspect to the game. Cedric Benson was predicted to be a bust here from the get go, and I see no reason to change that opinion, only now he’s not only incompetent he’s a malcontent too. Wonder if we can send him to New England for Branch, not likely, eh?
Enough editorializing, lets look at the players on the field. The defense is stout, it will play up to expectations, though I predict a small step back from last season. The secondary will still struggle against top flight passing games and the depth at LB will show against big physical RBs. The pass rush is going to be scary and Rivera’s schemes are inventive and timely. The running game is going to be even more impressive than it was last season. As much as I dislike Benson, he’s lit a fire under Peterson and Jones and they will probably play with a serious chip on their shoulder. The O-line is the best there is and they will take pleasure in getting TJ some big games to stuff in management’s face. Who knows, Benson might even answer the challenge to earn some PT. The passing game is an entirely different story. Grossman has regressed and looks awful in preseason. I’m not one who’s eager to give Griese the ball yet since all his numbers are against 2nd string defenses, bad ones no less, but Grossman is giving me the willies. And he looked so damn good last season in limited action. He’s lost that command of the huddle. A bright spot is Rashied Davis at WR, he’s been utterly dominant, well as far as Bears WRs go, in the preseason and is a favorite target of both Grossman and Griese right now. Moose is practically glacial and Bradley hasn’t showed that flash he had pre-injury yet. The kicking game looks barely passable in contrast to the return game which is actually bordering on dangerous.
They’ve got talent, an easy schedule, and a easy division so I expect them to make the post season again. However unless Grossman finds the magic and the kicking game makes huge strides I am not expecting much else.
Minnesota Vikings (9-7)
**A new head coach and the same silly owner. An ancient QB and a collection of cast offs on offense. The O-line was bad last year but they added Hutchinson which will help, but I’m not ready to call Chester the next Shaun Alexander. Brad Johnson, while old, has proven that he can be efficient and can lead an offense. The WR core is pretty much non-existant, but I do think they’ll get some production out of Robinson, Taylor and Williamson. Tavaris Jackson has looked pretty impressive in a back-up role and could be the most popular guy in town if Johnson struggles. Still, this running game will really struggle which means the passing game won’t catch teams on its heels too often. Expect a lot of 3rd and long situations. The Vikes D, which is on the upswing, will keep them in a lot of games and with a pretty weak schedule will have them challenging the Bears for the division and hoping for a playoff spot. The secondary has some years on it and some high profile additions will be savvy and cause trouble for the young offenses in this division. The young aggressive front seven will compliment that secondary if they are able to keep the run in check. Uncertainty at LB is important and the new Cover 2 demands top notch play from that group. I think better teams will exploit that and teams with a good running game will render the pass defense somewhat toothless.
Detroit Lions (7-9)
I actually think this team will be formidable one day. Right now they are cleaning house and as good as Martz is at tuning an offense he is going to need some time with this group. Kitna is a fine QB, but I’m not sure I see him managing a Martz system as well as the guys in St Louis did. Plus the purge at WR is going to leave a talent vacuum so that when Kitna makes his reads there won’t be wide open windows to throw into. Kevin Jones is a young back with all-star potential, but he’s no Marshall Faulk. I’m not sure Martz will be able to be as creative as he would like with him and his pass blocking is going to open Kitna up to tons of big hits, especially against some really good defenses they face. The Lions have had an underrated defense in the past but I suspect they’ll take a step back. They too are shifting to the Cover 2, but I just don’t think they have the talent for it. They’ll be starting probably 2 rookies in Sims and Bullocks both at keep positions in this system, that worries me. Also they don’t have physical corners to challenge the run and Dre Bly has a habit of getting burned trying to make the big play. They will be solid in the middle against the run and will force teams to throw the ball, I suspect they’ll have success at it though. I do expect these guys to round into form towards the tail end of the season to make the record look respectable.
Green Bay Packers (3-13)
So are you watching tonight’s preseason game? If you’re a Packers fan you probably are and I bet your asshole puckered up tight when you watched Favre’s first two possessions. I got a good laugh out of it. Have I mentioned how giddy I am that he’s back? That’s probably setting the Pack back 2 years in the rebuilding process as they continue to try and win enough games to keep Favre sane. I’m betting the wheels come off in grand fashion this year. That line and that defense are just riddled with problems. Talk all you want about AJ Hawk, they lost Jim Bates and he was the only thing holding that D together last season. The big FA addition was Charles Woodson, a guy who couldn’t get on the field for a shabby Oakland D. The offense isn’t much better with a mystery at running back and a very questionable line. Look at it this way, at least Donald Driver’s going to have a nice fantasy season.