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2010 NFC North Preview: Is Favre's Return Enough To Topple Green Bay?

Michael Green |
August 27, 2010 | 11:47 a.m. PDT

Staff Writer
Jan 10, 2010; Glendale, AZ, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers throws a pass during the 2010 NFC Wild Card playoff game against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals defeated the Packers 51-45 in overtime.
NFC Wild Card-Green Bay Packers at Arizona Cardinals
The NFC North produced two playoff teams in 2009: the Minnesota Vikings and the Green Bay Packers. Below them, the Chicago Bears stumbled through a disappointing campaign and the Detroit Lions struggled to remind NFL fans they are still a professional franchise.

Will 2010 yield similar results?

The answer is as certain as Brett Favre’s status for playing in 2011.

Detroit Lions

2009 Record: 2-14

Much like Nicolas Cage’s acting career, the Lions have not been respectable since the late 90s. The Lions finished last season 2-14, which gives them an ulcer-inducing record of 2-30 over the last two years.

2010, however, is looking up for the Motor City Kitties as all those high first round draft picks are beginning to amount to a respectable football team. Rookie running back Jahvid Best gives Detroit another explosive threat to go with Calvin Johnson, while human freight train Ndamukong Suh is poised to unleash chaos in his first season at defensive tackle.

In addition to drafting Suh, the Lions set out to make several offseason moves to upgrade their defensive front. Newly acquired veterans Kyle Vanden Bosch and Corey Williams will dramatically improve the pass rush. The team also upgraded at cornerback by inking Chris Houston and Dre Bly.

One area that is cause for concern, however, is linebacker. Larry Foote and Ernie Sims left the Lions with two major question marks in the middle of the field. DeAndre Levy and Zack Follett – a pair of 2009 draft picks – will be counted on to pick up the slack.

A maturing offense should help alleviate some of the pressure on defense though. Quarterback Matthew Stafford will continue to progress in his second year under center. The addition of receiver Nate Burleson gives Stafford a quality target outside of Johnson.

After watching Stafford hit the deck more times than your average Marine, Detroit went out and got some help along the offensive line. Guard Rob Sims adds stability to a front five that allowed Stafford to topple 24 times in 10 games last season.

Bottom Line:
Unlike the Detroit automobile industry, stock in the Lions has been rising steadily as of late. Despite the improvements, a difficult division and unproven defense will limit Detroit’s ability to claw out of NFC obscurity. Expect a two- to four-win improvement over 2009 but nothing more.  

Key Additions: DT Ndamukong Suh, RB Jahvid Best, DE Kyle Vanden Bosch, WR Nate Burleson, DT Corey Williams, CB Dre Bly, OG Rob Sims, TE Tony Scheffler, QB Shaun Hill, CB Chris Houston

Key Losses: LB Larry Foote, LB Ernie Sims, DE DeWayne White, WB Daunte Culpepper

Chicago Bears

2009 record: 7-9

The Bears piled up enough disappointing losses to garnish a Chicago-style hot dog last season. Jay Cutler gave away interceptions like they were government bailouts in his first year with the team. Meanwhile, the defense looked as stout as wet tissue paper.

Chicago addressed one of their major issues by adding defensive end Julius Peppers over the offseason. Assuming Peppers feels like living up to his Pro Bowl potential, he will help reignite a defense that was mediocre at best last season. The return of All-Pro linebacker Brian Urlacher also gives the Bears defense a much needed field general in the middle.

There are still holes along an offensive line that allowed Cutler to get sacked 35 times last year, though, and the receiving corps inspires about as much confidence as BP Global.

If the offense hopes to get back on track in 2010, one key is going to be running back Matt Forte. After a stellar rookie season, Forte rushed for just 929 yards and averaged a paltry 3.6 yards per carry.

There are whispers coming out of training camp that the big back has regained his burst, which will be vital for a successful ground game. Newly acquired running back Chester Taylor will also help, but he is at a best a solid third down option.

Bottom Line: With Cutler and Peppers, the Bears have made big splashes in the last two offseasons. But both players come with character concerns to match their immense talent. Chicago has some weapons on both sides of the ball, but head coach Lovie Smith will need to spread the kumbaya if the Bears hope to compete for a playoff spot this year.   

Key Additions: DE Julius Peppers, RB, Chester Taylor, TE Brandon Manumaleuna

Key Losses: DE Adewale Ogunleye

Minnesota Vikings

2009 Record: 12-4

Brett Favre and his crocs are officially back for one more season (allegedly) in Minnesota – the Earth may begin rotating again as scheduled.

After coming within one poor decision of the Super Bowl, Favre and the Vikings look to recapture some of that 2009 magic. For the most part, the Vikings will field the same team as last year in an effort to complete the quest.

One important addition to the mix is cornerback Lito Sheppard. Sheppard will team up opposite Antoine Winfield, who has declined significantly in recent years. The two hope to lead a pass defense that struggled last season.

Up front, the Vikings will once again showcase Pat and Kevin Williams, who both feed on opposing running backs. One of the defense’s emotional leaders – E.J. Henderson – will also be back sooner than expected after suffering a terrible leg break in 2009 against the Arizona Cardinals.

On offense, it has not been a good year to be a receiver in Minnesota. Percy Harvin has suffered from migraines and personal issues all summer, while Sidney Rice recently had hip surgery that will potentially keep him out for half the season.

The team recently acquired receivers Greg Camarillo and Javon Walker to pick up some of the slack, but the two have combined for a grand total of three touchdowns dating back to 2008. Look for the team to rely more than ever on Adrian Peterson to take the pressure off Favre while his starting receivers mend.

Bottom Line: The Vikings were a playoff caliber team before Favre decided to grace them with his presence this season. If the Wrangler warrior can duplicate his numbers from last year, Minnesota will find itself competing for another Super Bowl.
Asking a 40-year-old Favre to repeat what he did in 2009 may be a bit much. Still, one of the league’s best defenses, a future Hall-of-Famer at quarterback and an elite running back ensure that purple will be a fashionable color come playoff time.

Key Additions: CB Lito Sheppard, RB Toby Gerhart, WR Greg Camarillo, WR Javon Walker

Key Losses: RB Chester Taylor, OG Artis Hicks

Green Bay Packers

2009 Record: 11-5

Packer backers saw their team take another step forward in 2009 with improved defensive play and the emergence of Aaron Rodgers as one of the game’s top quarterbacks.

The team, however, still has lingering injury concerns from last season. Star cornerback Al Harris is recovering from a torn ACL and safety Atari Bigby is dealing with an ankle injury that could keep him out several weeks into the season.

Rookie safety Morgan Burnett will be expected to start immediately due to the injury to Bigby. With the exception of Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Woodson, the prospects for the pass defense look about as murky as the water in Piranha 3D.

Despite potential pitfalls in the secondary, Green Bay is solid throughout the rest of their 3-4 defense. Linebackers A.J. Hawk and Nick Barnett anchor a talented linebacker unit, while B.J. Raji will continue developing into a top nose tackle up front.

The biggest worry on offense will involve limiting the amount of time Rodgers spends bonding with the turf this season. For all of his success last year, Rodgers was sacked a league-high 50 times.

If the Packers hope to keep Rodgers from coming out of 2010 looking like Stephen Hawking, they will need to settle on their offensive line starters early. Rookie tackle Bryan Bulaga should figure into the equation at some point, but he may need more seasoning.

Bottom Line: The Packers are a rising team with the potential to win a division title this year. Health on defense and improved offensive line play are going to determine how far the team goes. With one of the league’s best offenses, however, it is hard to imagine a playoff scenario that does not include cheeseheads.

Key Additions: OT Bryan Bulaga, S Morgan Burnett

Key Losses: DT Aaron Kampman


 2010 Predicted Division Winner: Green Bay Packers

Wild Card: Minnesota Vikings

To reach staff writer Michael Green, click here.



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