Now here’s a division that’s hard to predict. It’s mostly contingent on whether or not Brett Favre actually does play in 2010. As I write this, it’s been 48 hours since Favre’s most recent retirement. By the time I submit this, what I write about Favre maybe irrelevant. That is the nature of Brett Favre, is it not? (Editor’s note: Favre has returned to the Vikings) Regardless, should he play for the Vikings this season, I think it’s a moot point. Sure, Minnesota stunned everybody last year, but Favre’s bad ankle at age 41 opens the door for a change, and change is coming from his old home.
QUESTION ONE: ARE THESE THE SAME VIKINGS FROM 2009?
At best, you have a very strong unit with noticeable flaws. Adrian Peterson is still a fumbling liability, despite his incredible offensive output. Very rarely does an offensive line have great years back to back, and in 2009, Favre lived a dream with a +26 TD to INT ratio that he never saw in Green Bay, although old habits killed him in the playoffs. One or two injuries along the line, not to mention a shakier Favre, a fumbling AP, and a defense that is by no means young, and Minnesota is a changed team from just a year ago.
QUESTION TWO: WHAT’S HOLDING GREEN BAY BACK?
If you allow 51 sacks in a season, then your offensive line needs serious retooling. If you allow 41 of them within the first nine games, that says that while the line got better later in the year, you still allowed an average of 4.5 sacks a game. How Aaron Rodgers got this team to 11-5 while looking like an evolutionary Jeff Garcia is mind-blowing. Drafting Bryan Bulaga is good news if he isn’t a bust. It was a necessary move, as Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher have internal clocks spinning like tops, and Rodgers is going to need protection.
Although Lovie got the team to the Super Bowl a scant four years ago, that was four years ago. Since then, the Bears have plunged into mediocrity and have struggled to even find the Playoff picture. Over the last three seasons, the Bears’ best offensive year was in 2009, when they ranked a dismal 23rd in the league. They climbed up a whole three spots, thanks to Jay Cutler and his penchant for adding red zone picks to his stats. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz wants to lead again, and some feel he may usurp his former protégé Lovie Smith’s job.
QUESTION FOUR: WILL CHICAGO’S SPENDING SPREE PAY OFF?
The real question is if a salary cap is enacted, how much will the clamping down hurt Chicago? Julius Peppers, Brandon Manumaleuna, and Chester Taylor forming a smile parade at the news conference in March may look menacing, but so did the smiling Jay Cutler one year prior after the Denver trade, and look how that worked out. Peppers is on the wrong side of his prime, Taylor will compliment a downward-falling Matt Forte, and Manumaleuna may not see much action. For breaking the bank in an uncapped year, it doesn’t seem Chicago really added a whole lot of dimensions.
QUESTION FIVE: SHOULD LIONS FANS BE OPTIMISTIC?
Stafford’s “welcome to the NFL” moment was throwing a game-winning touchdown pass with a freshly-separated shoulder against Cleveland in November, so it’s good to see that despite helming a team that’s largely a joke, he’s willing to risk his body to turn a loss into a win. Coach Jim Schwartz has turned over many stones in trying to shore up his defense, and Kyle Vanden Bosch, Ndamukong Suh , Corey Williams, and Chris Houston show for those efforts. If the Lions aren’t having to come from behind all the time, Stafford can play more relaxed and will lead with confidence.
1. GREEN BAY PACKERS (13-3)
It’s time. Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback drafted in the last ten years, and that includes Super Bowl winners Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning. The Dom Capers-led defense produced a scary-good run defense, and its components (AJ Hawk, BJ Raji, Clay Matthews III) are young. Charles Woodson starting at corner, despite his brilliant career, reads as questionable, given his advancing age, but there’s no red flags just yet. As long as the offensive line can keep Rodgers from getting killed, and so long as they prove that 2009 wasn’t a fluke, then Green Bay can make a title run.
Too many question marks are in place, but the range is a wide one. With Favre, a healthy Favre at that, the Vikings could take the division again. Without Favre, the playoffs could be out of the question. Either way, I don’t see Minnesota duplicating their dominant season of a year ago. The window was then and then alone to go all the way and win Super Bowl XLIV, but Brett Favre’s pass to Tracy Porter thwarted that. Favre’s constant flip-flopping about retirement can’t be doing any favors in regards to continuity. There’s no way the Vikings pull this off.
3. CHICAGO BEARS (7-9)
Here’s a team that’s struggling to find an identity. Bears fans should be optimistic about Mike Martz, as his offensive ‘Frankensteinery’ is a desperate shot in the arm to a team that couldn’t score when it mattered. There are plenty of speedy wide receivers on the team, enough to make Al Davis drool all over his dialysis machine. But youth and a lack of a true mission statement won’t help the Bears in 2010. However, 2011 looks promising. Give them a year for Martz and Lovie Smith (if he survives) to pull out the weeds and furbish the promising club.
4. DETROIT LIONS (5-11)
They’re not there yet, simple as that. Going from 0-16 in 2008 to 2-14 in 2009 is like being quadriplegic and then learning to move two fingers. It’s something, right? The new and improved defense will begin the resurrection, and they’ll do so by providing a pass rush and running clog unseen in years. On offense, Matthew Stafford still his best weapon Calvin Johnson, but he also gains a competent vet in Nate Burleson, and has rookie running back Jahvid Best to grow with. Best had injuries in college, but if he’s past them, the Lions are poised to grow.
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