Green Bay Packers
Last Season’s Record: 13-3, 1st Place
Strengths: Assuming he gets his contract issues resolved, Ryan Grant seemed to be a top line running back. The receiving corps are maturing at a solid pace, which will be very important. The Packers defense performed extremely well last season, and should continue to compete a high level this season.
Weaknesses: The elephant in the room, of course, is Bret Favre. There’s no doubt that the Packers would be a better team with Favre at the helm, but they seem committed to moving forward with Aaron Rodgers, who, in his 4th season, can’t be considered a “project” any more. If Rodgers falters, however, there’s no support net, and he’s really only seen a few quarters worth of NFL action, so he’s almost as much of a rookie as Matt Ryan. Not helping matters is an offensive line that can be spotty at times.
Prediction: 8-8, 2nd Place The team is largely the same as the one that made the NFC Championship game last year, but there are some major questions here. There’s little doubt that they overperformed last season, and a bit of coming down to earth is to be expected. Complicating matters is the sword of Favre that is hanging over their heads, whether they deal him or not, so the team will largely go where “career backup” Aaron Rodgers goes.
Last Season’s Record: 8-8, 2nd Place
Strengths: On paper, they have the most well balanced team in the NFC this season. Jared Allen and Maddieu Williams immediately improves an already improving pass defense, which compliments the best run defense in the league. Adrian Peterson and a solid offensive line provide an explosive running game, and Sidney Rice and Bernard Berrian are good recievers which should keep defenders out of the box.
Weaknesses: The eye of scrutiny will be on Tarvaris Jackson all season long, because his ability to sprinkle in passes around Peterson and Chester Taylor will determine whether or not his team makes the Super Bowl. Allen is a huge upgrade in pass defense, but the Vikings Linebacking corps is still poor in coverage of backs and tight ends. Coach Brad Childress’ game planning abilities are still somewhat questionable.
Prediction: 11-5, 1st Place On talent alone, the Vikings should win double digit games this season. The upgrades at defensive end, wide receiver, and safety put a mediocre team over the top to being very good. If Tarvaris Jackson can get on track at all, the defense and running game should be enough to pull the Vikings into the Playoffs.
Last Season’s Record: 7-9, 3rd Place
Strengths: A move away Mike Martz’ offense to a more conservative playbook should suit John Kitna better. Calvin Johnson and Roy Williams are as good a 1-2 punch at reciever as any in the league. Gosder Cherilus should help sure up a somewhat rocky offensive line from last season.
Weaknesses: Kitna’s an iffy proposition, because he won’t win any games by himself. Johnson was great last season, but he couldn’t stay healthy and a bad back is a scary thing for a young receiver. The defense is in shambles a bit, and though they weren’t great last year, there’s going to be a lot of new faces that need to learn their roles in the starting line-up this year. There is not a front-line running back on the roster this year.
Prediction: 6-10, 4th Place Kitna is promising 10 wins again this year, which is a bit of a laugh. The truth is that the Lions won’t suprise anybody this year like they did out of the gates in 2007. The defenses’ strength is questionable, the running game looks, early on, to be non-existant, and while the receivers look great on paper, keeping them healthy for the whole season is going to be awfully tough. They do have the benefit of an easier schedule to start the season, however.
Last Season’s Record: 7-9, 4th Place
Strengths: A lot of the defense from their NFC Championship run in 2006 is back, and a lot of them are healthy. Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, and Tommie Harris seem happy too. Devin Hester is still the league’s most exciting player. The offensive line has gotten some huge upgrades from last year.
Weaknesses: Where to start? There is no starting quarterback on the roster, and Kyle Orton and Rex Grossman are basically playing under a “One loss and you’re done” ultimatum. Hester hasn’t shown much as a wide reciever, and there aren’t really any better wide outs on the roster. Matt Forte has a lot to prove in his rookie year on a team that desperately needs a rushing attack. The championship defense is starting to show its age.
Prediction: 7-9, 3rd Place It’s a complete crapshoot for this team. The receivers look awful and the running game is completely up in the air at this point. The Bears have two quarterbacks on their roster, and both are playing with their jobs on the line. One would think that either they’re going to gel like they did two years ago and make a playoff push, or completely fall off the table and be horrible. An aging defense, poor receivers, inexperienced runners, and bad quarterbacks is a recipe for disaster, in my opinion, but I think their schedule is favorable enough for them to squeak out seven wins with this defense.