Wednesday, September 8, 2010

2010 NFL Predictions - NFC North

Minnesota didn’t exactly run away with the division last year, but getting off to a 6-0 start help them set the pace. After a loss at Pittsburgh, the Vikings went on to win another four in a row to sit 10-1 after their first eleven. The Vikings were a Brett Favre brainfart away from a trip to the Super Bowl, watching their season come to an end in a conference title game at New Orleans. Green Bay won seven of their last eight to make Minnesota sweat it out a little. Chicago was never really in the race, and losing six of their last nine didn’t help them get any closer. Detroit finished 2-14, but that was a huge improvement from 0-16 in ’08.

Predicted order of finish

1) Green Bay Packers
After their late season run, Green Bay lost a high scoring contest to the Cardinals, a team they beat soundly the previous week, in the first round of the playoffs. Their year may have ended, but the Packers are getting a lot of buzz this offseason. A big reason for that buzz is the promising future of QB Aaron Rodgers. In his second year as a starter, Rodgers began establishing himself as one of the league’s best. He improved in every major passing category, including cutting his interceptions nearly in half. It’s no secret I’m a huge fan of this guy and think he’s on his way to becoming the game’s best passer. Expect big things from Aaron Rodgers and, as a result, the Packers this season. I love Greg Jennings and the developing TE Jermichael Finley. BJ Raji slides into a starting role at NT in his second year, and Clay Mathews looks like a guy who’s on his way to greatness after a dominant first season, leading the Packers with 10 sacks. With all due respect to Mr. Charles Woodson, Darrelle Revis was the league’s defensive player of the year last season. Still, he’s obviously one of the game’s best and is seldom challenged and rarely beaten. With Al Harris on the PUP list to begin the year, nickel corner Tramon Williams gets the starting gig. He’ll be tested often playing opposite Woodson. Third round pick Morgan Burnett is the starter at SS. I think he’s a versatile FS/SS player who blitzes well and can play in the box. Showing Burnett the ropes will be emerging stud Nick Collins. The Packers wisely paid the FS this offseason, ensuring he remains a Packer for the foreseeable future.

Reasons for optimism –
-I think Aaron Rodgers will be the best QB of this next decade
-Greg Jennings and JerMichael Finley will be in the running at their positions as well
-Clay Matthews and BJ Raji are tremendous defensive building blocks

Potential pessimistic pitfalls –
-The OL doesn’t get any better at protecting the passer
-Tramon Williams falters in a starting role
-A lack of depth at RB; not a huge Brandon Jackson fan, and James Starks is on the PUP list

2) Minnesota Vikings
Did you really think he was going to retire? Brett Favre’s 4,202 yards passing last year was the third best season total in his 19 years behind center. He also finished with a tremendous 33-7 TD-INT ratio. Then there was the ill-advised pass to Sidney Rice that Tracy Porter intercepted when Minnesota seemed minutes away from cementing a trip to the Super Bowl. Yeah, he was going to retire. Does he still have it? I’m not going to doubt him. Kick ass Brett! One thing he won’t have is #1 receiver Sidney Rice, at least for what looks like half of the season. Sidney Rice didn’t want to take advice form doctors and have offseason surgery on his ailing hip, but a last minute change of heart will cause some offensive adjustments for the Vikings. Percy Harvin is a lot of fun to watch, so hopefully he’s able to shake his migraine issue and be a constant part of Minnesota’s offense. Last year’s offensive rookie of the year is a dynamic talent who is a threat to break for a score every time he touches the football. If he’s healthy, I love him to have an extremely productive season. It goes without saying that Adrian Peterson is one of the best players in football. His numbers fell a bit from ’08 where he rushed for 1,760 yards, but I think he can approach and surpass that number this season. It makes no sense that he fumbles as often as he does. The guy who breaks your hand when he shakes it has no business losing 10 fumbles over the last two years. With Chester Taylor in Chicago and little/inexperienced talent behind him on the depth chart, Peterson figures to see a lot of third down snaps this season. Just behind the Packers in dominant rush defense last season were the Vikings with 87.1 yards allowed per game. A huge reason for that success, the Williams Wall, returns intact. Offenses don’t get very far against those two in the middle. Their dominance leads to favorable matchups for All Pro DE Jared Allen. Dude is a machine having compiled 30 sacks in his two seasons as a Viking and is playing at as high of a level as he ever has. Ray Edwards returns at the other end spot and had his best season as a pro last year. He’s certainly benefitting from the talent around him, but he needs to continue developing and taking advantage of constant one-on-one matchups.

Reasons for optimism –
-Tarvaris Jackson isn’t the 1st string QB
-Visanthe Shiancoe gets better every season and is an underrated talent at TE
-It appears as if the Williamses won’t miss any games due to league suspension

Potential pessimistic pitfalls –
-Brett Favre actually ages
-The sketchy safety duo leaves them exposed in the middle of the field
-Bryant McKinnie pulls some jackass stunt and leaves them in the lurch at LT; this isn’t that far fetched; the guy is an assclown

3) Detroit Lions
Here’s a team I’m going to start rooting for. I’m not the biggest Matthew Stafford fan, but he showed me a lot of heart last year, especially in that emotional last minute win against the Browns. Helping any QB look good (just ask Reggie Ball) is half man half machine WR Calvin Johnson. He’s easily one of the game’s top talents, but a lack of any other significant offensive threat has limited his production. Nate Burleson is a nice add as a #2 receiver, but the huge coup was drafting the explosive Jahvid Best this past April. I’m a huge fan of the dude from Cal. The guy runs with no wasted movements, is explosive and near impossible to catch in the open field, and is hard to get a solid shot on. Huge year ahead for the rookie in my opinion. Speaking of “huge” and “rookie”, the Lions picked up the beast known as Ndamukong Suh with the second overall pick in April’s draft. He headlines an offseason of serious focus paid to the defensive unit. They’re not going to make the playoffs, but for the first time in a long time, I can honestly see progress being made with the Detroit Lions.

Reasons for optimism –
-Imagine the numbers Calvin Johnson can put up with an NFL caliber receiver across from him for once.
-Ndamukong Suh and Corey Williams are huge upgrades in the middle of that DL
-Louis Delmas is an under-the-radar, emerging safety

Potential pessimistic pitfalls –
-They end up being half as bad as they look at CB
-Jeff Backus is still starting at LT
-I think DeAndre Levy is very shaky at MLB, and he’s already hurt

4) Chicago Bears
The Bears weren’t a factor last year, and most of that had to do with the league’s 23rd rated offense. To cure that the Bears have brought in Mike Martz to run that side of the football. The former mastermind of the greatest show on turf will now get to see if he can get the most out of Jay Cutler. The former Bronco’s first season as a Bear didn’t exactly go as planned. A nonchalant attitude and an NFL leading 26 INTs didn’t exactly endear him to the Bear faithful. A bad offensive line stunted Matt Forte’s growth as a player, and now he’ll have to split carries with Chester Taylor who was brought in this offseason. With Johnny Knox, Devin Aromashadu, Devin Hester, and Greg Olsen as receiving targets, Martz will have a little something to work with. The defense wasn’t anything special last season, so they’re hoping that the addition of free agent signing Julius Peppers helps turn things around. Losing MLB Brian Urlacher in week one didn’t help, but he looks ready to go this year. If Tommie Harris and Lance Briggs can stay healthy and take their play back up a notch, this unit might have some teeth once again.

Reasons for optimism –
-Julius Peppers brings his 81 career sacks to Chi-town
-Johnny Knox is apparently going to be Martz’s Kevin Curtis
-Matt Forte looks much improved this preseason

Potential pessimistic pitfalls –
-The OL doesn’t look any better from last year
-Cutler can’t master the mental aspect of the game
-The secondary doesn’t improve against the big play / deep ball

Conference Awards
MVP (best talent in biggest role) – Aaron Rodgers
Offensive POY (most impressive season) – Adrian Peterson
Defensive POY – Clay Matthews
Offensive ROY – Jahvid Best
Defensive ROY – Ndamukong Suh
Offensive Breakout Player – Johnny Knox
Defensive Breakout Player – Louis Delmas

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