The NFC North
continues to appear to be the division in the NFL to watch, but that isn’t necessarily a good thing. While other divisions have teams that appear to be dominant, intimidating and dazzling to watch the NFC north continues to dwell in a kind of haze of mediocrity. This means it has the potential to be anyone’s season and, just like last year, full of surprises.
Let’s take a quick look around the division, by team, and we’ll start with the team closest to my home.
Chicago Bears – Anyone who says they predicted the Bears to do as well as they did last year is just a liar. I would say this is doubly so if they predicted they would do that well once quarterback Rex Grossman went down with yet another injury at the very beginning of the season. Kyle Orton stepped in admirably and held the team together but it was evident this man was very much still a rookie.
Things have not changed much in the off-season with this team. This is both a show of stability within the team but also a bit of a frustration for fans who are already calling for the head of General Manager Jerry Angelo. Yet another off-season has gone by with little added depth at the most vulnerable position, quarterback. It seems that the Bears will continue to go by the tradition of not having a star at this position. Those still nostalgic for the Syd Luckman years won’t have to worry about this year eclipsing him.
Rex Grossman will be back as the starting quarterback. One hopes that he now has the requisite experience under his belt to step up and become the quarterback we have all been told he could become. Kyle Orton now comes back no longer considered a rookie and with a large portion of a successful season under his belt. If Grossman can manage, for once, to remain healthy this could be a decent year for him and for the position.
The Bears continue to be a defensive team but look again for impressive output from wide receiver Mushin Muhammad and impressive running numbers from Thomas Jones. Jones became a star last year with 1300 plus yards and nine touchdowns. In the wide receiver position Bernard Berrian will be returning and he also turned in respectable numbers last year.
The defense looks to be as dominant as ever. Not too long ago the Bears fans were wondering if Brian Urlacher was all he was cracked up to be. Last season put those doubts to rest and early workouts this summer show he is still in command of the defense. The Bears added Carolina Panther Ricky Manning, Jr. in the off-season continuing another tradition of signing players with questionable legal problems. They also made a number of defensive draft picks that should make the defense as impressive and intimidating as ever.
I think the Bears stand an excellent chance of winning the division again in 2006.
Minnesota Vikings – Now, why on earth would I rank the disarrayed mess known as the Minnesota Vikings in second place? I can’t adequately explain it. Yes, I know that the Green Bay Packers have made some management and coaching changes. Yes, I know Brett Favre is still Brett Favre. I know all of these things but there is something about the Vikings that makes me think they have the potential to make a surprise run at this division.
Now, again, the reasons for why I feel this way are hard to explain when you look at the team. Dante Culpepper is gone. Tice and Moss are long gone. However, despite this the team managed to pull things together last year too and overcome some truly embarrassing off-the-field issues.
Brad Johnson is still on the team and he stepped in nicely to help out when Culpepper got injured and then suddenly forgot how to throw a football last year. He has receivers Koren Robinson and Travis Taylor to throw to just as he did last season. Brad is 37 this year and this year could be his last as a quarterback that anyone will take notice of. Therefore, that do-or-die feeling from him may compel him to move this team farther than anyone gives them credit for moving.
As far as the defense goes, well the Vikings have been strangely quiet during the off-season. The defensive backs Darren Sharper, Tank Williams, Antoine Winfield and Fred Smoot will be back and look to be as impressive and dominating as always. They do have new guys in the starting position for linebacker, however. Erasmus James, Kenechi Udeze, Kevin Williams and Pat Williams will all be there on the defensive side as well. All in all, the defense on the Vikings holds out more hope for a decent year than the offense. However, in this division a strong defense, as evidenced by the Chicago Bears, can take you deep into the season.
I predict the Vikings to end up in second place.
Green Bay Packers – My objectivity is very tainted here when it comes to the Packers. I have lived my entire life in the Chicago area and have been a fan of the Bears pretty much my entire life. Therefore, nothing delighted me more than watching the Packers struggle last year. That being said, Brett Favre is still one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever throw the pigskin around. The drama with this team during the off season has some people predicting that the team will turn it around. For me, I think this has just left a team in disarray and unsure of where to turn with an aging quarterback.
The Packers got rid of coach Mike Sherman only to replace him with former 49ers and New Orleans Saints offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy. Yes, I know, I had never heard of him either.
The Packers did make one interesting acquisition during the off-season, namely former Raider’s defensive back Charles Woodson. However, the main story out of Green Bay has been the yes and no return of quarterback Brett Favre. It appears that he will be back this season. So, as far as the quarterback position for the Packers goes, it’s Favre. Do they even have another quarterback?
The offense surrounding Favre is as weak-looking right now as it was last season. With few moves made in the off-season to change this fact the Packers look to have a tough year, a struggling year, when it comes to offense again. It’s never a good sign when your players start asking to be released and sent somewhere else which is exactly what Javon Walker did when he was traded to Denver for a second round pick.
Brett is still one of the best quarterbacks in football. However, last season definitely showed that time catches up with everyone. He may not be able to throw as far down field, but he can still be very accurate. Even an average season from Favre is better than a great season from some other quarterbacks.
The defense for the Packers looks pretty strong, as is always the case in this division. They have a new defensive coordinator, however, and whenever you bring in a new guy it takes time for the team to learn the new ways. However with players like Aaron Kampman, Nick Barnett, Al Harris, Brady Poppinga, Charles Woodson, and AJ Hawk you have to think this defense could cause problems for some other teams.
I predict the Packers will end up in third and that’s mostly because the Detroit Lions are so woeful.
Detroit Lions – I tried hard while researching this article to find something impressive about the Detroit Lions and a move they made during the off season. My conclusion? The people of Detroit had better enjoy the Detroit Tigers baseball season which is currently frustrating me as a White Sox fan.
There is a question mark in place of a quarterback. This is a problem even the Bears have managed to work out. They have nothing on the offense that I can see that brings any sign of hope. Their defense still looks to be the same little guys who scrambled and ran around like Keystone Cops last season.
As I mentioned before, there are always surprises in the NFL and there are always surprises in the NFC North. Still, it looks to be a long winter for Detroit Lions fans. Barring multiple plane crashes that manage to wipe out the rest of the NFC North teams I can’t see how the Lions will accomplish anything this season.
I predict the Lions to finish in fourth and, therefore, last in this division in 2006.
So, to wrap up, the NFC North division looks to continue where it left off last season. Last season was a surprise to many, including people in the cities where the teams were located. However, despite some changes in the off-season, not much has moved in the division. While I am going against the grain and predicting a surprise season for the Vikings, I am also willing to admit that the surprise could come from the Green Bay Packers and a hall-of-fame quarterback who wants to go out on top.
Bryan’s 2006 NFC North Predictions
1. Chicago Bears
2. Minnesota Vikings
3. Green Bay Packers
4. Detroit Lions