This is by far the hardest division for me to get a handle on so instead of previewing it the way I’ve done the previous divisions, I’ve decided to just come right out and reveal how I see it playing out, following that with a few things that I like and dislike about each team. So first my predicted division results:
Green Bay 7-9
And now some things I like and dislike about each team starting withÃ¢Â?Â¦
1. I like the Bears’ offseason acquisition of quarterback Brian Griese, but in the end will it even matter?
This coaching staff seems determined to keep unproven starter Rex Grossman on the field at all costs, one of the many reasons I feel the Bears will face a decline in the upcoming season. They seem to be taking this same approach with Cedric Benson even though Thomas Jones has proven time and again he’s the better back, and has the ringing endorsement of just about every player on the team. If Chicago’s coaching staff were smart they’d start the better players in Griese and Jones, but based on their off season moves and their draft I’m not too sure that they are. Speaking of their draftÃ¢Â?Â¦
2. I did not like the Bears draft this year.
In fact I really didn’t like it and thought it was one of the worst of any team in the league. Here is how I summed it up in my draft review back on May 14th:
I’m just still very baffled with their move to trade out of the first round and select a safety in the second round. If they were going to select a defensive back they should have stayed put where they could have their choice between players like Kelly Jennings, Jimmy Williams, or Daniel Bullocks (all much greater talents than Manning). The fact that they used none of their first five picks to address their pitiful offense may be even more baffling, and what may be even more baffling than that is that when they finally did select an offensive player they chose a fullback and then an offensive guard. Both of who are players who were lucky to be selected at all. The bottom line was that the Bears biggest three needs were cornerback, tight end and wide receiver. They failed miserably at addressing any of those and are not a better team because of any of their picksÃ¢Â?Â¦Grade: D.
Enough said I think.
3. I like for the Bears to fall in the standings the same way they did following their flukish rise to the top in ’01.
In 2001 the Bears finished 13-3 because of an easy schedule, opportunistic defense, multiple breaks and a lot of balls bouncing their way. They were embarrassed by the Eagles in the playoffs and followed that up with a 4-12 season in ’02. Last season Chicago finished 11-5 by way of much of the same formula they did in ’01, and were fairly embarrassed by the Panthers in a 29-21 loss where Steve Smith torched their alleged great defense for 218 yards receiving.
The defense should again be solid this season (2nd overall last season), but I see little improvement being made on the offensive side of the ball (the 29th ranked offense last season). Their schedule seems easy again in ’06 (30th in the league), but this is based on their opponents record from last season and just about every team they play this year has improved in the off season where the Bears, I feel, have not. Each team in their division other than them has improved. Each team in the NFC West (Seattle, at St. Louis, at Arizona, San Francisco) has either improved or was already better than them. They also play the Dolphins, at the Giants, at the Patriots and Tampa Bay. All teams who are better than them. This doesn’t really look like the 30th rated schedule to me. The Bears may not finish 6-10 as I’m predicting, but I don’t see the 10 or 11 wins on that schedule that others are predicting.
Key Additions: Brian Griese, Ricky Manning Jr.
Key Losses: Jerry Azumah
1. I like the Lions acquisition of quarterback Jon Kitna.
This acquisition officially ended the Joey Harrington era in Detroit, another thing I like for the Lions. Kitna is not a bona fide stud at the position, but with Mike Martz as the OC (another thing I like) he’ll be more than adequate enough to run this offense. He has experience as a starter in both Seattle and Cincinnati, and should have a fairly rested arm from having been the back up in Cincy for the greater part of the last two seasons. Kitna has good leadership skills (something Harrington lacked in a big way), and already has a good understanding of Martz’s offense having run a similar style for the Bengals. Overall this is a huge upgrade at the position, and Kitna already has the weapons around him to be very successful in this pass happy offense. Speaking of that pass happy offenseÃ¢Â?Â¦
2. I like the hiring of Mike Martz as the offensive coordinator for the Lions.
He has already taken average quarterbacks like Kurt Warner and Marc Bulger and turned them into statistical leaders. He should be able to accomplish this again in Detroit with either Kitna or back up Josh McCown. Martz did not have success in his first season as the OC in St. Louis, but with Kitna already having a strong understanding of this style of offense, I like his chances at finding success in his first year in Detroit. Martz may have had his troubles as a head coach, but as an OC he may very well be one of the league’s best.
3. I really liked the Lions draft this year.
In fact it was one of my favorites from that weekend and I thought it was by far one of best of any team in the league. Here is how I summed it up in my draft review back on May 14th:
This was another one of my favorite drafts of the year, and by far the best for the Lions under GM Matt Millen. They succeeded in addressing most of their needs and came away with two sure starters in ’06 and possibly even three. Their first four selections of Ernie Simms, Daniel Bullocks, Brian Calhoun and Jonathon Scott were four of the best consecutive picks by a team in the draft and the later selections of Fred Matua and Alton McCann were not bad at all either. Maybe the best part of this draft was that they finally held the urge of selecting a receiverÃ¢Â?Â¦A
I really think this team looks to be headed in the right direction with the hires of head coach Rod Marinelli, offensive coordinator Mike Martz and defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson. Marinelli, I know little about especially as a head coach, but his hard-nosed approach should instill discipline and a nice work ethic on this young roster. And in Martz and Henderson, the Lions have two of the best at their positions. The less general manager Mat Millen does the better, and under these three he should just sit back and let the improvement unfold. In fact Detroit may very well be one of the most improved teams of the ’06 season. That won’t result in a playoff birth, but they’re getting closer.
Key Additions: Mike Martz, Donnie Henderson, Jon Kitna, Josh McCown, Corey Bradford, Dan Campbell, Ernie Sims
Key Losses: Joey Harrington, Jeff Garcia, Andre Goodman, R.W. McQuarters
Green Bay Packers
1. I like the fact that Bret Favre decided to return for his sixteenth season in the NFL.
I detailed this in an article that I wrote back on January 31. To read it click here.
2. I did not like Green Bay’s hiring of Mike McCarthy as head coach.
I thought the firing of previous head coach Mike Sherman after only one losing season was unjust, and following that up with the hiring of McCarthy further confused me. I’m assuming the hire was made because McCarthy has coached in Green Bay in the past (quarterback coach), but outside of one good season in New Orleans as the offensive coordinator he really had started to fizzle out as one of the league’s stronger young offensive minds. In San Francisco his offense ranked dead last, but in his defense he had little to work with. But isn’t that when the best of coaches shines the most? I really think the Packers will regret this hire, and compared to Sherman this is a significant downgrade.
3. I liked the improvement the defense showed last season and furthermore like their chances to continue to improve in the upcoming season.
Believe it or not the Packers were seventh in the league last year in total defense. A lot of this was due to then defensive coordinator Jim Bates (who should have gotten the head coach job), but Bob Sanders coached under Bates last season and will maintain many of the principles used last season. With the additions of Charles Woodson, AJ Hawk and Abdul Hodge they should have the personnel improvements needed to take more chances with blitzing, leading to more forced turnovers.
The playoffs aren’t likely for this group, but enough of an improvement to convince Favre it’s worth coming back for another year just may be. Whether you view that as a good or a bad thing is up to you. I think by now you know how I feel.
Key Additions: Charles Woodson, AJ Hawk, Mark Boerigter, Abdul Hodge
Key Losses: Javon Walker, Antonio Chatman, Ryan Longwell, Grady Jackson, Mark Flanagan, Mike Sherman
1. I do not like the way the Vikings have treated starting quarterback Brad Johnson’s contract situation, but I do, however, like the way Johnson has not let it become a distraction in the locker room.
He is the lowest paid starting quarterback in the league and even some backups make more than the $1.2 million Johnson is slated to be paid for the upcoming season. This irks me mainly because the Vikings have been one of the most active teams in free agency this offseason, and have spent over $31.5 million. Brad Johnson took over a team last year that was 2-5 and went 7-2 as the starter and had the Vikings on the brink of the playoffs. Johnson is well versed in the West Coast offense that head coach Brad Childress has implemented, and is a perfect fit as a smart guy with a quick release.
The Vikings have absolutely nothing behind him at the position, a situation a player that didn’t have the class of Johnson would use against the organization in order to increase his pay.
2. I like the chances of Chester Taylor and Troy Williamson to have breakout years in this new Minnesota offense.
Finally out of the shadow of Jamal Lewis in Baltimore, Taylor landed in Minny this offseason and will get his chance to be the primary back in an offense. This West Coast offense fits his skills perfectly and it’s likely he’ll be one of the leading running backs in receiving yards at seasons end. Running behind All Pro fullback Tony Richardson and the massive Vikings offensive line should also be a huge benefit for Taylor, who has yet to amass over 150 carries in a season.
Williamson only had 24 catches in his rookie season, but with Koren Robinson likely getting suspended for the year the number one receiver spot is now up for grabs in Minnesota. There is no doubt Childress will find ways to use last year’s seventh overall pick’s blazing speed in this offense, and first round caliber receivers usually make a huge leap in their second year in the league.
3. I did not like the season ending injury suffered by Chad Greenway in the preseason game against the Raiders.
The Vikings brought Greenway in to be the playmaker at linebacker that their defense so desperately needed. In training camp it seemed like he was going to be just that for them until he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Greenway appeared to be the most game ready rookie for the Vikings, and although he was playing behind EJ Henderson at weak-side linebacker, he was a part of the goal-line/short yardage defense and several special team units. The loss of Greenway further stretches the Vikings’ already thin depth at linebacker and will likely force them to look to the waiver wire in the coming weeks for added help.
I like the additions that this new staff has made and the direction that they are headed in, and although I do not think this is a great team, I think it’s likely the best this division has to offer.
Key Additions: Chester Taylor, Ryan Longwell, Tony Richardson, Steve Hutchinson, Mike McMahon, Brad Childress
Key Losses: Daunte Culpepper, Nate Burleson, Michael Bennet, Paul Edinger