Wednesday, July 29, 2009
I plan on breaking down each division in the NFL over the next couple of weeks.
I will give my position by position rankings within the division, some notes on each team, and a summary of the division.
Today, the NFC North.
The North was just shaken up again with the announcement from Favre that he will not be coming out of retirement. That actually has had very little effect on my predictions for the division. I do not believe Favre's influence is nearly as great on the field as it is in the perception of fans and media. Yes, with Favre at QB the Vikings would have been involved in a compelling game almost every week, and now they have become less interesting. But I do not feel there is that there will be that much of a dropoff with the results the Vikings have this season. I am not suggesting Sage Rosenfals or Tavares Jackson are as good as Favre, I am saying that when you include the pressure Favre would have brought to that team, combined with some players with questionable character(Harvin, Allen, McKinnie), and in my mind a weak head coach, I am not sure there would have been a difference in win total by more than a game or two.
As for the rest of the division. Chicago made the big splash with Cutler. In my mind Cutler is first in line among the top QBs in the league after Brady, Manning, Brees and Warner. It took all of Cutler's talents to get Denver to 8-8 last year. Stats have shown that the Denver defense was one of the worst in the last decade. Cutler is really good, I can promise all fans of the North that. Now, if he can stay out of trouble or not, that is a different matter.
The Lions added a rookie head coach and a rookie QB. They will be very hard to predict, but I will say this: if Stafford can be a really good QB, the combination of his arm and Calvin Johnson could provide some scares to teams that are better than Detroit on paper. The head coach, Schwartz is a bit of an unknown. He has done well in Tennessee as DC for years, so it is puzzling why he took this job instead of a better opportunity. Or, he was never going to get a better opportunity. That was the situation last year with Atlanta, and Mike Smith did great, so like I said hard to tell with Detroit.
The Packers have changed defensive schemes and instantly added pieces through the draft that can only help in BJ Raji and Clay Mathews III. Also, don't forget they added Anthony Smith, a talented Safety who is experienced in the 3-4 principles, he could make a surprising impact. Other than that, just the exchange of a qualified DC in Dom Capers over Bob Sanders will improve the defense from day 1.
Onto the positional rankings.
2. Green Bay
Notes: This is close between Cutler and Rodgers, but the nod goes to Cutler for now. Time will tell how Cutler does on a new team, w/o prolific WRs, and Mike Shanahan as the offensive architect. Meanwhile, Rodgers will be going into his 4th season with the same system. Cutler has done more in the clutch, but the move evens things out. Rodgers should have had a couple of 4th quarter come back wins last year that failed due to a missed fg against Minnesota and a blocked fg against Chicago, it would have been nice to get that monkey off his back last year since it will be an overblown story this year.
Minnesota has Tavares Jackson and Sage Rosenfel. Sage is not that bad of QB, he has filled in with OK results in Houston, and would be my bet to win that job.
Detroit has a rookie, as fans we have no idea that will turn out.
3. Green Bay
Notes: Minnesota clearly has the best RB unit with Adrian Peterson leading the way. He still cannot be a factor on 3rd and longer than 4 due to his hands and blitz pickup, but he does so much damage the rest of the time that he puts them over the top.
Chicago has a very nice back in Forte, he is an underrated RB in the league, and should be considered a big fantasy sleeper. With a legit QB, defenses will not be able to stack the deck against him.
GB gets little boost with the drafting of the FB, Quinn Johnson, from LSU. He can be that sledgehammer lead blocker they need. Grant and Jackson are not bad, and are not great. Thompson obviously sticks to the rule that you don't have to overpay RBs, and he has not. A late 2nd rounder was used on Jackson, but I feel that pick was only made due to so many RBs going that year and the talent pool had thinned out on him. Both have something to prove.
I like Smith in Detroit, but not much else. I think he is better than Grant or Jackson, but as a unit GB is a little better.
1. Green Bay
Notes: Green Bay clearly has the best WRs in the division, with a promising TE unit with Finley, Lee, and Humphrey. Driver is still around, along with one of the best WRs in the league in Jennings. People can argue where Jennings fits in the top, but he is solidly in the top 10 WRs in the game.
Detroit has Calvin Johnson. I put Johnson ahead of Jennings due to his height/speed combo. You cannot teach height. Johnson is really special, not much else in Detroit is.
Minnesota has Berrian, who I feel is a good #2 WR, not a #1. Percy Harvin is a head-case, believe there are issues with this kid that Urban Meyer kept quiet the last couple of years. I believe there were a couple games last year that Harvin sat out with "Migraines", I didn't hear about any concerns throughout the draft process about these migraines, feels like a Wag the Dog cover-up to me.
Chicago's WRs suck. Hester has gotten worse at everything he does since his Super Bowl opening Kick Off TD. Greg Olsen is a legit weapon, he will be it through the air. Cutler should raise this unit, similar to what Favre did for many years in Green Bay, but there is only so high you can raise crap. And Crap is what the Bears have at WR.
3. Green Bay
Notes: After Minnesota, the next three are a toss up. As long as Minnesota has Hutchinson and McKinnie, their left side will be good. Losing Birk will hurt more than they realize, and mostly because of where he went, Baltimore. With Ozzie Newsome making the calls in Baltimore they are one of the top teams in the league at evaluating talent. For him to give that large of a deal to Birk tells me he can still play. GB will be replacing Tauscher, so there are questions there. Chicago will hope Orlando Pace has something left in the tank. Detroit better hope their rookie QB doesn't get killed. That OLine was neglected for too long by Millen until his last year or so, not a lot of quality depth on that line in my opinion.
3. Green Bay
Note: I group these unit since almost half the league now runs a 3-4. This way I combine the units for comparison to give it more of an apples to apples comparison.
Minnesota has a great DLine, there is no getting around that. With the Williams wall they stop the run and Jaren Allen provides some pressure. Their LBs are not great, but their DC does utilize their strengths very well in blitzes.
Chicago has great LBs. If Tommie Harris and others along that DLine get back to the level they played at in the super bowl year, this can again be one of the best front sevens in football.
Green Bay will be very interesting to watch. But there are a lot of questions. How much 3-4 do they actually play? Can Kampman adjust? Can Raji and/or Mathews step right in and contribute? Can Hawk get to the level expected of him? Can Barnett return from injury.
Even with all of those questions, Green Bay's front seven is ahead of Detroit's. Although Detriot does have Ernie Sims and now Julian Peterson at LB.
1. Green Bay
Notes: The Packers get the top spot due to Woodson and Collins. Williams is also a nice CB. Harris is about done. The rest of the division is close talent-wise, and all are depending on some young safeties that could turn this positional ranking around.
2. Green Bay
Notes: Special teams are hard to rate due to fans have no idea what commitment the team will have to them, which LBs Tes WRs CBs will actually excel at blocking and tackling. In the NFL teams put a lot of the younger players on special teams until a spot opens up at their position. Taking that into consideration, I start each team at an 8, if they have a good returner, I bump them up a point, if not, I leave them at 8. Chicago has the best return game, Green Bay could have the best coverage due to the switch to the 3-4. If Harvin stays in line, he could boost the Vikings return game.
1. Green Bay
Note: You make a super bowl, you get a boost, even Lovie Smith. For every first year coach I gave the same grade across the league. McCarthy is in my mind one of the better game planners in the league, add to that staff a legit DC in Dom Capers, that is why they get the top spot. Chicago still has issues on the offense. Brad Childress is not very good at all in my mind. I watched several games last year where he just looked lost.
Points Per Position
My cumulative score for each team:
1. Green Bay 87.5
2. Chicago 87.5
3. Minnesota 86
4. Detroit 78.5
1. Green Bay
Summary: Green Bay is poised to return to the top of this division. There is too much talent left from a team that almost made the Super Bowl two years ago to finish under .500 again. Add to that the distractions from last year with Favre and this team will be fresh and ready to roll. Chicago will be right there. They went 9-7 last year with Orton. Cutler is much better, them and GB may both sneak into the playoffs. Minnesota is an illusion. They have a great DLine and a great RB. The problem is the NFL is about having an offensive balance and being able to stop the pass. With Cutler, Rodgers, and eventually Stafford, the stop the run, run the ball mantra will not be as effective. Their corners and safeties are suspect against the pass, and stopping the run doesn't mean squat if teams can pass on you. The ball may be taken out of Adrian's hand if they are behind.
My guess is Childress is fired after a disappointing 7-9 season. There is a lot of talent on that team, but they are weak at QB, Head Coach, and the entire passing game including the play-calling. The Packers and Bears have weakness, but their weaknesses are spread out across the entire team whereas the entire passing game is a weakness for the Vikings. It didn't catch up with them last year, but I do not think they got any better. Also, do you think Peterson can stay healthy for a whole year with the physical style he runs with?
Detroit sucks. It will take a really good year for them to win 5.
Some Bucks Links
Bucks interested in Hakim Warrick?
A NY Rant and a Trade Idea
Some Proof that Jennings will be best Rookie PG