NFL Divisional Breakdown: NFC North

Did you know it’s only 7 weeks until the season opens? I just realized that yesterday. 7 weeks, 8 divisions. See where I’m headed here? That’s right, over the next 7 weeks we here at Tailgate Crashers will give you a division bye division, team by team breakdown of the entire NFL heading into this season. First up is the NFC North. Why? Because I’m doing this and this is my division.

Minnesota Vikings
These are technically my boys, but there is a very stupid man at the helm of this team, so my expectations aren’t great.

Head Coach: Brad Childress
Offensive Coordinator: Darrell Bevell
Defensive Coordinator: Leslie Frazier
Special Teams Coordinator: Brian Murphy
Owner: Zygi Wilf

Offensive Starters (Projected)

QB: Sage Rosenfels
HB: Adrian Peterson
FB: Naufahu Tahi
WR: Bernard Berrian
WR: Sidney Rice
LT: Bryant McKinnie
LG: Steve Hutchinson
C: Juan Garcia
RG: Anthony Herrera
RT: Phil Loadholt
TE: Visanthe Shiancoe

Defensive Starters (Projected)
DE: Jared Allen
DE: Brian Robison
DT: Kevin Williams
DT: Pat Williams
LB: Chad Greenway
LB: EJ Henderson
LB: Heath Farwell
CB: Antoine Winfield
CB: Cedric Griffin
FS: Madieu Williams
SS: Tyrell Johnson

Special Teams
K: Ryan Longwell
P: Chris Kluwe

Position Battles:
QB: Sage Rosenfels or Tavaris Jackson which one leads the team to mediocrity!!!
WR: Bernard Berrian will start after that it’s a coin toss. Sidney Rice and Aundrae Allison are the best WR on the team but Percy Harvin is going to steal looks and Allison will get buried on the bench again.
C: Juan Garcia, John Sullivan, Ryan Cook, or the guy snapping to Favre in the Wranglers commercial.
DE: Opposite Allen it will be a battle of horrible portions between Brian Robison, Ray Edwards, and Jared Allen’s shadow.
SS: Here are the players they have listed as S and not FS, Devon Hall, Jamarca Sanford, Husain Abdullah, and Colt Anderson. Now you see why I put both FSs at the safety positions.

Rookies to Watch:
Obviously the key rookie will be Percy Harvin. The Vikings took Harvin to add another element to the offense. Harvin can run the ball and catch the ball and should be an ideal slot receiver if he can stay healthy. On the downside, he’s not going to run away from people like he did in college and Harvin will already be in the NFL Substance Abuse program, so he’s one mistake away from missing a couple games.

Season Expectations:
Brad Childress knows this is his last chance. If the Vikings don’t make it deep into the playoffs, he’ll be gone. That’s why they pushed so hard for Brett Favre. Sage Rosenfels can put up the same numbers Favre can, for much cheaper and with a lot less attention. And Chilly, with your job riding on the success or failure of this season, did you really want all the media looking intently at the team? But hey, I’m here to help, you want to win this year and you want to make the offense more explosive, that’s why you brought in Harvin. Well here’s an idea, how about you bring in Michael Vick too. Sure he’s suspended the first couple weeks of the season, probably we don’t know for sure yet, but imagine the nightmares D-Coordinators would have if Vick’s first game back he trotted out onto the field, lined up in Shot-gun formation with Adrian Peterson on his right and Percy Harvin on his left. Who is stopping that running game? Rely on that running attack, let the defense do its job and you might survive another year. On the other side of that, however, is that bringing in Vick would alienate half of your fan base. Which would probably be a good thing for you, there wouldn’t be as many people calling for your head.

Chicago Bears
They made the biggest move in the offseason by getting Jay Cutler. I think they’ll be pleasantly happy with that move.

Head Coach: Lovie Smith
Offensive Coordinator: Ron Turner
Defensive Coordinator: Bob Babich
Special Teams Coordinator: Dave Toub
President/CEO: Ted Phillips

Offensive Starters (Projected)
QB: Jay Cutler
HB: Matt Forte
FB: Jason McKie
WR: Devin Hester
WR: Juaquin Iglesias
LT: Orlando Pace
LG: Josh Beekman
C: Olin Kreutz
RG: Roberto Garza
RT: Chris Williams
TE: Greg Olsen

Defensive Starters (Projected)
DE: Alex Brown
DE: Adewale Ogunleye
DT: Tommie Harris
DT: Dusty Dvoracek
LB: Lance Briggs
LB: Brian Urlacher
LB: Pisa Tinoisamoa
CB: Charles Tillman
CB: Nathan Vasher
FS: Danieal Manning
SS: Josh Bullocks

Special Teams
K: Robbie Gould
P: Brad Maynard

Position Battles:
WR: Hester should start and barring a last minute signing there will be a competition for the other WR spot between Rashied Davis, Juaquin Iglesias, and Earl Bennett.
TE: It’s not really a battle since both will get ample looks, but Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark will once again fight over who the starter is at the end.
LB: This is pretty much set with the addition of Tinoisamoa, but Hunter Hillenmeyer has been the starter for the past few years and he’ll try to keep that job.
S: They’re trying out Danieal Manning at FS during camp, after him there is no one at either of the safety positions for the Bears. The mere mention of Josh Bullocks still scares Saints fans and no other safety is more than a special teamer.

Rookies to Watch:
The Bears didn’t have a first round pick so we have to dig deeper for their impact rookie. I think Iglesias is going to be a star for the Bears. He’s a big body receiver who fits perfectly opposite a speed monger like Hester. He’s got good hands and will be another target in the redzone for the Bears who had no WR redzone target last year. Another sleeper for the Bears is Al Afalava. He’ll be in the running to start at Strong Safety alongside Manning. He’s not the greatest in coverage and doesn’t have great speed, but he can hit and make plays. He fits well the Bears Defensive philosophy.

Season Expectations
I fully expect the Bears to be a Super bowl contender this year. They made the huge Cutler acquisition, and used the draft to fill some holes. The offense is going to be explosive. Cutler’s ability to throw the ball deep will help Hester, and in turn open up running lanes for Forte. Iglesias will work the chains along with Olsen and Clark. The weakness on the team still resides in the secondary. Their safeties leave a lot to be desired even if Manning makes a smooth transition to the position. Luckily for the Bears, not many teams in the NFC can take advantage of the weak secondary. Arizona, Green Bay, and New Orleans are the clear threats to any secondary with Atlanta a potentially scary team. And all four of those teams have their own problems on defense that the Bears can exploit. They will get tested in the regular season though as they play a tough schedule hosting the Steelers, Cardinals, and Eagles while traveling to Baltimore along with home and home against the Packers and Vikings.

Green Bay Packers
A new defense, same old offense. At the very least, they are going to be a very interesting team to watch. And lucky for me, I live in their viewing area.

Head Coach: Mike McCarthy
Offensive Coordinator: Joe Philbin
Defensive Coordinator: Dom Capers
Special Teams Coordinator: Shawn Slocum
Owners: The Fans

Offensive Starters (Projected)
QB: Aaron Rodgers
HB: Ryan Grant
WR: Donald Driver
WR: Greg Jennings
WR: James Jones
LT: Chad Clifton
LG: Daryn Colledge
C: Scott Wells
RG: Jason Spitz
RT: Jamon Meredith
TE: Donald Lee

Defensive Starters (Projected)
DE: Cullen Jenkins
DT: BJ Raji
DE: Justin Harrell
LB: Aaron Kampman
LB: AJ Hawk
LB: Nick Barnett
LB: Clay Mathews
CB: Al Harris
CB: Charles Woodson
FS: Nick Collins
SS: Atari Bigby

Special Teams
K: Mason Crosby
P: Durant Brooks

Position Battles
O-Line: The whole line is pretty much up for grabs. Makes it darn near impossible to predict the starters. If I got two of those right I’ll be mightily pleased.
DE: They moved to the 3-4 and Jenkins will take one of the spots, but the other is up for grabs. Harrell is more of a 3 technique DT but could succeed at DE here. Michael Montgomery and Johnny Jolly will also be in the running.

Rookies to Watch
This is BJ Raji’s slot. Raji was the best DT in the draft this year and the Packers got a great player. He’ll need to be great as they switch defenses. He needs to hold down the point of attack and let the outstanding linebacker core do its job. I think he’ll be just fine for years to come.

Season Expectations
This is one of the most explosive offenses in the league and anybody who argues you on that isn’t worthy of your time. The only question with the team this year will be the switch to the 3-4 defense and how it will work. The Pack has been pretty good against the pass in recent years with their dynamic duo of CBs. The problem has been pass rush and stopping the run. The 3-4 definitely helps get a pass rush going, but it opens up for “bubbles” for running lanes. It’s not a sure thing you’re going to give up yards on the ground, but if you’re D-line can’t eat up blocks, you’re going to be torched on the ground. I think this defense is still going to give up points and lots of them at times. Luckily the offense can keep them in it most weeks. They get lucky with the schedule because the first half of the season is much easier than the second half. They’ll have time to work out the holes in the Defense and get better adjusted to their roles before they meet the Cowboys, Ravens, Steelers and Cards. However, even with the defense worked out, I wouldn’t want to face those teams down the stretch. They’re going to have to start the season 9-2, 8-3 if they want a chance at the playoffs and I don’t know if that’s possible while working in a new defense.

Detroit Lions
They can’t possibly do any worse than last year. That doesn’t mean they’re going to be good or respectable or anything like that.

Head Coach: Jim Schwartz
Offensive Coordinator: Scott Linehan
Defensive Coordinator: Gunther Cunningham
Special Teams Coordinator: Stan Kwan
Owner: William Clay Ford

Offensive Starters (Projected)
QB: Matthew Stafford (I don’t condone this, it’s just what’s going to happen)
HB: Kevin Smith
FB: Terrelle Smith
WR: Calvin Johnson
WR: Bryant Johnson
LT: Ephraim Salaam
LG: Toniu Fonoti
C: Dominic Raiola
RG: Manny Ramirez (No, seriously, look it up)
RT: Gosder Cherilus
TE: Brandon Pettigrew

Defensive Starters (Projected)
DE: Eric Hicks
DE: Jared DeVries
DT: Grady Jackson
DT: Orien Harris
LB: Larry Foote
LB: DeAndre Levy
LB: Ernie Sims
CB: Phillip Buchanon
CB: Anthony Henry
FS: Louis Delmas
SS: Daniel Bullocks

Special Teams
K: Jason Hanson
P: Nick Harris

Not Position Battles
WR: Calvin Johnson is the starting WR.
SS: Daniel Bullocks is the starting SS.
K: Jason Hanson
Every other position on this team should be up for grabs.

Rookies to Watch
When you go 0-16, you’d better have a ton of rookies to watch the next year. I wouldn’t say they have a ton, but they didn’t do terrible. Matthew Stafford will be a good NFL QB. Not sure he was first overall pick material because I don’t think he’s going to be that good, especially with all the holes around him and the rest of the team. Brandon Pettigrew is the rookie on this team I’ll be paying the most attention too. He is a star in waiting and I think this is a great situation for him. Stafford is going to be under heavy pressure all year and he’s going to be looking for check down receivers a lot, which means a ton of looks for Pettigrew who is a big body TE with great hands and speed. Watch out for this guy.

Season Expectations
I predict they will not go 0-16 this year. They’re not much better than that but they’ll at least luck into a couple wins this year. I actually think they could cause some teams trouble this year. Going through their roster I realized they have a lot of WR that I like and think are solid players. If they embraced the college system, went 4 wide with either Smith in the backfield or Pettigrew on the line they could cause match-up problems. Johnson is a problem for anyone, Bryant Johnson has decent speed, Derrick Williams is a quick agile guy almost in a Wes Welker mold, John Standeford is another big target at 6-4 and he has outstanding hands, Dennis Northcut has been a pretty good player in the past, Eric Fowler is yet another big target with good hands. If they ever decide to spread it out and switch through their WRs in a hurry up mode, they could be cause problems. To do that, however, they would need some semblance of an offensive line, which they don’t have right now. Although the spread formation would cover up some of the mistakes the defense will make, because the defense isn’t much better than last years.

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