2010 NFL Preview Part 6: NFC North

Team                                                Projected Win-Losses (Range)

1. Green Bay Packers                  11-5 – 13-3

The Packers have one of the best teams in the league this season, and only have a few minor weaknesses. QB Aaron Rodgers is one of the best in the business. Rodgers throws very few interceptions, mostly because he holds on to the ball too long, but as a result he will be sacked quite often. RB Ryan Grant is not a great back, but is an excellent fit for Green Bay, especially because of his ability to run in any weather. WR Greg Jennings should rebound after a disappointing 2009 season, and have around 10 touchdowns and veteran wideout Donald Driver is still very consistent, giving Rodgers 2 very good targets. 3rd receiver James Jones is pretty good, but both he and 4th WR Jordy Nelson need to improve.  TE Jermichael Finley could be an elite player this season, and looks like one of the most complete TE’s in the NFL. Green Bay’s offensive line struggled at times last season, but rookie Bryan Bulaga can play any position on the line and adds excellent depth.  On defense the Packers could be very good. DE’s Cullen Jenkins and Ryan Pickett are both proven players, and Jenkins can rush pretty well for a 3-4 End. NT B.J. Raji is ready to break out and should have a very productive season. At LB the Packers have Clay Matthews, Nick Barnett, A.J. Hawk, and Brad Jones. Matthews had 10 sacks last season as a rookie and will be improved. Barnett is one of the most consistent MLB in the game, and although Hawk has underachieved he is still a solid starter. Brad Jones was productive in 7 starts last season, but needs to stay healthy. CB Charles Woodson is still a top corner and can shut down almost any receiver. 2nd corner Al Harris is an excellent cover corner, but is on the PUP list for at least the first 6 games of the year. Tramon Williams will start in place of Harris and is a solid starter. FS Nick Collins has had 13 picks since 2008, the league high for all safeties. Rookie SS Morgan Burnett is filling in for the injured Atari Bigby, but should do a decent job. The Packers have put together what looks to be one of the best teams in the NFL, the only thing that might get in the way of their Super Bowl aspirations is a questionable special teams, but I don’t think that’s likely.

2. Minnesota Vikings                  10-6 – 12-4

Minnesota has a very similar team to the Packers, and could very well win this division. QB Brett Favre is coming off one of the best seasons of his career, but he is 40 years old, banged up, and rusty (as you can tell from Thursday’s loss to the Saints). I don’t expect Favre to play quite like he did last year, but he could still be very good. RB Adrian Peterson might be the most complete back in the NFL. He brings speed, quickness, toughness, hands,  and excellent vision to the table. Chris Johnson may be faster, but he can’t bowl people over like Peterson can. WR Sidney Rice has proven he is an elite player, but he is on the PUP list, leaving Favre without his favorite target. Bernard Berrian and Percy Harvin are both good, but Sidney Rice is a true number 1, Berrian and Harvin are really just deep threats. Whenever Rice returns, the Vikings offense will immediately be much better.Visanthe Shiancoe could be on of the better TE’s in the game, and surprisingly shows very good hands and separation. Minnesota’s o-line is one of the better lines in the league, lead by veterans Bryant McKinnie and Steve Hutchinson, and now have good young players such as RT Phil Loadholt and C John Sullivan. On defense the Vikings have the Williams wall (of Kevin and Pat Williams) and shouldn’t let up too many rushing yards. DE’s Ray Edwards and Jared Allen make this defensive line the best in all of the NFL. Edwards is very underrated and is still getting better, and Jared Allen is the best DE in the league. OLB Chad Greenway has been quietly one of the better LB’s in the NFL, and should be helped by the return of MLB E.J. Henderson. The outside backer is Ben Leber, an average player at best. Minnesota’s secondary is a weakness for this team. CB Antoine Winfield is still a good player, but is no longer the lock down corner he once was. Usually opposite Winfield is Cedric Griffin, who is currently injured, opening the door for veteran Lito Sheppard or 2nd year man Asher Allen to take his spot. The Vikings are very young at the safety position. Both Strong Safeties Tyrell Johnson and Jamarca Sanford are unproven, and FS/SS Husian Abdullah isn’t much better. This season we should see a very close division race, but I see  both the Packers and Vikings making the playoffs this year.

3. Detroit Lions                             3-13 – 7-9

The Lions are a team that could sneak up on people this season. I’m liking what they are putting together on offense a lot. With QB Matthew Stafford healthy I see this team being slightly better than the Bears. If you look up and down the roster you have to think they’re a much better team than they were in their 0-16 season. RB Jahvid Best could become one of the most electrifying players in the NFL, and his backup Kevin Smith, although coming off ACL surgery is a hard runner. WR Calvin Johnson is the most physically gifted wideout I’ve ever seen, and now he has free agent additions Nate Burleson and TE Tony Schleffler to take some pressure off of him. If 2nd year TE Brandon Pettigrew is healthy, Stafford has a wide array of reliable targets to throw to. The offensive line is solid, with RT Gosder Cherilus, C Dominic Raiola and underrated LG Rob Sims. The Lions offense is definitely on the rise, and could be pretty good this season, but their defense is in for another rough season. On the defensive line, Detroit has some new faces including rookie DT Ndamukong Suh, solid DT Corey Williams ,veteran DE Kyle Vanden Bosch and former first round pick Lawrence Jackson. DE Cliff Avril has flashed some potential, but needs to prove he can play more consistently. MLB DeAndre Levy played surprisingly well last season and should continue to improve. ROLB Julian Peterson is still a pretty good player, but LOLB Zach Follett is unproven. Detroit added veteran CB Chris Houston to one of the worst secondaries in football. Houston will help, but the only other corner’s on the roster are Johnathan Wade, rookie Amari Spievey, and Aaron Barry. The only player who is actually good in the secondary is 2nd year FS Louis Delmas. The Lions are definitely a team on the rise, but their offense will not carry them past many teams if their defense can stop them.

4. Chicago Bears                            3-13 – 7-9

The Bears are in a similar situation to the Lions, except they have no offense or defense.QB Jay Cutler can be good, but makes too many mistakes and doesn’t have any reliable receivers. WR Johnny Knox, for a so-called burner, didn’t stretch the field much last year and the other receivers (Devin Hester, Earl Bennett) are nothing special. WR Devin Aromashodu had an excellent end to last season, but the question is can he play like that for an entire season? RB Matt Forte averaged only 3.6 yards per carry and had just 4 total  touchdowns last season, and despite his inability to run, he is a very receiving threat out of the backfield. Chicago has a terrible offensive line, the only truly good player they have is C Olin Kreutz.  The Bears are counting on new Offensive Coordinator Mike Martz to turn this offense around, I don’t see it happening this season, especially with the lack of receivers. For years the Bears have been known for their great defenses, this season the Bears will be known for one of the worst. They did add DE Julius Peppers, who is a great pass rusher, but they did not re-sign Alex Brown and now underachiever Mark Anderson is starting. Unless Anderson can replicate his rookie year, Peppers is going to be constantly double teamed.DT’ Tommie Harris, when healthy, is a decent player, but the other DT Anthony Adams is average.  OLB Lance Briggs has proven himself to be one of the better LB’s in the NFL and now former All-Pro MLB Brian Urlacher has returned from a dislocated wrist that caused him to miss 15 games last year. Urlacher is still pretty good, but at 32 he has not been on top of his game for quite a few years now. OLB Pisa Tinoisamoa is an up and down player and missed most of last year with an injury. Chicago traded for FS Chris Harris, now in his 2nd stint with the Bears after spending 3 years down with the Panthers. Harris is a decent player, but not great. SS Danieal Manning is a servicable starter, but the Bears are hoping eventually rookie Major Wright will take his spot. The Bears could be a decent team in a year or 2, but their offense and defense are filled with holes, and until they get filled, the Lions will overtake them.

Check back later for NFC West preview

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