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Article:Grilled Cheeze: 2009 NFC North Preview

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Template:ArmchairGM NFL Division Preview 2009

It's that time of year again.  The time for every know-it-all and so called football expert to offer their take on the upcoming NFL season.  Some are truly inane, some are well thought out.  Some offer statistics, others are based purely on emotion.  Here at the 'Chair, we're no different.  Hot off the griddle, here is the Grilled Cheeze on the NFC North.  Maybe with a little Lutefisk.

It could be said that any team from the NFC can be in the Super Bowl any year, but you and I know that to be false.  Just look at Seattle.  In all seriousness, the NFC North truly offers a potential Super Bowl contender (SPOILER:  it isn't the Lions).  This is said in spite of the fact that there are three teams that could potentially win the division (still not the Lions).

The divisional draw for the NFC North this year includes the NFC West and the AFC North.

Chicago Bears - Mr. Bumbles and Kid Whiskey are Gone.  It's time for Pouty Baby

Key Additions:
QB Jay Cutler
OT Frank Omiyale
OT Orlando Pace
OT Kevin Shaffer

Key Losses:
QB Kyle Orton
QB Rex Grossman
OT John Tait
OT John St. Clair

In 2008, the typically mediocre Bears offense finished 14th in the league in points scored.  More importantly, the usually vaunted Bears defense fell off from previous years to finish 16th in points allowed.  The defense was stout against the run finishing 5th but they were a terrible 30th in pass yards given up.  This is probably attributed to injuries to players such as cornerback Nathan Vasher and, shockingly, Mike Brown

Cutler bear camp
The Sexy Rexy experiment is over.  The Neckbeard just couldn't get it done.  The Bears are now banking on Shanahan's Baby being the answer to their Super Bowl title quest.  Except their bank looks like the Federal Budget.  They traded away their future to get the much maligned pro-bowl quarterback from Denver.  The Bears had to give up Kyle Orton, their 2009 1st and 3rd round picks, and their 2010 1st round pick.  If Cutler doesn't pan out, this could go down as a blunder nearly the scale of the Herschel Walker trade or the moves Mike Ditka made to get Ricky Williams.

Based on standard metrics like TDs and Yards, Cutler is in rarefied air with Brees and Warner as the only QBs to pass for at least 4500 yards and 25TDs in 2008. If you include 2007, you can add Manning to the list and you have four NFL quarterbacks to pass for at least 8000 yards and 45 TDs.

It is also useful to note that of all the quarterbacks listed above, Cutler is the youngest at 25. Manning is 32, Warner is 37 and Brees is 30.

Cutler may not be in the upper echelon of QBs, but he's pretty close.  The problem the Bears have is that they have made no moves to bolster their anemic receiving corpse or their aging defense.  With 63 receptions, Matt Forte was the leading receiver in 2008.  They appear to be relying on the further development of Devin Hester.

With the loss of future draft picks, the chances for the Bears to get another Super Bowl title are dropping faster that Brian Urlacher's closing speed.

Speaking of Urlacher, it appears that the Bears feel no overhaul of the defense is necessary.  It looks like they feel they can be productive if they can just manage to stay healthy.

Unfortunately, that defense will have to stay healthy for another year as the addition of a marquee quarterback isn't enough.

Detroit Lions - May the Schwartz be With You

Key Additions:
HC Jim Schwartz
LB Julian Peterson
LB Larry Foote
CB Phillip Buchanon
CB Anthony Henry
DT Grady Jackson
OT Jon Jansen
WR Bryant Johnson
RB Maurice Morris
WR Ronald Curry
CB Eric King

Key Losses:
CB Leigh Bodden
DT Shaun Cody
DT Cory Redding
DE Corey Smith
QB Jon Kitna
QB Dan Orlovsky
WR Shaun McDonald
FB Moran Norris
G Edwin Mulitalo
S Dwight Smith
WR Travis Taylor

The Lions finished the 2008 season without a victory.  As you would expect and can see by the changes above.  Such a record leads to a total face change in the locker-room.

Dark-helmet 2
After 8 long seasons of ineptitude, General Mangler, Matt Millen resigned during the 2008 season.  Roy Williams, a malcontent, under-performing receiver highly drafted by Millen (one of many) was traded away mid-season.  To further revamp the management structure, Head Coach Rod Marinelli was fired after seasons end.  To instill some new energy, Jim Schwartz, Defensive Coordinator of the Tennessee Titans was brought in to lead the Lions back from the edge of the abyss.

Jim Schwartz is an example of a new style of NFL coach.  He started as an Economics major at Georgetown.  Was assistant to Bill Belichick in Cleveland where he did analysis into things such as the randomness of fumble recoveries.  He's a football guy who isn't afraid of numbers.  He understands the emotion of the game but his training helps him to apply and understand statistical methods as they relate to what he sees during film study.

Here's hoping the Lions can generate some statistics.

In 2008, the Lions only scored 268 points on the season to finish 27th in the league.  Meanwhile, they finished 30th in yards gained, with a measly 268 per game.

The revolving door of Lions quarterbacks is gone.  Old Baldy and Dancer Dan have been shipped off to Dallas and Houston repectively.  The aged Daunte Culpepper has been joined by rookie Matt Stafford.  It is obvious that the Detroit offense will hinge on the development of the youngster.

Fortunately for Stafford, he'll have one of the best receivers in the game in Calvin Johnson helping him out.  Johnson has been joined by the solid Bryant Johnson who is a number two wide receiver who knows he's a number two.

Defensively, Detroit finished last in the league in points allowed, giving up 517 total.  For the mathematically challenged, that's 32 per game. They also finished last in yards allowed, with 400 per game.

The addition of a defensive minded coach should make the first steps to improving the Lions defense from their woeful performance of 2008.  The addition of Larry Foote and Julian Peterson should help as well.  However, the restructured line-backing corps means that Ernie Sims responsibilities will change.  Sims (2.5 career sacks) will be expected to attack the line of scrimmage and rush the passer.  His effectiveness remains to be seen.  Foote looks like a steal, but remember that he shared the middle while in Pittsburgh and now he will be required to work alone.

The story in Detroit, other than the flagging auto industry, is the massive changes taking place both in scheme and personnel.  Sorry Lions fan, you're going to have to wait yet another year or two.

Green Bay Packers - 4-3 3-4 What's the Difference it's Still Seven

Key Additions:
DC Dom Capers
LBC Kevin Greene
S Anthony Smith
C Duke Preston

Key Losses:
DT Colin Cole

2008 saw the Packers lose seven games by 5 points or less.  Seven!  It could have been worse, but through the first half of the season, they had a tremendous amount of turnover luck leading to 42 defensive points.  It could have been better because many of those losses were due to late game defensive breakdowns.

Aaron Rodgers was solid in his first season replacing a famed gunslinger in Green Bay.  He finished the season with a 93.8 quarterback rating, 28 TDs, 13 INTs, and 4038 yards with a 63.6% completed rate. Ryan Grant garnered 1200 yards in a rather unspectacular fashion.  The Packers finished 5th in the league in scoring.

Offense was not the problem.

The defense was dismal down the stretch.  The Packers were incredibly weak against the run, giving up over 130 yards per game on the ground to rank 26th in the league. As mentioned earlier, the defense created turnovers, with three players having five or more interceptions, but the only player to consistently pressure the quarterback was defensive end Aaron Kampman, who finished the year with 9.5 sacks.  His worst total in three years.

The story in Green Bay is not personnel changes like the other three teams in the division.  Instead, Green Bay has made some significant coaching changes and a rather dramatic defensive scheme change.

3-4 zone blitz
Dom Capers and Kevin Greene were brought in to instill the 3-4 defense.  The final depth chart has not been released yet, but Green bay intends to make the switch by moving their existing players with minimal additions.  They did draft heavily on the defensive side getting both B.J. Raji and Clay Matthews III in the first round.  Expect the Packers defense to perform poorly early in the year as the players learn their roles in the new defense.

Green Bay should see about the same offensive production as long as they are able to settle down the revolving line.  The return of Josh Sitton should help with that.  Rodgers has a year under his belt now so we can expect McCarthy to open up the playbook a little more.  With Jennings signed through 2012, James Jones and Jordy Nelson continuing to develop and the reliable Driver returning for another year, the Green Bay offense should be productive.  Incumbent running back Ryan Grant will be pushed pretty hard by DeShawn Wynn and Brandon Jackson.  Hopefully someone will add explosiveness to the backfield.

Minnesota Vikings - Who Cares Who's QB, Hand the ball off!

Key Additions:
QB Sage Rosenfels
WR Percy Harvin

Key Losses:
C Matt Birk
QB Gus Frerotte
S Darren Sharper

In 2008, Brad Childress realized the folly of his ways in 2007.  He changed his approach to the offense and made Adrian Peterson the focal point.  Peterson dominated.  Establishing himself as the premier running back in the NFL by finishing with 1,760 rushing yards and a 4.8 YPC average.

The addition of Sage Rosenfels has led to a battle for starting Quarterback.  Childress' hand picked QB of the future, Tarvaris Jackson, ...isn't.  There has been some speculation that the Vikings will pursue the services of a certain animal loving QB from Va.  But, since they are desperately trying to get the state to pony up something north of $600-$800 million for a new stadium, it is highly unlikely that they are willing to shoulder the circus that would come with such an acquisition.

Peterson runs
Whoever the quarterback will be, there is no doubt that the offense will be run through Adrian Peterson.  Peterson has bulked up in the off-season and some have speculated that the added bulk will hurt rather than help him.  I think his activities have been under the close watch of the Vikings' training and coaching staff.  If they are competent (IF), they would not allow him to change himself in a way that would reduce his effectiveness very much.  The key to his effectiveness will be the success of the quarterback.  Even a mediocre passing attack will force defenses to be honest and allow Peterson some room to maneuver.

The quarterback's success hinges as much on the development of the receivers as it does his own abilities.  Four players caught 40 or more passes in 2008, but none more than the 53 by Bobby Wade. If your leading receiver is a journeyman who has played in five cities in six years you may have a problem.  The Vikings need somebody to step up, and they hope the versatile play making ability of Percy Harvin will make him that man. It will be interesting to see how the feeble mind of Brad Childress will utilize the speedster from the University of Florida.

The 2008 defense, led by Pat Williams and Kevin Williams, was best in the league against the run, allowing only 77 yards per game. They also finished 13th in points allowed due to the addition of Jared Allen (14.5 sacks) and the development of Antoine Winfield as one of the best cornerbacks in the league.

The loss of their fourth leading tackler, Darren Sharper, promises to reduce the effectiveness of the defense, but they should be able to press on.  Of greater concern is the potential suspensions for the anchors of the defensive line, the Williams' Wall.

All told, the Vikings should have a successful season and will be competing in January.

Projected Standings

Team Record
Minnesota Vikings 11-5
Green Bay Packers 10-6
Chicago Bears 9-7
Detroit Lions 3-13

Sources: Pro-football-reference, Football Outsiders


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