Football

NFC North preview

Minnesota Vikings

How much of a buzz is there around the Minnesota Vikings? It's the only team Brett Favre really wanted to play for this year. They didn't land Favre, but when they got defensive end Jared Allen in a trade from the Chiefs, the Vikings became a chic pick to contend. Allen balances a defense that was solid against the run but suspect against the pass. The unit suffered a blow when safety Madieu Williams injured his neck; he could miss almost a month. Much of the overall optimism, though, stems from running back Adrian Peterson's breathtaking rookie year and the acquisition of receiver Bernard Berrian. Still, with all the other parts in place, the Vikings' chances will come down to how well Tarvaris Jackson runs the offense. There is little question Favre would have been an upgrade, but Coach Brad Childress has professed his allegiance to Jackson. If Jackson gets more consistent, the high hopes are justified.

Green Bay Packers

One reason Minnesota is considered the top pick in this division is because nobody knows what to expect from Green Bay. The defense has looked good in the pre-season, but the offense has been suspect. It's impossible to predict how quarterback Aaron Rodgers will handle life as Favre's replacement. It won't be easy. The Packers host the Vikings on the opening Monday night of the season, an early litmus test that could prove troublesome. Last year's result — the Packers nearly won the NFC championship game — was such a bolt out of the blue that expectations were raised exponentially until Favre left town. Now the Packers are a great unknown: in an eminently winnable division, but with the biggest question mark in football. No team has gone through a weirder off-season than this one, and how they emerge from the Favre drama will say a lot about the Packers' mental toughness.

Chicago Bears

It's not as if the quarterback situation is any better with the Chicago Bears, which is why they are not favorites this year. How can they keep choosing between Kyle Orton and Rex Grossman, and hoping that Devin Hester provides all the points? Orton gets the call, at least in the beginning. If the defense returns to form, they'll be in every game. But without Berrian, the best offensive playmaker, and Muhsin Muhammad, it would seem the job got even harder for whoever ends up as the quarterback most of the time. Good luck with that.

Detroit Lions

What can you expect from the Detroit Lions, a team that started 6-2, then went 1-7? Gone is Mike Martz, but the Lions still have great receivers. They just don't have much else. They have tried to overhaul the defense, but the greatest problem is that Coach Rod Marinelli has to cleanse the place of the culture of losing. That is a slow, laborious process, and it's fair to wonder if this team will ever win with Matt Millen at the helm. If the Lions can get to .500, it will be considered a success.

New York Times

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