Well, the preview bus moves to the north, where an interesting battle ensues.
For the Chicago Bears, there is new optimism in the hiring of Mike Martz . He may try to bring the fasest show on turf to Chicago, but he hardly has the weapons to do it. At WR, the only really viable weapon is Devin Hester. And to be honest, Devin Hester is more of a slot receiver than a number 1 receiver. At QB, the Bears better hope last year was an abiration and not reality for Jay Cutler. He endured his worst year as a quarterback last year. If Matrz can somehow rein Cutler in, then Cutler could make the receiving core look like something. Other than that, all hopes lie on Matt Forte. He is a good receiving and running threat, but everything hinges on Jay Cutler. Also, Greg Olsen started to produce last year, but from what I'm hearing out of training camp, he is struggling to even hold on to the starting job and that's not good news either. I expect the Bears to struggle on offense.
On defense, the strength will be the linebackers. Lance Briggs and Brian Ulracher have to lead this team. In the secondary, the Bears are led by Charles " Peanut" Tillman. He will have to be the main voice of the secondary in order for pass coverage to be solid. And on the defensive line Adewale Ogunleye and Tommie Harris have to be tremendous forces. At first glance at this defense, there are some holes to fill, but with the leadership of the veterans Briggs and Ulracher, the defense should carry the offense as usual.
On special teams, there is always excitement everytime Devin Hester steps back there, but there is also another weapon in the return game. Johnny Knox will also be returning some punts and kicks. These two will be instrumental in the gameplan on special teams.
For the Lions, I think that this will be a better year this year. Matthew Stafford showed courage and heart last year, playing through pain and injuries to lead the team. The offense has a very viable weapon at the wide receiver position in Calvin Johson and they aquired a couple good weapons in Tony Scheffler and Nate Burleson. But, like I always say, the best thing for an offense is a running game. Jahvid Best should provide a much-needed boost to an offense that lacks explosiveness from the running back position. I think that the offense will be better this year, but there is still a good ways to go.
On defense, the Lions drafted an anchor for their line this year in Suh. He will provide what Albert Haynesworth provided for the Titan for Jim Schwartz. Suh, along with Kyle Vanden Bosch, will make things interesting for opposing quarterbacks. At the linebacker position, the Lions will be pretty young. I look for one of the veterans like Julian Peterson to porvide some veteran presence to show the young guys the way. In the secondary, the Lions are not extremely experienced, but they will play hard. Good luck with that because they don't have a cover corner that strikes fear in anyone.
On special teams, I don't see anyone that strikes any fear in me personally. But, Lion fans, there is reason for optimism for your team. I think the Lions will maybe surprise some people this year.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers return almost everyone from a squad that returned to the playoffs last year. Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in this division. He has lots of weapons at his disposal as well. James Jones, Greg Jennings, Donald Driver and company are explosive and can make a big play at anytime. DonaLd Lee also has to be accounted for in the passing game as well, as he is dangerous in the re d zone. In the running game, Ryan Grant had a down year last year, but I think a return to form is in order with the health of the offensive line being a big key there. I think this offense will be as explosive as ever, putting up tremendous numbers.
On defense, the Packers lose Johnny Jolly due to off-the-field issues, but the cupboard is not bare as long as Cullen Jenkins is in there. The Packers also have B.J. Raji as well and he can clog up the middle in the Packers' 3-4 defensive scheme. At the linebacker position, the Packers are young and talented. Clay Matthews is due for a breakout year and A.J. Hawk and the rest of the crew are solid tackling machines. In the secondary, Charles Woodson leads this crew. Woodson has to be accounted for in the passing game at all times, as he is an adept blitzer out of the slot and a great cover corner as well. Nick Collins is a very good safety and. Once Atari Bigby returns, the Packers' safety duo will be one of the best in football.
On special teams, the Packers are solid in all phases. The Packers need a good kickoff or punt returner to step up immediately.
Well, we all know the Brett Farve situation. I'm going to assume that he is retiring. In this case, the Vikings' title chances take a tremendous hit. Tavarus Jackson is good enough to get the Vikings to the playoffs, but he isn't Brett Farve and that spells doom for the Super Bowl. At the running back position, Adrian Peterson has been doing some drills to work on ball security this year. I'm anxious to see how well he does, but seeing is believing when it comes to him correcting his ball security issues. I expect to see Toby Gearhardt get some carries in tough yardage situations. At the wide receiver position, Sidney Rice is the leader here. He must show up big again this year for the offense to be successful because Bernard Berrian has proved to be an over-priced deep threat that can't catch deep passes so far. Visante Shancoe also has to be accounted for in the passing game as well. And Percy Harvin will be the game-changing force that he was last year.
On defense, the defensive line is the obvious anchor here. Jared Allen and the Williams boys should cause serious problems for teams in the run and pass game. At the linebacker position, getting E.J. Henderson back will boost the linebacker core. In the secondary, I expect Antione Winfield to rebound from and injury-plagued year last year. I think that this defense will cause a lot of fits and make things very hard on opposing offenses.
On special teams, the dome has been a huge advantage for kicker Ryan Longwell. He is steady and proven and will help when the offense stalls. Also, Percy Harvin is the most dangerous returner in the division, maybe even the league. He must be accounted for at all times.
Division Winner: Green Bay Packers
Best Rookie: Ndamukong Suh
Division MVP: Aaron Rodgers