The news for the NFC North division this preseason was supposed to be about the Bears finally getting a quarterback to replace Sid Luckman and the QB battle between Dante Culpepper and number one overall draft pick Matt Stafford in Detroit.
Instead we have to go through another season of journalists and reporters (ESPN) having a hard-on for Brett Favre and his tired act of not wanting to go to training camp, but wanting to be given special treatment to come in and "lead" a team to the playoffs and perhaps a Super Bowl.
I'll go ahead and start with the Minnesota Vikings, who won the division last year and are now the popular pick to go all the way after Favre finally signed on. I don't think they'll win the division though, because Favre won't be able to allow Adrian Peterson to be the man. And eventually Favre will want to do things his way, which means changing run plays to passes and throwing interceptions.
The Vikings do have a terrific defense to go along with the best running back in the NFL right now. However, they do not have a number one wide receiver because Bernard Berrian is just a burner who can't run routes. They'll have to rely on Favre at some point in the season to win games and he won't be able to deliver, though they may still make the playoffs.
The Chicago Bears are an improved team on offense with the trade for Jay Cutler, which tells me Lovie Smith and company know they need more offense to help out an aging defense.
Though it's still a top ten defense guys like Brian Urlacher aren't quite as young as they once were and the best way to combat this is by having the D on the field less by controlling the ball offensively. I think the Bears can win 10 or 11 games this year and sneak in and win the division as Minnesota and Green Bay beat up on each other.
The Green Bay Packers are another difficult team to pin down because the defense is so much of a question mark and they are switching to a 3-4 scheme this season. The offense, on the other hand, should be very good again as Aaron Rogers looks poised for another big season.
We know that the Packers will be ready for at least two games on the schedule this year against Favre and the Vikings, but it's unclear if they'll show up for the rest. Losing a lot of close games last season should have helped the Pack mature from last season to now, and I think they can win the division if they are able to get something from the defense that is, at best, a work in progress.
The Detroit Lions have done the most improving from a 2008 season that saw them go 0-16. What's best for the Lions is they have nowhere to go but up, and with the addition of guys like Julian Peterson, Grady Jackson and Phillip Buchanon to the defense, the front office has shown it wants to get better.
On the offensive side of the ball Detroit took Matt Stafford with the number one overall pick in the draft, but they also snatched tight end Brandon Pettigrew with the 20th overall pick in the first round. Pettigrew, a 6'5" target, along with wide receiver Calvin Johnson, should provide a nice security blanket for the young Stafford. Even with all of this, though, six or seven wins is tops for the Lions in '09.