Archive for the NFL Predictions Category

NFL Power Rankings Week Six: Vikes Holding Strong at the Top

It’s consuming my life. First went homework, then showering. My sense of smell and my taste buds quickly followed. Flowers don’t smell anymore, candy is no longer sweet. Is this a love poem? No. Wait, yes! Ahh maybe. It’s a love-hate relationship.

You see, NBA 2K10 is amazing. “My Player” mode especially. I spent practically the whole weekend creating, running drills, and playing training camp games with a 6’4″, 190-pound version of my likeness. It never got old, not even once, to see myself on the TV dunking over Taylor Griffin in the summer league.

But today, I rolled out of bed at 8:39 a.m. and walked out the door at 8:41 for a 9 a.m. class. On the way to campus, the semi-homeless, rubber chicken, joke book guy who stands in front of the Duck Store kindly pointed out that my already-stained sweat pants were on backwards. I realized it was time to get a grip.

No longer will I be breaking the virtual ankles of Dionte Christmas or Lee Cummard. Instead, I will force myself to read my 700-page philosophy text book and do my Decision Sciences homework. I am regretting this already.

But luckily for you, in between 2K10’s unique skill challenges and skill point divvying, I managed to squeeze in an entire Sunday of the NFL. 2KSports, you have met your match.

On to the rankings.


32. (32): St. Louis Rams

The Kyle Boller experiment didn’t last long. Marc Bulger replaced him in the fourth quarter and went on to compile a perfect passer rating—158.3—in his seven pass attempts. Now Marc, don’t you know how dangerous it is to give false hope to a fan base more depressed than Roman Polanski? Shame on you.


31. (31): Oakland Raiders

A fellow Power Ranker had this to say about the New York Giants: “The G-men made JaMarcus Russell look like the worst quarterback in the free world.” Umm buddy, JaMarcus Russell is the worst quarterback in the free world.


30. (29): Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Two questions: First, does Tampa Bay know that they are paying center Jeff Faine more than $13 million this season? And second, what’s it like for Ronde Barber being older than his head coach Raheem Morris? In other news, Morris just lost his last baby tooth. If only those darn wisdom teeth would grow in.


29. (28): Kansas City Chiefs

Without further ado, I now present you the captain of YOOOUUUURRRRR (stadium announcer voice) Garbage Time All-Star Team: MAAAATTTT CAAASSSSEL


28. (25): Buffalo Bills

Mark Sanchez won the Simple Jack Award for the dumbest performance in Week Four. Guess who won it this week? Hey Roscoe Parrish, never go full retard.


27. (30): Cleveland Browns

What a thriller this game was. Trent Edwards finished with a 52.1 quarterback rating and was by far the best quarterback on the field. Derek Anderson, the pride of Oregon State, went 2-for-17 for 23 yards and an interception. Hey Cleveland, how does Brady Quinn look now?

26. (27): Detroit Lions

The NFL Red Zone channel switched to the Pittsburgh-Detroit game with the Lions down by eight and driving on the Steelers 21-yard line with just under two minutes left. What happened after that?

1st-10, PIT21 1:54 D. Culpepper sacked by L. Woodley and W. Gay

2nd-16, PIT27 1:28 D. Culpepper sacked by W. Gay

3rd-21, PIT32 1:23 D. Culpepper sacked by L. Timmons

4th-34 PIT45 1:09 D. Culpepper incomplete pass down the middle.

I would bet you that Culpepper was probably tired of Gay’s sack. Rimshot!


25. (23): Tennessee Titans

I’m gonna keep saying it till they win:

“There’s an old saying in Tennessee—I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee—that says, fool me once, shame on—shame on you. Fool me—you can’t get fooled again.” –George W. Bush.


24. (24): Washington Redskins

Washington should be ashamed of themselves. The Redskins committed one of the most embarrassing, heartbreaking, and pitiful plays of the season on Sunday. The Panthers were up by three on their own 35-yard line with two minutes left. On a 3rd-and-8, where a stop would allow them one last chance to tie or win the game with a two-minute drill, the Redskins allowed Jake Delhomme to rush for nine yards and a first down. Game over. And the worst part? He even juked one of Washington’s defensive backs on the play. Sad.


23. (26): Carolina Panthers

And the Jake Delhomme interception streak continues. That’s 12 picks in his past five games.


22. (18): Jacksonville Jaguars

One week after losing to a team that started David Garrard and Mike Sims-Walker, I bought into the duo and started them both against the supposedly wounded Seahawks. Yea, that one didn’t turn out too well.


21. (19): Houston Texans

This game would not have mattered at all 15 years ago. This season it was one of the more important games of the week. At least in fantasy circles for having so many top-flight fantasy players. These teams are both pretty horrible.


20. (20): Arizona Cardinals

It’s not a good sign when one of your defensive backs—Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie—has more total yards than your entire backfield combined. If Arizona wants to get back in the NFC West race, either Hightower or Wells will have to emerge as an at least mediocre back.


19. (22): Seattle Seahawks

Well that came out of nowhere. So did former Oregon Duck Nick Reed’s 79-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown. Great call on the play: “Nick Reed, you just scored, baby!”


18. (17): Dallas Cowboys

The only person Sunday luckier than Miles Austin fantasy owners was me. I woke up to find that my TV gets the NFL Red Zone channel for free. In HD.


17. (21): Miami Dolphins

Viva la Wildcat!


16. (15): Green Bay Packers

Wouldn’t it be awesome if instead of wearing a cheese-head hat, someone put some fudge on their dome. Fudge. Fudge-packers. Get it?


15. (14): San Diego Chargers

Here’s a good fantasy football board bet for you. LT touchdowns this season or the number of episodes Michael Strahan’s new sitcom, “Brothers,” lasts on Fox? I honestly have no idea.


14. (13): Pittsburgh Steelers

I know a win is a win, but come on Pittsburgh, you’re playing the stinkin’ Lions. At least try a little bit.


13. (12): Chicago Bears

Fun fact of the week: Chicago is 6-1 dating back to the second week of the preseason. Yea, I hate bye weeks.


12. (8): San Francisco 49ers

San Francisco showed up to their bye one week too soon.

11. (7): New York Jets

One more reason to hate the Jets: my fantasy team was up 89-87 going into Monday night’s game. The other team was done and I had the Jets defense. Yeah. I lost by two.


10. (16): Cincinnati Bengals

Give me all the crap you want but I’m not buying it. The Detroit Lions started 6-2 in 2007 and finished 7-9. Until Cincinnati has an “X” to the left of their name in the standings, I won’t believe it.


9. (6): Baltimore Ravens

Cheer up Baltimore, at least you gave NFL fans some entertainment value when Ray Lewis decapitated Chad Ochocinco. Wait, you’d rather have the win? My mistake.


8. (11): Atlanta Falcons

Hey, look! Michael Silver has man crushes too.


7. (3): New England Patriots

Finally, Boston fans suffer a miserable sports weekend. It’s about time. It feels like they haven’t not won a championship since 2003.


6. (10): Philadelphia Eagles

And now to Ollie Williams will the Black-U-Sports report: “Donovan McNabb’s Good.”


5. (9): Denver Broncos

This is what I said about Denver before the season:

“The Raiders, Chiefs and Broncos all can’t go 4-12. It would be a statistical phenomenon. That’s why, despite the awful Jay Cutler fiasco this off-season, I’m buying Belichick-disciple Josh McDaniels to put together a high-flying offense in the Mile High city.”

Looks pretty good now.


4. (5): New York Giants

Can somebody please beat the G-men? I am getting so sick of them. New Orleans gets a chance this weekend at home. Game of the week.


3. (4): Indianapolis Colts

The only thing better than Peyton Manning is this article from CNN. For all guys past puberty, Christmas just came early. This could transform college campuses, save marriages and possibly bring world peace. Seriously, guys, you want to read this.


2. (2): New Orleans Saints

New Orleans had a whole week to rest up at home before hosting their biggest game of the season. I like their chances. And Drew, for the sake of my fantasy sanity, can you please throw a touchdown pass this weekend? Please!


1. (1): Minnesota Vikings

Brett Favre for comeback player of the year. Adrian Peterson for No. 1 fantasy running back. Jared Allen for defensive player of the year. All equally important, all guaranteed locks. Book it.


The UO Sports Dude

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The Power of Purple: Brett Favre’s Fantasy Impact on the Minnesota Vikings

It’s easy to hate Brett Favre right now. In fact, it’s encouraged.

Just as we were about to lock in Sage Rosenfels as the starting quarterback of the Minnesota Vikings, Favre decides to show up after the toils of training camp and sign a contract for, you know, whatever the Vikings could find in the couch.

Most NFL franchises might have moved on after they were “turned down” the first time. But no, not the Vikings and Brad Childress. Childress would have stood outside Favre’s house in the rain in a trench coat holding a contract over his head until the greatest player Childress has ever wished to have on his team finally accepted him.

After all, what’s the use of team chemistry at this point in the season? We got a month to put it all back together and forgive, right guys?

I would say that this move to obtain Favre looks even more “look-at-me-doing-everything-I-can-to-win-the-Super-Bowl” than the New York Jets’ reach for him last season, but I actually think Favre fits better in Minnesota than he did in New York, since he already knows the offense.

That said, it’s hard to like the guy.

Favre still has skills and opportunity, but I don’t think I would want to have him on my fantasy team. Call me indecisive. Harrumph.


Sage Rosenfels vs. Brett Favre

As I’ve previously argued, Brett Favre doesn’t impact the rest of the Vikings’ squad significantly by coming in for Sage Rosenfels and Tarvaris Jackson. Besides ego, age, and legend status, the physical attributes that Sage and Favre bring to the table are similar, and Tarvaris would have been a long shot to start Week One.

Favre’s got a great arm, many years of experience, and loves to throw the ball downfield, even when it’s going to be intercepted. That’s what a gunslinger does. As long as he stays healthy, he adds that vertical dimension to the Vikings offense that they’ve lacked with Jackson under center.

Take a little bit away from the experience column, and Rosenfels offers the same arm strength and irresponsibility, but he does also enjoy helicopters.

Fantasy Impact on the Minnesota Vikings

Running Backs: Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor

If that’s the way you’re leaning already, Favre’s signing in Minnesota should cement Adrian Peterson as the consensus No. 1 pick. Just look at Thomas Jones’ performance last season. With Favre’s arm, defenses have to give Peterson room to run, and the Vikings have a strong run-blocking line just like the Jets built last offseason for Jones.

Opposing defenses might have felt the same way about Rosenfels once he beat a few teams who didn’t respect his abilities, but we’ll never know for sure.

Rosenfels aside, Favre also adds a concern for Peterson.

A.P. often needs close to 20 carries each game to be effective and score his touchdowns. If Chester Taylor continues to take carries away from A.P. and Favre allows the Vikings to do more in the passing game, Peterson could have limited opportunities this season.

If the game plan calls for shutting down Peterson and letting Favre do what he will, Peterson’s owners lose in a big way.


Receiving Options: Bernard Berrian, Sidney Rice, Percy Harvin, and Visanthe Shiancoe

Bernard Berrian, Sidney Rice, Percy Harvin, and Visanthe Shiancoe all have a better outlook this season, but the upgrade isn’t significant enough for me to recommend drafting them any higher than their current average draft positions, or ADP.

Other than Berrian and Shiancoe, all the receiving threats for the Vikings are a little risky and inconsistent. Berrian will get a slight upgrade now that we know who’s throwing to him, but his history suggests his numbers will stay the same.

Shiancoe was a low-end tight end at best despite his big fantasy point total at the end of last season, and he stands to benefit if Favre’s love of the tight end comes with him to Minnesota. As of now, Shiancoe could still go undrafted in many fantasy leagues, but he might be worth grabbing if he gels with Favre.


Minnesota Vikings Team Defense

Here is where things get interesting. The Vikings defense could suffer from the addition of Favre because with Favre come turnovers. Getting stuck on their own side of the field could prevent the Vikings from keeping the score low, and if any games become blowouts as a result of Favre’s arm, the defense will probably give the opponent a little slack.

The Vikings are usually a stout defense, but facing Jay Cutler’s Bears and Aaron Rodgers’ Packers this season with Favre handing the ball over a time or two every game could wear on them in a hurry. I’d drop them a few spots in your rankings after Favre’s signing.


Where to Draft Brett Favre?

Now that he’s back, Favre is a middle-of-the-pack backup fantasy quarterback in most leagues. He’s got weapons and a great running back, but he’s still a threat to fall apart near the end of the season. He’s not a bad option to bet on near the late rounds of your draft, but I’d rather have a guy with more upside like Trent Edwards, who probably carries about the same draft stock right now.


So there you have it—the Favre effect. He makes the Vikings slightly better than they were without him. Do I think the Vikings are Super Bowl bound? Not likely. The Vikings have to prove that they’re better than the Green Bay Packers Favre left with Aaron Rodgers and the Chicago Bears with new quarterback Jay Cutler.


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32 Teams In 32 Days: Minnesota Vikings

Minnesota looks to fit the part to be a Championship team. They have the best running back, and arguably the best player in the NFL, in Adrian Peterson, a good offensive and defensive line, great linebackers and good defensive backs. 

So what is stopping them from becoming super?

A reliable quarterback. 

Last year, they had Tarvaris Jackson and Gus Frerrote as there starters. Frerotte starting 11 games, Jackson starting five. Jackson lost the starting nod to Frerotte, just to gain in back when Frerotte went down with an injury. Jackson ended up starting the final four games, throwing for nine touchdowns and only one interception. 

Frerrote is now gone, and Sage Rosenfels is in after acquiring him for a fourth round pick from Houston during the offseason. Rosenfels and Jackson will compete for the starting nod during the preseason.

But, besides the quarterback position, there isn’t much to complain about this franchise. There defense is one of the most dominant in the league lead by Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, Pat Williams, E.J. Henderson and Antoine Winfield.

With the addition of Percy Harvin via NFL Draft, this offense should be even more explosive. This team could be extremely dangerous this season.

Offseason Acquisitions:


Glenn Holt, WR. Karl Paymah, CB. Sage Rosenfels, QB.


Matt Birk, C. Vinny Ciurciu, LB. Gus Frerrote, QB. Napoleon Harris, LB. Maurice Hicks, RB. Marcus Johnson, OT. Darren Sharper, S. Dontarrious Thomas, LB. Ellis Wyms, DT.

Take out Rosenfels, Birk and Sharper, and there are not many big names gained or lost on this list. Darren Sharper will be missed incredibly on this defense with his skill and leadership. Sage Rosenfels was acquired from Houston for a fourth round pick and will compete for the starting job.

Draft Picks:

1(22). Percy Harvin, WR. Draft Grade: A

Love the pick here, fits this offense perfectly. He’s as dangerous as they come, playing as a receiver and running back.

2(54). Phil Loadholt, OT. Draft Grade: B-

Struggled a little during his senior season, but a overall a good tackle. 

3(86). Asher Allen, CB. Draft Grade: B+

Good overall corner. Good steal in the third.

5(150). Jasper Brinkley, LB. Draft Grade: B

He’s big at 250 pounds, but runs well for a heavy guy.

7(231). Jamarca Sanford, S. Draft Grade: C

A project. Has been arrested twice.

Draft Grade: B


Breakout Player: Tarvaris Jackson, QB.


Minnesota could be in the run for a Super Bowl. If either Jackson or Rosenfels are able to be good, consistent quarterback throughout the season, I don’t see any reason why they won’t in the running for a Super Bowl trophy. The loss of Darren Sharper was a blow to this defense, but second year safety Tyrell Johnson will replace him.

On the offense, rookie Percy Harvin gives this team another threat that will make defenses worry even more.

Minnesota has improved every year under Brad Childress, and I think this could be there big year.

Projected Record: 11-5




Green Bay Packers: Five Predictions for 2009

As training camp nears before the 2009 season, expectations for the Green Bay Packers grow. This is unusual coming off a 6-10 season, in which the team lost five of its last six.

Ironically, coming into the 2008 training camp there was more trepidation than expectation, despite coming off a 13-3 season. That is because there were questions as to how well the offense would endure the loss of Hall of Fame quarterback, Brett Favre.

But the offense flourished despite numerous injuries on the offensive line and the nagging hamstring affecting running back Ryan Grant. Production fell only slightly—from fifth to sixth in the league, with scoring dropping just a point per game.

Aaron Rodgers led eight fourth-quarter comebacks, only to see the defense and special teams blow seven of them. This led to the firing of almost every coach on either unit. Dom Capers has been brought in to engineer a defensive makeover.

The defense that was 11th in the league in 2007, but fell to 20th in 2008 has been overhauled. The switch to a 3-4 seems to be ahead of schedule, as two of last season’s defensive ends, Aaron Kampman and Jeremy Thompson, have shown they are ready to make the adjustment to outside linebacker.

On paper, the Packers have more talent than other defenses Capers has turned around. Two of the last three he took over shot up to fourth-ranked from the bottom half of the league. The only reason the Packers defense was ranked that low last season was that it had up to five injured starters at one time.

That makes the only thing that is consistent with the 2008 off-season is the, “will-he-won’t-he return” drama surrounding Favre, although this season it is clear where he will play if he does return.

With that in mind, here are five positive predictions, none of which are obvious, for the Green Bay Packers in 2009:

1. The defense will finish the season in the top quarter of the league.

The sack total went from 13th in the NFL in 2007 to 26th in 2008, but the unpredictability of the 3-4 typically results in more sacks and even more turnovers. In addition, the talent on defense now exceeds that of 2007. New additions B.J. Raji, Clay Matthews III, Thompson, and a developing secondary more than compensate for the loss of Corey Williams and Colin Cole over the past two seasons and the aging of Al Harris, who still made the Pro Bowl in 2008.

That is enough reason to believe the unit can climb three spots higher than it was when last healthy.

2. Aaron Rodgers will make the Pro Bowl.

He should have made it in 2008, having finished in the top six in the league in passer rating, rushing yards, total yards, and total touchdowns. He will again achieve 4,000 plus total yards, thirty plus total touchdowns, and a passer rating over ninety. Since it will be a second straight year and the team will finish with more wins, he will get the honour he deserves this year.

3. The Packers will make the playoffs.

I am not willing to predict that Green Bay will win the division: I think the Minnesota Vikings are the favorite presuming Favre does play for them. And making the playoffs in the NFC will be tough as a wild card, with the following ten teams battling for six spots: Giants, Eagles, Cowboys, Packers, Vikings, Bears, Falcons, Saints, Seahawks, and Cardinals. Even Washington, Carolina, and San Francisco are legitimate darkhorse candidates.

I put the Packers’ odds of winning the division at about three in eight and of earning a wild card at about three in ten overall, that gives them about a 56 percent chance of playing in January.

4. At least one rookie will beat out a veteran for a starting position before the end of the season.

In other words, we are not talking about someone replacing an injured player, but legitimately earning a starting spot. The top candidates are first-round picks Raji (DT/DE) and Matthews (OLB), fourth-round pick T.J. Lang (OG/T), and fifth-round choice Quinn Johnson (FB).

5. Tramon Williams will beat out Al Harris for the starting position opposite Charles Woodson.

Harris began to show his age in 2008, missing the first four games of his career due to injury. In his place, Williams grew quickly into a legitimate playmaker at cornerback, and will only get better. The new NFL is a young man’s league, and there is almost a decade between the two corners.

Moreover, Harris’ bump-and-run style he used so effectively against all but the most physical receivers will be employed much less in the new 3-4 scheme. This leaves Williams a better fit for the new defense and relegates Harris to the nickel package, which is a critical personnel grouping that still takes the field about half the time, however, and Harris will be the best nickelback in the game.


NFC North: Betting NFL Season Win Totals

Over the next few weeks, I will preview each NFL division from an Over/Under season win total perspective.  All totals and odds to win division courtesy of as current as the date the article is published. 

For additional division previews please find links at the bottom of this article for previews of the NFC South, NFC West and NFC East divisions.


Detroit:  5

By now the Lion’s 2008 season needs very little introduction. 0-16 was good enough for the NFL’s worst-ever record and almost by default this team can only get better. 

Not only did the Lions lose, and lose often last year, they often did it in ugly fashion. They gave up 517 points, had a negative 249 point differential, and ranked almost rock-bottom in most major statistical categories. 

One thing in Detroit’s favor was that, when things were all said and done, they had faced the league’s second toughest schedule, having faced opponents with a combined 143-113 record.

The theme for 2009 will be that of new faces and trying to create a winning culture for a franchise that has averaged less than five wins over the last five years and hasn’t even seen the .500 mark in eight years.  For Detroit’s sake, hopefully this year’s schedule will be more accommodating as it sets up as only the 21st toughest.

The new faces are plentiful, starting with a new GM in Martin Mayhew, as the Matt Millen era finally comes to an end, a new coach in Jim Schwartz and new offensive and defensive coordinators in Scott Linehan and Gunther Cunningham, respectively.

Mass changes were made on both sides of the ball in an attempt to overhaul the roster and give Schwartz some better parts to work with. 

Through the draft, the Lion’s nabbed three players who were arguably the best at their positions and could be starters on the team for years to come.  QB Matthew Stafford, TE Brandon Pettigrew and S Louis Delmas will most likely be counted on to contribute at some point this season and could be keys to the revival of this dormant franchise.

Maurice Morris will join Kevin Smith in the backfield and Bryant Johnson should line up opposite Calvin Johnson. 

Several potential backups along a marginal offensive line were added, but some such as Jon Jansen and Ephraim Salaam are on the wrong side of 30 and others like Tony Fonotiu haven’t played in the league since 2006. By and large, this group will look very similar to the unit which struggled to create space or time for the offense to operate in 2008.

The Lions’ defense, while hard-pressed to be much worse than they were in 2008, may actually have the potential to be the team’s strength in ’09.  For years, WLB Ernie Sims has struggled with sub-par talent around him, however this year he will be joined by Julian Peterson and Larry Foote, both productive starters in the past for the Seahawks and Steelers, respectively. 

The secondary has the potential to have three new starters come opening day if rookie Delmas gets a chance, as well as the additions of Phillip Buchanon from Tampa and Anthony Henry from Dallas.

One of the biggest and most glaring concerns for Detroit this year will be their defensive line.  This unit contributed to the 32nd ranking versus the rush and 31st ranking in generating sacks on opposing QBs.  While the LBs and secondary made several upgrades, this group remained mostly the same. 

The lone key addition is DT Grady Jackson, who is still serviceable, but will be 35 this year and could have trouble holding up for an entire season.  Should Jackson start, he will combine with fellow DT Chuck Darby to make half the starters on the line well over 30.  Darby will be 33.

While the Lions’ schedule is slated to be on the easier side this year, it’s by no means a walk in the park either.  The first five weeks will see Detroit play no team with worse than an 8-8 record from last year, including the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers in Week Five. 

The schedule does lighten up after that, and the Lion’s will have the benefit of playing four teams who will be coming off a short week having played a Monday nighter.  Three of those games will be at Ford Field and three of them will take place during the last four weeks of the season, which could help the Lions finish strong.

The pieces are in place for a rebuilding process to begin, and Daunte Culpepper still has enough talent to manage this team until Stafford is ready to take the reins. 

It’s not often that even a five-win improvement from the season before would still not be enough to get over the posted win total, however tis’ the case with this year’s Lions.  Obviously Detroit won’t go 0-16 again and a four or five-win season seems very probable. 

Stranger things have happened and a strong second half to the season could push them over this win total.  However, this team had been far too bad, for far too long, for me to be confident trying to justify at least six wins for them this year.

Prediction:  Five seems about right, so if I had to I’d bet Under the total, but would prefer to wait and see if the number goes up at all before the season begins.

Chicago:  8.5

The Chicago Bears remained competitive throughout the 2008 year and were on their way to securing a playoff spot with three straight home wins in Weeks Fourteen to Sixteen.  However, when their playoff hopes came down to the final game of the year, they came up just short by losing in Houston 31-24.

By now, we know that Chicago made arguably the biggest splash this offseason by trading for disgruntled ex-Bronco QB Jay Cutler.  A lack of offense has been the achilles heel in Chicago for the past number of years, and passing attacks led by Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton have come up short in gaining Chicago elite status. 

Cutler brings with him all the tools necessary to revive an offense, however his new stomping ground won’t offer up nearly the quality of receiving options as the Broncos did.

Devin Hester has the speed to take advantage of Cutler’s cannon arm, however he has yet to prove he can be a consistent No. 1 receiving option, after making a name for himself as a returner.  Hester’s stat line read 51 catches for 665 yards and 3 touchdowns last year, hardly the kind of production you are looking for in a No. 1 wideout. 

TE Greg Olson has shown he can be dangerous but he alone won’t be enough. Should Cutler miss any time to injury, panic will rip through the Windy City, as there are no budding stars or wily veterans waiting in the wings as backups.

Cutler may have to take a back seat to the running game, as the Bears look to have a star for years to come with Matt Forte.  In only his rookie season, Forte amassed the seventh most rushing yards in the league while also adding 477 yards receiving. For all Forte’s accomplishments though, the Bears still ranked a dismal 24th in rushing and 21st in passing. 

With Cutler under centre now, Forte may see a little extra space as opposing defenses will have to respect the deep ball.

The offensive line was restocked, as the team said goodbye to Terrence Metcalf and John St. Clair and welcomed Orlando Pace, Frank Omiyale and Kevin Shaffer into the mix. In Pace, C Olin Kreutz and RG Roberto Garza, the Bears will have three starters in their thirties, so keeping this group healthy and fresh will be a priority.

A defense which remained strong versus the rush, ranking fifth, yet poor versus the pass, ranking 30th, will return essentially the same group as last year.  The only major noteworthy additions are LB Pisa Tinoisamoa and FS Josh Bullocks.

Obviously the secondary must improve, but the once vaunted D is slowly on the decline.  This group will see a few faces move into their 30s and many more enter the 2009 season coming off poor performances in 2008.  This is no longer the feared group of defenders that lost in the Super Bowl not too long ago, and a 29th ranking in sacks is further evidence.

The schedule makers were very kind to the Bears in 2009, as they have been blessed with the league’s easiest schedule.  Chicago will only play six teams with winning records from last year and their combined opponent’s records from ’08 is only 105-149-2.  Chicago also avoids playing any teams coming off a bye and only has to play two games off short weeks of rest.

There’s a very real chance Brett Favre could un-retire again and steal the spotlight away from Cutler in the NFC North, but for the time being Cutler has the chance to be the star of this division. 

While having the Lions on your schedule twice will certainly contribute to an easy schedule ranking, there are definitely enough winnable games for the Bears in ’09.  That being said, teams can improve quickly in the NFL and many of their opponents will probably be better than their 2008 records would imply. I believe Chicago has many great pieces in place, however, collectively, I think they are on the decline. 

The window is far from shut though, and getting over this win total for at least another 9-7 season or better looks manageable.

Prediction:  Over 8.5 wins


Minnesota:  No Line Yet

As of the time of this writing, there has still been no number set for the Vikings for a season win total, which has to be because of the uncertainty of the status of Brett Favre. 

Given that Minnesota is favored to win this division at +162, followed very nearly by the Bears at +188, and taking into consideration the Bears over/under is 8.5 and the Packers is 9, my best guess would say the Vikings number should be about 9.5. 

Should Favre be deemed fit enough for NFL competition and the worst kept secret becomes a reality with him joining the Vikes, I could see the number rising to anywhere from 10-11 wins.

After stumbling out of the gate last season at 1-3, the Vikings proceeded to only lose three more games all year to finish with a 10-6 record and the NFC North division crown.  Much of their success could be attributed to their strong finish to the year, winning five of their final six games. 

Home field advantage didn’t prove to be enough though in the playoffs, as Minnesota bowed out early in the Wildcard round losing 26-14 to the Eagles.

The Vikings are a squad that’s most likely only a couple small pieces away from a championship-caliber team. 

They boast quite possibly the strongest 1-2 punch of running backs in the league in Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor, a serviceable WR corps which added rookie Percy Harvin through the draft, and the top-ranked rush defense, which also has the ability to put opposing QBs in the dirt on every play.

Management decided to change very little this offseason, making no major additions save swapping out backup QB Gus Frerotte for ex-Texan backup Sage Rosenfels.  It will be a battle all training camp as to whether Rosenfels or Tarvaris Jackson gets to start in 2009, however as mentioned earlier, that could all change if Brett Favre joins to the team for another kick at the can.

The Fave saga could be detrimental to the mental psyche of the QBs on the roster right now, as the Vikings very public interest in Favre is certainly not a glowing endorsement to the players they have. 

While the offensive line did a great job clearing space for the running game in ’08, they were 28th in allowing sacks and will potentially be breaking in two new starters in John Sullivan at centre and rookie Phil Loadholt at right tackle.

Other than improving the 25th-ranked passing offence, the major concern going into the season is the likely suspensions of both of Kevin and Pat Williams on the defensive line.  Tyrell Johnson did a decent job when called upon last year, and he will be taking over at safety for the departed Darren Sharper.

Minnesota’s opponents ranked middle of the of pack record-wise after the season ended in 2008, and this year three quarters of the NFC North will play the league’s easiest schedule.  Minnesota comes in at 31st, with Green Bay at 30th, and as mentioned earlier Chicago at 32nd.  Looking at their travel schedule, it may be one of the easiest in the league as well, as they only play one game outside of either the Central or Eastern time zones.

The Vikings haven’t improved at all over last year.  Even if Favre comes aboard, I don’t think he will be a huge upgrade under center.  This is a player who wore out during last season, will be 40 in October, threw just as many interceptions as touch downs, and hasn’t been able to fully practice as he recovers from a bicep surgery this offseason. 

Favre was not the answer in New York and one year later, I don’t see any different scenario playing out in Minnesota.  It’s hard to make a prediction not knowing what the line will be, but given the uncertainly at QB, possible suspensions, new players on the o-line and the upgrades their division rivals have made, making a strong case for the Vikes seems difficult.

Prediction:  I will go out on a limb and say the Vikes regress, and would bet the Under, if the line is 9 or higher.


Green Bay:  9

A quick 2-0 start and a 4-3 record going into their bye in Week Eight had the Packers in a position to do some damage moving into the second half of the season.  Unfortunately

Green Bay was only able to win two of their remaining nine games, and only one of their last six, with the one win coming in their season finale against the Lions.  The game was essentially meaningless for both teams in regards to the playoffs, except that Green Bay wanted to avoid being the only team to lose to the Lions in 2008.

If you look at the games Green Bay won, their 6-10 record looks even less impressive, as two of those wins came vs. the Lions and another vs. the 4-12 Seahawks.

As mentioned earlier, the Packers face the third easiest schedule this season, so the potential to improve upon last year and get closer to their 2007 record of 13-3 is definitely there. 

Travel-wise, their schedule also shapes up nicely with only one game played outside of the Central and Eastern time zones, and besides divisional games, they only play three teams on the road who had winning records last year: Tampa, Pittsburgh, and Arizona.

The biggest change this offseason was the hiring of Dom Capers as defensive coordinator and the switch to the 3-4 defense he will be implementing.  The change will hope to improve upon Green Bay’s 26th ranking versus the rush and 25th ranking in generating sacks. 

The secondary was respectable as they ranked 12th versus the pass.

No major changes were made to the roster, besides DT Colin Cole’s departure.  However, RT Mark Tauscher may not return as he suffered a major knee injury in tearing his ACL.  Several other players will be returning from injuries sustained during 2008, which could be enough to bring the Packers back to prominence.

Offensively, Aaron Rogers proved he could step up more than adequately in his first year as Brett Favre’s successor. He ranked third in the NFC in passing yards, TDs and QB rating. 

WR Greg Jennings should be motivated to improve upon his career highs in 2008 as he just signed a new, lucrative contract extension. However, running backs, namely Ryan Grant, will have to do more than the four touchdowns they managed last season.

The NFC North should be a tightly contested division all year as, in my opinion, the Packers, Vikings and Bears don’t give up much between them.  Their difficulty of schedules are all about the same and each have their own question marks heading into the year. 

In the NFL you are never as good or as bad as your record may indicate from one year to the next, and I think that may be the case with this year’s edition of the Packers.  Sure they switched from Favre to Rogers in 2008, but Rogers was not responsible for the seven-win slide the team took. 

The schedule shapes up nicely and there’s enough talent in Green Bay to make a decent improvement.

Prediction:  Over 9 wins


Best bet to win division:  Green Bay Packers at +200