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BASN NFL Previews: Scouting The NFC North
NEW HAVEN, Ct. — Again today and over the next two days, BASN will continue to preview the 2006 NFL campaign right up to Thursday’s season opener at Pittsburgh. Today, we look at the NFC North.
Lovie Smith’s Bears took the division last year while the other three teams will try to dethrone Chicago with new head coaches. Minnesota has Brad Childress, Detroit hired Rod Marinelli, and Mike McCarthy is the new head man at Green Bay.
CHICAGO BEARSThe main reason why Da Dears made the jump from 5-11 in 2004 to 11-5 in 2005 was (say it with me) defense, defense, and defense. En route to last year’s division crown, Chicago had the top pass defense in the league. But if Lovie Smith wants to play on the last Sunday of the season, the D will need more help from the offense this season. No matter who starts under center, Chiacgo must improve on an “attack” that ranked 29th in total yards per game and was 31st in passing yards per game. What makes matters worst is that they added no game breakers in the off season. Also, running backs Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson are nursing preseason injuries.
What To Watch For: The whole starting quarterback thing will be a season-long story in the Second City. Despite being outperformed by Brian Griese during the preseason, Rex Grossman will begin the season as the starter. However, don’t be surprised if Griese and Kyle Orton get some significant time as well.
Outlook: We know what kind of defense this team has. It’s still good enough to win this division. But the long term postseason plans in Chicago will be how far they progress or regress on the offense.
DETROIT LIONSMuch like Isiah Thomas with the Knicks, Lions’ GM Matt Millen has brought in another coach to Motown. No, Millen isn’t taking over. New boss Rob Marinelli does a great Tom Coughlin impersonation, but unlike Mr. C., there isn’t the same talent pool in Detroit. However, Mr. M. has definitely shown that he’s trying to weed out all the ugliness of the past few seasons. Former top pick Charles Rogers, DT Dan Wilkinson, and others were shown the door and it’s probably just the beginning. Marinelli is looking to set a tone of toughness and dramatically alter the mindset of this team.
What To Watch For: The Lions will try to make their first playoff appearance since 1999 and win their first playoff game since 1991. They have won one playoff game (other than the long-defunct runner-up bowl) since winning their last NFL championship in 1957. Also, the Lions will also try to upgrade their special teams. Last season, the unit ranked 28th and 21st in punt and kickoff return differential, respectively Outlook: Adding Mike Martz as offensive coordinator may have been an even larger move than hiring Marinelli. Players like WR Roy Williams and RB Kevin Jones should thrive under the new offensive philosophy, but the playoffs are probably just a bit out of reach for this season.
MINNESOTA VIKINGSBrad Childress helped mold the Eagles’ offense with Donovan McNabb and others. He’ll try to do the same at Minnesota. However, just when the team had pushed the whole “Love Boat” controversy behind them, Minnesota had to release WR Koren Robinson due to his arrest last month. It appeared that the talented, but troubled wide out had turned around his life on and off the field. He was slated to be a main cog on offense. Minnesota will likely become more of a running oriented squad. Defensively, they may be the division’s next best unit behind the Bears.
What To Watch For: Besides the obvious improvements on both sides of the line, Childress must get this team to be road warriors. The Vikings haven’t had a winning road record (3-5 in 2005) since going 7-1 in 1998. They also struggled in the red zone last year, ranking 23rd with 23 TDs in 51 possessions.
Outlook: Much many of the other teams in this division with new head coaches, there will be a major adjustment period. Minnesota did rally a late in the season and only a bad start kept them from a wild card berth. However, I just don’t feel that they’ll have enough to make a run this season. They may just be a year away from contention.
GREEN BAY PACKERSThe whole “Will He or Won’t He?” soap opera with Brett Favre during the off season may have already sealed the fate of this year’s Cheesehead season. While no one must put all the blame of last year’s debacle on No. 4, his indecision probably cost Green Bay’s chance of getting major free agents to come to Green Bay. Yes, they signed Charles Woodson, but this team needs so much more and then some to get back into contention. New boss Mike McCarthy may have the most difficult jobs of any of the three rookie head coaches in the division.
What To Watch For: The Packers are trying to avoid back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 1990 (6-10) and 1991 (4-12). Ironically, that next season a certain quarterback took over early in 1992 and has been there ever since. This year, the Cheeseheads have the second easiest schedule in the league, based on last year’s winning percentage (.449).
Outlook: Coach McCarthy is banking on the team improving its running game. The Packers ranked 31st in yards per rushing attempt last year. A healthy Ahman Green should alleviate that. However, McCarthy will have to put out many small fires throughout the season. They shouldn’t be 4-12 again, but they won’t be that much better.
Predictions 1. Bears 2. Lions 3. Vikings 4. Packers Tommorrow: The NFC South.