Monday, August 20, 2007

NFL SWOT Analysis: NFC North

Chicago Bears

Urlacher (Photo Courtesy of Dallasnews.com)

Strengths: Many things went right for the NFC Champs, except winning the Super Bowl. On paper, the team may have actually gotten better. The defense is still solid and deep. Team captain Brian Urlacher leads the charge on a monster defense that has more in its arsenal than last year. DE Mark Anderson begins his second year as the starter, moving former Pro Bowler Alex Brown to a backup role. He joins the pocket-collapsing DT Tommie Harris and speedy rush end Adewale Ogunleye on the line. Free Safety Mike Brown joins a talented trio of CBs, Charles Tillman, Nathan Vasher and Ricky Manning. Top to bottom, this defense is top-notch. On the offensive side, the line returns intact with All-Pro Olin Kruetz making the blocking calls from the center position.

Weaknesses: The weaknesses on this team are mostly on the offensive side of the ball. The questions start at the QB position. Grossman must get over his inconsistency. He was great early in the season, and began to sink to levels that should have had him on the bench. The receivers are equally to blame. Berrian was a big play threat one week, and an afterthought the next.

Opportunities: Adam Archuleta steps in Strong Safety. This is the same defense where Archuleta did his damage in St. Louis. Expect different results here than in the Redskins defense last year. He is back with his former coach, and ready to prove the Redskins wrong. Another player looking to redeem himself from a sullied name is DT Dusty Dvoracek. Dvoracek had issues at Oklahoma that kept him from being a higher draft pick. If he shows maturity he could wind up paying large dividends starting alongside Tommie Harris

Threats: Age on the offensive line is probably the biggest concern for this team. Roberto Garza is the only lineman under the age of 30. The team must have a plan for the future for both tackle positions. A QB controversy could be exactly what the doctor ordered – for offensive euthanasia.

Passing/Receiving the Torch: Cedric Benson from former Bears RB Thomas Jones. Benson has been running his mouth since his rookie year. It is time for him to put up or shut up. If he is all talk, this team will miss Thomas Jones.

Camp Battle: The battle will be for the third WR spot. Rashied Davis and Mark Bradley battle, while newly converted Devin Hester tries to convert to WR. The fact is Hester played some WR in college, so the transition may not be long. He could be a home run threat, if Grossman can get the ball deep that fast.

Rookie Contributor: Tight End Greg Olsen will most likely split time with Desmond Clark. Olsen projects as the TD scorer of the two. It would be wise for Grossman to get comfortable with Olsen early. Another rookie to keep an eye on is seventh rounder Trumaine McBride who the coaches love as their fourth CB. Miniature scat-back, Garrett Wolfe could win hearts by breaking a couple of 50-yarders.





Detroit Lions

Johnson (Photo Courtesy of Foxsports.com)




Strengths: If the Lions perform as well as QB Jon Kitna predicts, we could see a record-breaking offense at play. However, it is not likely that he will throw 50 TDs. It remains to be seen whether the passing game will be prolific, but the team looks like it has finally turned the corner. The likely third WR, Mike Furrey, on the team led the NFC in receptions last year. Roy Williams and Calvin Johnson have the potential to be one of the top tandems in the NFL. Once Shaun Rodgers is back in game shape, the DT rotation is very strong. The key is for them to force things outside and allow speedy LBs Boss Bailey and Ernie Sims to pursue along the line.

Weaknesses: So why not 50 TDs for Kitna? The running game is a weakness right now. Tatum Bell has a lot to prove. Shanahan gave up on him because of a mild case of fumblitis. Bell has to hold onto the ball until Kevin Jones is back and in condition to carry the load. For the most part, the offensive line has underachieved. Hopefully new faces Edwin Mulitalo and George Foster can help solidify that line.

Opportunities: CB Stanley Wilson takes over for Dre Bly as the team’s speed corner. Teams would be wise not to shrug Wilson off. Those that watched him at Stanford know that he has that playmaker’s mentality and has the speed to make up for minor mistakes.

Threats: Speed on defense is nice but when your two most sure tacklers are your CB (Fernando Bryant) and SS (Kenoy Kennedy), there is potential for problems. The team could cause many turnovers, but could have trouble with power running teams.

Passing/Receiving the Torch: Larry Fitzgerald to Calvin Johnson, The Amazing Receiver Who is Actually a Good Guy. Gone are the Michael Irvins, Andre Risons and the Keyshawn Johnsons. Receivers like Fitz and Calvin Johnson are a tribute to Art Monk-like receivers who are secure enough to let their performance do the talking.

Camp Battle: Dewayne White, Kalimba Edwards and Ikaika Alama-Francis, Defensive End. In Dewayne White, you have Simeon Rice’s understudy who the team paid a large sum to lure in free agency. In Kalimba Edwards, you have a physically gifted player who never lived up to his potential. In Alama-Francis, you have a Julius Peppers Clone whose potential is through the roof. Regardless of who wins the starting jobs, this team sorely needs help from the DE positions.

Rookie Contributor: Calvin Johnson should earn the starting role opposite Roy Williams, and his impact could be felt very early on. Johnson has the potential to re-write the rookie record books.


Green Bay Packers

Favre (Photo Courtesy of CNN.net)


Strengths: The strength of this team has shifted over to defense. The strength of the defense lies in some non-household names. Defensive End Aaron Kampman was a relative nobody until he put up 15.5 sacks last year. He leads the charge along a defensive line full of non-household names. The linebacking corps, led in the middle by Nick Barnett and flanked by last year’s monster rookie AJ Hawk look great. Corners Charles Woodson and Al Harris lead the Defensive Backfield. While the overall names sound somewhat unimpressive, Defensive Coordinator Bob Sanders has a great unit as a whole. On offense there is little to talk about other than a decent WR situation with Donald Driver, Greg Jennings and James Jones, and the bookends on the offensive line, Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher. If your name is John Madden, then of course, there is future Hall of Famer, Brett Favre.

Weaknesses: Running back is a major weakness. The team seems high on Brandon Jackson, however, this team cannot depend on their running game. Brett Favre will have to throw the ball a lot, and succeed at doing that for this team to do well. Without a decent running game in place, opposing defenses will be able to drop an extra man into coverage, or send an extra man after Favre. Ok, I’ve said Favre too much, where’s Frank Caliendo when you need him. “That’s T-R-B-L, Terrible!!!”

Opportunities: Nick Collins needs to show that he can be the QB of the defense. He followed up a promising rookie season with a bit of a sophomore slump. This year should be his coming out party. If given the chance, Aaron Rodgers will have to show whether he will “Pan Out” in the NFL.

Threats: The team has many young starters, which could lead to inconsistency. The cornerbacks are getting up there in years and they don’t have strong backups. Someone among the young set of backup corners needs to step up. Jarrett Bush has looked good in the preseason.

Passing/Receiving the Torch: Dan Marino to Brett Favre as, statistically, the most prolific passer in NFL history. Favre should break the TD record this year (6 to tie Marino). If he can throw for over 4000 yards, he will also pass Marino for most passing yards in NFL history (3861 yards to tie Marino).

Camp Battle: Wide Receivers Greg Jennings and James Jones. The team seems content with keeping Greg Jennings as the starter, even though he is having a slow preseason. On the other hand, third rounder James Jones has been something short of spectacular. If Jones keeps up his performance, he could be in line to start next to Driver.

Rookie Contributor: James Jones looks like he will be a contributor. DT Justin Harrell will start alongside Ryan Pickett. He could be a pocket collapsing DT who will spend time in offensive backfields with his inside push. Also, keep an eye on safety Aaron Rouse, who will challenge Marquand Manual and Atari Bigby. Rouse is a huge safety, built similar to Sean Taylor.


Minnesota Vikings

Peterson (Photo Courtesy of Foxsports.com)


Strengths: This team must feed off the running game. The offensive line is built to pound away at the opposing defense, and between Chester Taylor and Adrian Peterson, defenses could wear down to the 1-2 punch. Between LT Bryant McKinnie, LG Steve Hutchinson and Center Matt Birk, the team can run up the left side all day. Productive DTs Kevin and Pat Williams return to lead the defense, along with CB Antoine Winfield and safety Darren Sharper.

Weaknesses: The team needs production from the DEs. Erasmus James cannot stay healthy and Kenechi Udeze is unproductive (zero sacks in 16 starts). On paper, the WR corps look weak. Two rookies are in the top four spots. Starters, Bobby Wade and Troy Williamson, do anything but strike fear in the hearts of opposing defenders. Tarvaris Jackson could end up leading the NFL in interceptions.

Opportunities: Chad Greenway is back from a season ending injury last year. He is looking good this preseason and could fill a huge hole on a historically underachieving linebacking corps. Troy Williamson has the opportunity to keep the third year WR rule intact. Historically, many wide receivers came into their own, during their third season. Williamson, with newly corrected vision, could be the next in line. We all know what corrected vision did for Herman Moore’s career.

Threats: Anytime you have a QB controversy, it is a threat. Travaris Jackson is the young fiery QB with the cannon for an arm, while Brooks Bollinger is the somewhat steady QB with an accurate ball. Both have their pros and cons, however this team cannot have a split locker room on this decision.

Passing/Receiving the Torch: The Vikings could take the torch from the Oakland Raiders, as the worst franchise in the NFL. Could the team be on the move? Could they land in Los Angeles? Who knows?

Camp Battle: Marcus McCauley and Devonte Edwards for the third CB spot. McCauley is a little raw, but carries a lot of potential, Edwards knows the defense and got plenty of playing time last year. Who plays more this season will depend on how the team does early on.

Rookie Contributor: Wide Receiver Sidney Rice has been getting a lot of looks early. He probably could have stayed in college another year and possibly been a top 10 pick in the 2008 draft. Adrian Peterson has looked great in camp and the preseason. He could easily monopolize the carries from Chester Taylor if the team tanks early. He will most likely get the goal line carries, as Taylor has a tendency to fumble there.