Monday, August 03, 2009

NFL SWOT Analysis: NFC North

Chicago Bears

Strengths – Matt Forte was the offensive MVP of this team last season. That should continue this season. Do not expect a sophomore slump. He is also probably the best receiver on the team. To help his cause, Forte will be running behind an offensive line that should do great in the run-blocking game. The defense is led by a LBs Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. Both should receive a boost from the addition of Pisa Tinoisamoa, who will take on a lot of the coverage tasks, freeing up Urlacher and Briggs to attack the line of scrimmage.

Weaknesses – The DBs on this team need to step up. If Tillman and Vasher have a repeat of last season, it will be a long year for the Bears. If Kevin Payne and Craig Steltz don’t have aces up their sleeves, the outlook will be very bleak. The WRs aren’t as desirable as most would think. Someone will have to step up, or the Cutler addition may backfire. A combined 16 sacks out of the four sack specialists on the team will not fly this year either.

Opportunities – Speaking of Cutler – he has the opportunity to be everything this franchise thought it was getting in the last few young QBs it has brought aboard. If a WR is going to step up, look for Earl Bennett to take the first shot. He apparently looked great in mini-camps and has been penciled in as the starter. The former Vanderbilt product was one to watch going into last year’s draft, he was projected higher than the 3rd round, and could end up being a steal.

Threats – Another spot where Cutler is key, yet for entirely different reasons. If Cutler loses any time to injury, the team is looking at Caleb Hanie and Brett Basanez to pick up the slack. Many teams have proven that a good backup QB is extremely important to the team’s success. On defense, an undersized front seven makes the team susceptible to a power running team.

Passing/Receiving the Torch – Greg Olsen (finally) from Desmond Clark. This has been a few years in the making, but Desmond Clark has been fighting it tooth and nail. Olsen is ready to step into the #1 role, and many are predicting a breakout year.

Position Battle – DT: Dusty Dvoracek vs. Marcus Harrison, Jarron Gilbert and Anthony Adams. Dvoracek might even be fighting for a roster spot. He regressed last year, coming off a very promising year.

Rookie Contributor – Juaquin Iglesias could break into the WR rotation. He will battle Rashied Davis, Earl Davis and Devin Hester for balls to be thrown his way.

Detroit Lions

Strengths – How many strengths can you have coming off an 0-16 season? Going through with a fine-toothed comb, one strength that appears is the WR/TE corps. Calvin Johnson welcomes two free agent additions that will go a long way to ease the pressure on him. Bryant Johnson and Dennis Northcutt are the type of receivers who know their roles and at times have played those roles very well. If Brandon Pettigrew lives up to his hype early on, he will give Stafford/Culpepper a big safety-valve target. The defense is underrated, yet could be the brightest spot on this team. It may take a few games for them to gel, because of the new faces, but there is talent.

Weaknesses – Somehow, the offensive line is not very good. This was a big problem last season, and they may have even taken a step back this year. The running game will probably continue to suffer. The defensive line doesn’t look like it will get many sacks. They are up there in years and do not possess the speed to get into the backfield. Cliff Avril will have to step up big to get the pass rush going.

Opportunities – This team has many opportunities. After a last year’s disaster, they have nowhere to go but up. Jim Schwartz has the attitude to toughen this team up, and under his guidance this team will not go winless again

Threats – The biggest threat to a team like this is for them to get stuck in that “Loser Mentality”. While the front office purged many players, there are still a bunch that have been here for a few years.

Passing/Receiving the Torch – First one must have a torch to carry. Someone on either side of the ball has to emerge as a leader. On offense, Calvin Johnson has every opportunity to take on that role. On defense, Ernie Sims needs to re-take that role.

Position Battle – QB: Daunte Culpepper vs. Matt Stafford. Look for Culpepper to seem like he’s getting the shot to take this team for the season, but don’t be surprised if Stafford sneaks in. The team has nothing to lose by starting Stafford from Day One.

Rookie Contributor – QB Matt Stafford should get in there early. Hopefully he can survive the potential bumps in the road. SS Louis Delmas could spend a lot of time out on the field and rack up a mess of tackles. I put him at the top of my list for potential Defensive Rookie of the Year. Brandon Pettigrew could end up becoming Stafford’s favorite receiver in the clutch.

Green Bay Packers

Strengths – The Packers potentially have one of the best QB to WR passing attacks in the league. Aaron Rodgers proved that he could play at a high level. Greg Jennings proved that he can be a #1 WR. With Donald Driver, James Jones and the emerging Jordy Nelson, there could be a lot of defenses that won’t be able to keep up. On defense, the front seven has quantity and quality. If they can adapt to the new defense early, the team might be able to lean on them on days where the offense sputters.

Weaknesses – The offensive line is in a transition. Four of the five spots are up for contention in camp. LT Chad Clifton is the only lineman who won’t have a big fight on his hands for his starting spot. The team also needs to distance itself from the fact that the team goes how Ryan Grant goes. When Grant does well, the team generally does well. When he struggles, the team struggles. This is especially true in the win/loss column.

Opportunities – The Dom Capers 3-4 defense gives the opposition a look they haven’t seen in Green Bay. Capers usually has early success with his defenses. There hasn’t been a 3-4 defense in the Black and Blue division for a long time. McCarthy plans to give Jordy Nelson every opportunity to earn playing time. Nelson may not be the most athletically gifted, but he will catch anything thrown to him.

Threats – Aaron Kampman has made it no secret that he doesn’t want to play OLB. Kampman is the most productive player on this defense, so keeping him happy should be a priority. Could this also result in a drop in production? The team brought Kevin Greene aboard as a consultant, probably for this very reason. If there is one former player who could convince Kampman that this move can work, it's Greene. Also, I don't know how many years I will be wrong on this, but will continue to beat this to death for another season: When are Charles Woodson (32) and Al Harris (34) going to show their age?

Passing/Receiving the Torch – Nothing dramatic, other than Donald Driver possibly giving way to Jordy Nelson if Nelson steps it up this year.

Position Battle – There are several. Many eyes will be on B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett for the Lion's Share of the playing time at NT. However, every position on the offensive line is up for grabs outside of LT. Allen Barbre should be able to beat out Breno Giacomini at RT. Daryn Colledge, Josh Sitton and Jason Spitz will battle it out for both G positions. Scott Wells and Duke Preston will battle it out for the C spot.

Rookie Contributor – Raji and Clay Matthews will get a lot of playing time (and most likely both start). Don't rule out Jamon Meridith. He was a steal in the draft. He can play any offensive line position (except C). If Chad Clifton gets hurt, Meridith could be the top option.

Minnesota Vikings

Strengths – Adrian Peterson is the best RB in the league, and the Vikings offense follows his lead. If he can stay healthy for the full season, the MVP award should be no problem. Althought most know who Percy Harvin is, the remaining trio of contributors make up a decent no-named bunch. Bernard Berrian, Bobby Wade and Sidney Rice will team up with Visante Shiancoe to give the QB several decent targets. As much as the offense is flirting with success, the defense is the strength of this team, and could prove to be dominant.

Weaknesses – QB is still the biggest weakness on this team. Regardless of who wins the battle, neither option will scare a defense. Travaris Jackson has proven that he is erratic and cannot make the clutch throws. Sage Rosenfels may be the more stable option but has a very low ceiling. On the offensive line, from the C over to the RT there is more potential than proven talent. If John Sullivan and Phil Loadholt don't prove themselves in camp, the team could be looking for options on the waiver wire.

Opportunities – This team has "Surprise" written all over it. Sure, they were 10-6 last season. But, don't be surprised if they look like the best team out of the gate. I'll even go out on a limb and say they could be the last team in the league to get their first loss. The opportunity lies in the chance that regardless of last season's success teams may not take the Vikings seriously enough.

Threats – Let's just say I'm VERY wrong about my prediction of the Vikings flying out of the gate. How long before the fans start chanting Favre's name. Favre's flirtation with this team this off-season could prove to be the worst thing that happens to this team this season.

Passing/Receiving the Torch – The torch will eventually be passed to Percy Harvin, as a playmaker. The question is, who will be the passer? (Double-Edged Question?)

Position Battle – QB: This is the obvious battle. Ryan Cook and Phil Loadholt will also battle at RT. Loadholt is penciled in. Cook is a more versatile/athletic player, while Loadholt is the kind of player that blocks out the sun. If Loadholt wins the job early, Cook could slide over and battle for the starting C spot.

Rookie Contributor – Harvin and Loadholt. Harvin reminds me a lot of Devin Hester, and could have a similar impact as Hester did as a rookie. Loadholt reminds me of Jon Runyan.

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