As this weird and desert like offseason continues we have a bit clearer picture of what our division will look than a couple weeks earlier. Early draft grades are in and each of the teams in the division has addressed some holes on the roster. This makes it a great time to take a step back and look at our local rivals and see how the competition is stacking up.
Before we get started it should also be noted that each of the other teams in the division by making some waves during the draft. It all started with the beautiful reach of the Vikings picking Christian Ponder. I know, I know Viking fans you have to pick QB's early if the team believes in them, but until he proves otherwise Ponder is going to be a HUGE reach to anyone not in purple. The next was a bit of a heart stopper with the Lions drafting Fairly. Finally the funniest bit was when the Bears broke the draft with either cold blooded renigging or sheer incompetence in leaving the Ravens to twist in the wind with a potential trade up. All in all, the NFC North really helped keep the first round interesting.With that said, let's take a look at the roster of the teams of the NFC North. One side note for this post, to start each section there is a note for "players in limbo" meaning the players who are caught between RFA status and UFA status. For couple teams the determination of this status could be a major difference between a position with plenty of talent and an emergency situation.
The Chicago Bears.
Key holes after the draft: WR, entire O-line minus Carmini, CB
Last year the Bears were a mystery to me. They sold away last year's draft in order to get Cutler and so had to spend a bunch of money in order to secure some game changing talent in Peppers. Really I wouldn't of been surprised if they were pretty good or pretty terrible. In the end they won the division and made it all the way to the NFC Championship game. Not bad....not bad at all.
Despite all that I really don't know what to make of the Bears again. On one hand their defense is pretty darn good. Sure they could use some more talent in the secondary, but there is such a strong front seven, especially in the LB core, that the Bears D should be fine. On offense is where all the questions start to arrive. Can Forte continue to be a one man offense? Can Mike Tice pull another MacGuyver with some offensive line? (Yes, yes Bear fans Carmini looks good but that's really all that's there talent wise....maybe Webb.....maybe....and one or two tackles do not an offensive line make). Can Jay Cutler become an elite QB without any established WR's? (No Bear fans Hester and Knox do not count....both are speedy return guys pretending to be WR's. That works if there is another WR that the defense fears and allowing these guys to work underneath....but it doesn't work when that's all you have on the perimeter). Combine these questions with the good fortune the Bears had last year in playing teams on down weeks (seriously who gets to play multiple third string QB's in a season) and virtually no injuries raises some serious questions for me about this team. Once again they may raise to be the primary foe of our beloved Green & Gold, or they may turn out to the Bears we're used to seeing most years who are a bit of underachievers and hover around the middle of the pack.
Players in limbo: Ray Edwards DE, Sidney Rice WR
Key holes after the draft: basically everything but RB, TE, and DE.
You know I may not be totally fair in my evaluation of the Vikings. There is still a good amount of talent on the roster and some fight left to the team. The problem is that the FO has mismanaged the balance of vet versus young talent and so now the Vikings have to go through an odd transition. See there are lots of talented vets leaving the prime of their career over the next couple years, Jared Allen, Visante Shainco, Kevin Williams, Antoine Winfield, & Steve Hutchinson are great examples. The two limbo players both seem to want out, but they are also key players that could help stablize the franchise as most of the guys listed above start to decline as they go deeper into their 30's. On top of all of this the face of the franchise is a RB in his mid 20's and nearing his big payday contract.
Now the front office throws in Christian Ponder. The good news for Viking fans is that he's the most pro ready of the class and should not struggle too much in the transition to the pro game. The good news for Packer fans is that he also probably has a pretty low ceiling and will still take a year or two to really get going. Really the pick reeks of desperation. This is an organization without a plan and seems to try high risk high reward solutions to get things going. It worked with Harvin, Peterson, and Allen....will Ponder be the next homerun? My magic eighball says "Outlook looks bleak."
The Detroit Lions.
Key Holes after the Draft: CB, OL, LB
I miss Matt Millen. He was good for a few laughs and a couple wins. The problem I have with Detroit now is that the FO as a whole gets one thing about the Lions....they needed talent. As a result of this understanding Mayhew has spent the last couple years doing everything short of selling his children to bring in more talent to the Lions and try and turn the ship around. They made trades, the worked the waiver wire, they made key draft choices. Worst yet, he seems to get one major thing that TT gets....namely he doesn't give a crap about what anyone else's value is or what the team "needs" he's just going to get the best football player he can. Case in point, in his first draft with the Lions everyone thought he would take a LB or defender with his second first round pick. Instead he drafts a TE....a blocking TE. Most analysts gave a collective WTF?! to this pick, but now the main LB that so many thought would go to the Lions is struggling with motivation issues in Cincy and Pettigrew, the TE, is quickly becoming a core offensive player for the Lions.
This leads us to something I really don't want to talk about....the Lions draft class. It's good. Should be scary good. Fairly would probably bust on most teams...but he probably won't bust on the Lions. (Seriously, when did we start thinking that?) Why do I say he won't bust there? Simple....he doesn't have to be the guy. The Lions already have the guy on the line and on the defense. His name is Suh. All Fairly has to do is show up, make a few plays, and make life miserable for offenses. He can do it at his own pace and as long as he gets some attention off Suh everyone is happy. Really the Lions draft isn't about just one player, but a bold statement about what the Lions are going to be from here on out. They are going to be a dynamic offense with a stingy smash mouth defense. Think a younger version of the 09 Vikings. This team is looking more and more like a playoff contender....probably there this year, definately will be there soon if they keep drafting like this.
So in light of what's going on in the division how do the Packers stack up? Pretty good overall. Unfortunately I don't think there are any easy wins among these three teams, but the Pack still looks like the most well rounded team still and should be expected to win the Division for the first time in the post Favre era.