Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Predictions from a pessimist

I got into the blogging game a bit late last season, so I didn’t bother doing one of those prediction posts for the Vikings and the NFC North. However, since this post marks the 100th in the short existence of Grant’s Tomb and free agency and the draft have come and gone, I thought enough was known about the makeup of each team to forecast how I see the division shaping up in’08.

So here is a completely biased take on how the NFC North will turn out. By December – or maybe even earlier – we’ll be able to see how foolish my predictions were. But for now, I think they’re stellar. And just so you don’t get confused, the predictions and team summaries start from the bottom and work their way up.

Detroit Lions
For once, the Lions draft made a lot of sense. They didn’t draft a wide receiver in the first round. Instead, they did draft an offensive tackle (Gosder Cherilus), and then picked a linebacker (Jordan Dizon) in the second round and a running back (Kevin Smith) in the third round. But as much as these picks made sense and filled glaring needs, one must remember Matt Millen still runs the show around here. Is there any reason to think this rebuilding project will turn out any different than the other seven he’s overseen? The Lions are 31-81 since Millen became the Lions de facto GM in 2001.

And there are other problems. The Lions most talented player, DT Shaun Rogers was traded away, the offensive line is bad, and its best offensive weapon – wide receiver Roy Williams – reportedly pines for Dallas. Furthermore, if Smith can’t resuscitate the Lions running game, the offence will, once again, be one-dimensional. It’s hard to envision 2008 turning out well for the Lions.
Prediction: 6-10

Chicago Bears
Starting running back Cedric Benson’s fresh from a dust-up with Texas police, Rex Grossman could be the starting quarterback and franchise linebacker Brian Urlacher is upset he doesn’t have a new contract. 2008 is not starting off well for Da’ Bears.

But don’t buy-in to all those predictions that have Chicago finishing last in the division. The team may have no receivers to speak of, its running game isn’t great and having either Grossman or Kyle Orton as the starting quarterback isn’t very palatable. But the situation on offence isn’t much different than in 2005 when the team went 11-5 and won the division. Defence is what Da’ Bears are all about and the defence was not up to snuff much of 2007. That’s why Chicago struggled. Don’t expect that to happen again – especially with Tommie Harris playing for a new contract.
Prediction: 8-8

Green Bay Packers
Obviously, how Aaron Rodgers and/or Brian Brohm handle replacing The Great Satan will have serious implications on the Packers fortunes in 2008. But another important factor is greybeard starting corners Al Harris and Charles Woodson, who will be 34 and 32, respectively, when the 2008 season begins.

That’s kind of like having three 50-year-olds as your starting outfield. The Packers defence was pretty good last season (291 points allowed; tied for sixth-fewest in the NFL.) A big reason for that success was the ability of Woodson and Harris to play man-to-man press coverage (although some opponents saw it as more like maul-a-man coverage). If the duo loses a step and officials call the game tighter in ’08, the Packers will have a hard time duplicating its defensive success from last year. Throw in a potentially shaky quarterback situation and you’ve got the makings of a quick fall from grace for the Pack.
Prediction: 9-7

Minnesota Vikings
Okay. Take a deeeeeeeeep breath. Extinguish all thoughts of past Vikings collapses. Do away with any negative energy. Expunge all memories of previous Vikings seasons filled with promise that amounted to SFA.

There – I’m ready to do this.

The Vikings will win the NFC North this season and I don’t think this is a bad case of homeritis. Most football observers agree the Vikes made a lot of good moves this offseason. Plus, they already had Adrian Peterson, Chester Taylor, E.J. Henderson, Steve Hutchinson and the Williams twins. Jared Allen should give the pass rush some life. Bernard Berrian and the expected emergence of Sidney Rice should give the passing game some life. And if nothing else, the Vikings are due aren’t they? They haven’t won the division since 2000.

Some will say it can’t happen because Tarvaris Jackson sucks. But everyone in this division has quarterback issues. I’ve sort of convinced myself that Jackson’s play in the fourth quarter against Denver was a sign of better things to come – a kind of coming-of-age moment for him. Of course, if Jackson’s play ranges from mediocre to awful, the Vikings won’t win anything. But what the hell, I’m as optimistic about the upcoming season as a pessimist could be. So, the Vikings record will be (cringe) …
Prediction: 10-6

On Deck: Another year of big plays?

3 comments:

Peter said...

I agree with the order of teams, but I think the division gets fewer wins on the whole. I could see a

DET 6-10
CHI 7-9
GNB 8-8
MIN 9-7

kind of year. The Vikings always seem to find a way to lose a game or two that they have no business losing, and it's hard to imagine them pounding on the supposedly superior teams in the manner of last year (Chargers, Giants).

That ought to satiate the pessimist in you who wants to knock the Vikes down a rung so that any disappointment is less severe (or any victory more sweet!)

I think I've mentioned this before, but I was at that Vikings-Broncos game last year, and it really was a lot of fun to watch Tavaris in the 4th quarter. Good thing too, I was upset at the score and AP's lack-luster numbers.

Anyhow, good post.

DC said...

Peter:

Glad you liked the post. I do remember you mentioning you were going to be at the game in Denver.

Until Jackson came alive in the fourth quarter, I don't think I was more irate about a Vikings performance all year (and that includes a certain shutout loss that we will not mention on this blog ever again.)

Taylor's fumble at the goal line (and he did lose control of the ball just before hitting the orange pylon), Williamson dropping the long bomb from Jackson, Peterson's continued ineffectiveness, the bogus safety call for Denver, Cutler picking apart our pass defence and Brandon Marshall having his way with our corners. I was in a foul mood by the time the fourth quarter rolled around.

And I was livid because the Vikings performance reminded me of everything I despised about the team during the Denny Green/Mike Tice years. Soft team. No heart. No character. They had rolled ovre and submitted. Again. Then Jackson took over and showed some moxie and actually brought them back. That gave me some hope.

As an aside, is there a more ridiculous rule in football than giving the ball to the defending team if the offence fumbles the ball through the defences end zone? What's the rationale behind that? You can't be sure the defence would have recovered the ball.

Peter said...

"is there a more ridiculous rule in football than giving the ball to the defending team if the offence fumbles the ball through the defences end zone?"

I remember being confused when the Broncos suddenly had the ball on their 20 after Minnesota drove the whole field and scored no points. Then I figured out the fumble call and remembered that rule.

It IS kind of a dumb rule, but it'd be hard to come up with a different consequence for fumbling out of the end zone.