Jay Cutler to the Bears to complement a win-now defense. Percy Harvin to an already-explosive Vikings offense. A new defensive scheme in Green Bay to support a dynamic offense. And a new coaching staff, general manager, and a potential franchise quarterback to a Detroit team seeking to change its losing culture.
These are some of the primary reasons why I feel the NFC North will be the toughest and most competitive division in the National Football League in 2009.
Last year, I felt there was a good chance that the North could have three teams with 10-win seasons. And if it weren’t for the Packers losing 7 games by 4 points or less — not that I’m complaining — and if the Bears had blown one less game in the fourth quarter than they did, we certainly would have seen that feat happen last season.
This year, after seeing the off-season moves by all four division teams, I have even more confidence that we’ll see that happen. If nothing else, injuries aside, I’d be willing to guarantee the Top 3 teams will all finish above .500 with Detroit knocking on the door.
It’s not an impossible task, although things have to fall into place. The AFC East and and NFC South were each just one win away last year from claiming the honor of having three 10-win teams. The AFC South and NFC East were both two wins shy.
The Bears, Vikings, and Packers have the three easiest 2009 schedules, statistically, even though that’s largely aided by Detroit’s 0-16 season last year. But they each have their fair share of beatable opponents, and each team’s improvement this off-season will help push them over the top in close games this year.
Obviously, for this to happen, certain things must happen. First, the teams have to split their games against one another, which I expect to occur. Secondly, they have to get off to good starts. It’s statistically more difficult to finish with a winning record if you have to climb out of an early hole. And finally, they have to play sound, fundamental football to avoid losing games they shouldn’t, which the Bears and Packers were guilty of many times last year.
Even if at the end of the season there are not three 10-win teams, it’s hard to argue that the Bears, Vikings, and Packers do not have the talent to achieve that mark. They each have a great player on offense protected by a solid offensive line: Cutler with the Bears, Adrian Peterson with the Vikings, and Aaron Rodgers with the Packers. The Vikings had one of the best defenses in the league last year and the Bears and Packers should both be vastly improved this year after changes to the coaching staffs and a scheme change in Green Bay.
While some may make an argument for the AFC or NFC East, and others will state their case for the AFC or NFC South, I’m firmly behind the NFC North’s stake at being the toughest division in football in 2009. I expect to see the reincarnation of the Black and Blue division.
So, get your antacids and heartburn medication ready because it’s going to be a long, exciting, and tension-filled season right to the finish.