Crushed Optimists

We are twin brothers who grew up in Central Washington. This blog is devoted to the life of Seattle sports fans, as well as various other topics that we will espouse for your enjoyment. We could be called another OFFICIAL SEATTLE SEAHAWKS site, but we'll take our uneducated crack at the Mariners, Sonics, and Huskies as well. A Seattle Sports Blog? Must be the land... of crushed optimism!

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

NFL Preview: NFC North

2004 Standings:

Green Bay: 10-6
Minnesota: 8-8
Detroit: 6-10
Chicago: 5-11

Overview:
If you want a boring-as-anything league filled with mediocrity, last year's NFC North was your pride and joy. Every team had huge gaping flaws. Chicago turned a Rex Grossman injury into a train wreck of a year as one of my top five least favorite teams to watch (i.e. I'd rather watch the World Series of Poker). There's some bright spots this season, but again, the NFC just is terrible on paper comparatively to the AFC.

Green Bay:
The Packers can breathe a huge sigh of relief as QB Brett Favre returns for one more gun-slinging season. Yet can they stop anyone? This team is Mike Sherman's last shot in Green Bay. I see him being one of the coaches on the hot seat that could be fired mid-season.

Key Losses: G Mike Wahle, G Marco Rivera, S Darren Sharper

Key Additions: G Adrian Klemm, QB Aaron Rodgers

Offense: All in all, this should still be a decent offense. Brett Favre is Brett Favre. A leader, one of the best quarterbacks in the league, and prone to just awful decision making. When Favre decides that he's going to have a bad game (like in the playoffs against the Vikings) he doesn't mess around (4 INTs). However, when on he is without comparison in arm strength and fire. I still don't want to be against him when the chips are down, which is why I think it sucks that the Hawks end the season against the Pack. The weapons are definitely still there. RB Ahman Green is a stud, although still needs help holding on to the ball. That gets old pretty damn fast, and is why we get the Shaun Alexander show instead of Green. WR Javon Walker and WR Donald Driver are a great combo, although Walker is going to have to show that he is not a one-year wonder. TE Bubba Franks will catch many a ball, although he still hasn't shown much growth the past few seasons. The huge concern has to be the offensive line. C Mike Flanagan missed most of last year with injury and they lose two amazing guards. There was a reason that Green Bay almost never missed a third-and-one conversion. Wahle and Rivera simply cannot be replaced. This is going to hurt Ahman Green, a back who loves going up the gut, and coach Mike Sherman has to be concerned about pass protection. Although Favre doesn't miss games, it only takes one hit to break an arm or a leg. It will be very interesting to see how this unfolds.

Colin: I actually rate this offense higher then Gavin. They have a solid running game and a solid passing attack, giving them the ability to go with what is working at a given time and be unpredictable with their schemes. Favre doesn't usually suck until the playoffs, and he had his best year in a while last year statistically. Now that the usual Favre horrible happenstance has happened before the season (hurricane, and I mean that, it was horrible and we pray for those in New Orleans), he can concentrate on football. This offense has the ability to get back to the postseason.

Defense: If anyone wonders why Green Bay lost in the playoffs last year, they can point directly to a very porous defense, which especially in the secondary seemed lost. So, just like the Saints yesterday, Green Bay did almost nothing to upgrade this team. Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila can make a sack every once in a while, but has to be classified as a bust at some point. Cletidus Hunt and Grady Jackson are a good pair of tackles, but are aging and lost a step last season. MLB Nick Barnett was the Isaiah K of the Packers, you could see him two steps behind on most big plays given up. He has skills, but has tons of improvement needed. The secondary is, to put it mildly, weak. In fact, Jonathan Quinn, medicine woman, should be able to put up huge numbers against this crap. An aging Al Harris is the "shutdown" corner, and the Packers desperately hope to have 2nd round pick Ahmad Carroll be the other performer. While Darren Sharper looked lost last season, Green Bay did nothing to replace him. Any opposing offense (say Minnesota for example) should be able to move the ball against this squad.

Colin: Brett Favre was pissed off that the Packers drafted a quarterback instead of giving him defensive help, and I can't blame him. He wants to win now, and the Packers didn't draft to win now, but to win later (I can't blame them either). There isn't a magic switch available to make this defense better, so they will limit the wins for this team. Basically, the offense will try to carry this team to the postseason while the defense struggles to make this team miss the postseason.

Overhyped Myth: Brett Favre is not Jesus incarnate. He throws way too many picks in bad situations now, and also can't defend. His return does not guarantee a playoff spot.

Understated Reality: I actually have two. The first is that the Packers have terrific offensive depth. If Green goes down, Najeh Davenport proved he could be an effective back. If Favre goes down, the Packers finally have a replacement in Aaron Rodgers. The second is that this defense will not allow the Packers to move forward, and in fact I see them as being highly likely to be a disappointment.

General Prognosis: The Lambeau Love is in full effect when it comes to national prognosticators. This team will not be able to fulfill their grandiose plans. Look for them to struggle in mediocrity at 8-8.

Colin: I actually see them getting to 9-7, which might be good enough to make the postseason in the weak NFC. This is Brett Favre. I just can't completely count him out. Ever.

Early Season Game I'm Looking Forward To: Sept. 11 at Detroit... the new passing attack of the Lions gets to show up against this secondary

Colin: The new passing attack of the Lions? Have you watched them this preseason?

Minnesota:
This is the last year for Mike Tice to meet the expectations placed on this team, whether it's fair or not. Another quick 6-0 start followed by an 8-8 finish will not be acceptable. The Vikings get rid of Hollywood with Randy Moss... can they survive?

Key Losses: WR Randy Moss, RB Onterrio Smith

Key Additions: WR Travis Taylor, WR Troy Williamson, NT Pat Williams, DE Erasmus James, LB Napoleon Harris, CB Fred Smoot, S Darren Sharper, K Paul Edinger

Offense: This offense is very difficult to predict without Randy Moss. The full effect of the change just can't be seen until the games start. Still, the Vikings have to like where they are at. QB Daunte Culpepper became an elite QB, a threat to run, but with the ability to be a pocket passer (pay attention Michael Vick). If he goes down, the offense is lost. RB Michael Bennett was the starter in 2003 and can carry the load... if not Mewelde Moore showed his skills in a brief stint last season. The offensive line is healing from offseason injuries. If they come back at full strength, they will be formidable, led by C Matt Birk. TE Jermaine Wiggins had to be the ugliest pass catcher in the league last year. He would rumble into the middle of the field, park himself, and catch the ball. It was amazing to see. He gives Culpepper a great big target anywhere. The questions, of course, are at wide receiver, but WR Nate Burleson may be ready for big things. He is a trendy preseason pick, although I'm withholding judgment, for reasons I'll detail below. The complementary wide receivers are also there, in Marcus Robinson (great height and playmaking ability), Travis Taylor (solid depth), and first round pick Troy Williamson. How this unit meshes will determine how far Minnesota goes.

Colin: Troy Williamson looks like a possible stud, and can be the deep threat, allowing Burleson to be a D-Jack type #1 receiver, which is totally in his talent level. Culpepper just stepped it up big last year. His decision-making will play a huge role in how this offense does, if Mike Tice doesn't screw it up by calling stupid plays like the one against the Seahawks where Boulware intercepted Randy Moss. They might challenge the big boys of Indy and K.C. for offensive bragging rights before the season is out.

Defense: Every year Minnesota talks about improving their defense and then every year they are awful. This might be the year some of that changes, but I don't believe in this squad as much as America. DE Erasmus James and DE Kenechi Udeze will provide an athletic rush off both ends. DT Kevin Williams established himself as a premier inside force last season and will need to continue along those lines. The linebacking corps can't be any worse. LB Napoleon Harris (obtained in the Moss deal) will be an improvement, but wasn't that great in Oakland either. The addition of CB Fred Smoot, when paired with CB Antonio Winfield, gives Minnesota the best CB tandem in the division. Great pair. Depth is definitely an issue, as there is little support in nickel and dime packages. Also, the safety help is weak. Darren Sharper was awful last season (as mentioned above) and there is little reason to believe a player of his age is going to shake it off.

Colin: Don't forget the addition of DT Pat Williams, coming over from Buffalo. This guy is the definition of a wide load, and dominated the front line along with Sam Adams. He should free up Kevin Williams to be even more of a beast. This defense could, and probably should, make some huge strides this season.

Overhyped Myth: Nate Burleson will not be Randy Moss, no matter how many people want to stick him in that hole. He was a number two receiver. The jump to being number one is huge, just ask Peerless Price. Before we anoint him savior, I would ask us all to take a deep breath and withhold judgment.

Understated Reality: If the offense does survive the loss of its mercurial wonder and the defense improves in the way it should, Minnesota should easily win this division and challenge in the playoffs. However, there are still too many holes to make them a favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.

General Prognosis: As I just stated, this is the easy favorite in this division. They could easily hit 10 wins with the weak teams they get to play twice.

Colin: Here's the thing. I love their offense. I'm almost in love with their defense. However. One thing. They have Mike Tice as their head coach. Mike. Tice. I just can't pick a team coached by Mike Tice to go deep into the postseason. Someone will completely outcoach him, whether it is Andy Reid, or John Fox, or even, God forbid, Mike Martz. This will happen. Mark my words.

Early Season Game I'm Looking Forward To: Oct. 2 at Atlanta... the only game against a good team they play in the first four weeks

Detroit:
This season is all about Joey Harrington. Is he the man? Is he a bust? Tune in to find out.

Key Losses: Not anything

Key Additions: QB Jeff Garcia, WR Mike Williams, WR Kevin Johnson, TE Marcus Pollard, G Rick DeMulling

Offense: The only way this offense doesn't light it up is if the playcalling is abysmal or Joey Harrington can't do anything. They just have too much talent. In fact, this might be the best collection of young talent in the NFL, basically because that's all the Lions have drafted the past few years. I'm still a Harrington fan and think he can get the job done. He is steady under pressure and a better decision maker than given credit for. He needs to take more chances, as he gets spooked easily by even a near interception. Playing without fear (ala Brett Favre) is a necessary component of being a quality QB in the NFL. RB Kevin Jones was impressive in his debut last season and should only improve. He will give the Lions their best running game since Barry Sanders left. What can you say about the wide receivers? They are all talented, with the only question being WR Charles Rogers health. Roy Williams showed he could be a number one target last year, and Mike Williams did nothing but impress at USC. He may be a bit rusty after sitting the last season out but between the three will give Harrington plenty of options. TE Marcus Pollard is an underrated addition as well. The offensive line should be fairly solid, and have been so for the past year. Jones will have holes and Harrington will have time. All in all, a terrific offense on paper. Time to see the production.

Colin: I loved watching Harrington play at Oregon, which is terrible because I'm a Husky fan. He seemed so smooth, so confidant. I feel like I'm watching a different quarterback recently. I really want him to succeed, but it seems doubtful at this point. Reason? Offensive line. They are terrible, and Harrington seems to have his head on a swivel all the time.

Defense: Detroit should see some significant improvement defensively as youth matures. They are solid inside with T Shaun Rogers turning into a Pro Bowl worthy tackle, and Big Daddy Dan Wilkinson continuing to plug holes. DT Shaun Cody will provide an excellent rotation with little drop off. The Lions may have problems rushing the passer from the outside. They have plenty of ends with talent, but none that have become what they could. If one of James Hall (11.5 sacks still last season), Cory Redding, and Kalimba Edwards provide consistent pressure, this could be a fantastic front four. The linebacking corps really missed Boss Bailey. His presence provides an automatic upgrade. I've always been a big Teddy Lehman fan back to when he was with Oklahoma. He had rookie mistakes, but displayed enough presence to be encouraged for his future productivity. The secondary has some questions. A lot of depth, but a lot of mediocre depth. Dre Bly can pick off a pass one play and get beaten for 50 yards the next. CB Fernando Bryant disappointed last season and has to pick it up this year. The safties are weak and unmentionable. This is where the Lions will have to mask mistakes in order to stay in games with teams such as Minnesota. A better secondary than Green Bay, but not by much.

Colin: This is decent. The linebacking corps, if they gel, might become a bunch of playmakers, and they have an above average defensive line. Need to shore up that passing D, though.

Overhyped Myth: Jeff Garcia is not an answer. He has looked awful this postseason. Time to put a fork in him, not declare him the answer if Joey Harrington struggles.

Understated Reality: RB Kevin Jones could become a star. He has all the tools. I'm pretty much in love with his game.

Colin: Understated recently: It was stupid to take 3 wide receivers in 3 consecutive years. That means that one of your draft picks is your #3 wide receiver. You don't need a stud at that position, you need a Jerome Pathon, or a Ricky Proehl. You don't waste a high pick on a possible great receiver. Matt Millen..... no. Bad.

General Prognosis: This is a pivotal season for Detroit. With the improvements offensively and defensively this team should challenge for a playoff spot.

Early Season Game I'm Looking Forward To: Oct. 9 vs Baltimore... those wide receivers versus the insane Baltimore secondary should make for an entertaining matchup

Chicago:
This team was INSANELY dull last year. Anyone remember that primetime slugfest with San Francisco going against Chicago? Man, was that a terrible game. UW could have played a decent match against this crap. This season might be over before it started with the loss again of QB Rex Grossman. I'm a huge Lovie Smith fan, but he might find himself on the outside looking in if Bears fans have to see a repeat of 2004.

Key Losses: QB Rex Grossman (injury), WR David Terrell

Key Additions: QB Kyle Orton, RB Cedric Benson, WR Muhsin Muhammed, K Doug Brien

Offense: The minute that Rex Grossman went down again the season for Chicago flashed before their eyes. They risked AGAIN not having an experienced backup and could see it take them right back to the pits of the NFL (only 231 points ALL last season). Rookie QB Kyle Orton has been named the starter. Orton was the easy Heisman pick halfway through the college season yet regressed. He has significant talent and a strong arm, but will have rookie struggles. At least he'll be better than Jonathan Quinn/Chad Hutchinson. RB Cedric Benson was my favorite of the big three in this summer's draft. He carried Texas for years and will be asked to do the same in Chicago to take pressure off of Orton. The offensive line, led by C Olin Kreutz, is fairly solid and will open up holes for Benson. The wide receiver corps should improve with the addition of Muhsin Muhammed, who isn't worth the money, but is way better than the underachieving David Terrell. He will get open and is a big touchdown target. WR Mark Bradley from Oklahoma has looked a little lost in camp but I am still a believer that he could be a decent help. Not an impressive offense, but if Benson can be the workhorse they can at least do a Baltimore approximation.

Colin: ZZZZZZZZZZZZ..... *snort*...... ZZZZZZZZ...... *what the*....... ZZZZZZZZ

Defense: Chicago didn't have a great defense and didn't make enough acquisitions to jump rankings tremendously. T Tommie Harris was a stud as a rookie and can only improve inside. The pass rush will depend on the health of DE Adewale Ogunleye and the progress of DE Alex Brown. It is a pretty darn big question mark. Depth is a huge issue along the line, which means they will struggle against power running attacks like Green Bay. The linebacking corps will be strong as long as MLB Brian Urlacher is healthy. He is a difference maker and immediately will upgrade the club from what they saw in the last few games while he was hurt. His absence allowed LB Lance Briggs to become a leader as well. Overall, this is the strength of the defense. The secondary, to continue the trend through this entire division, ranges from mediocre to awful. Quick, name a playmaker. I'll take five... waiting... waiting... that's what I thought. S Mike Brown made some huge interceptions, but gives up as many big plays. CB Jerry Azumah should be a nickel corner on a good team. Basically, pretty poor.

Colin: ZZZZZZZZZZZZ..... *snort*...... ZZZZZZZZ...... *what the*....... ZZZZZZZZ

Overhyped Myth: Not that many around this team, since there is zero hype. The defense is weaker than people believe, I think.

Colin: Overhype? The Bears? How about they are a quarterback away from competing? No, sorry. Many other pieces remain unsolved.

Understated Reality: RB Cedric Benson can be the savior of this season. I just can't stress what he can provide. 30+ carries, 100+ yards each and every game. The Bears desperately need him in there, and if he goes down the Bears should just forfeit.

Colin: You have got to be kidding me, Gavin. Cedric Benson will absolutely NOT be the savior of this season. He might give them 1,000 yards, but most backs give you that nowadays. No halo surrounds him. Put down the champagne and step away from Benson. Just back off. He's not a sure thing, he has some similar weird issues surrounding him like Ricky Williams coming out of Texas. The whole contract situation had some interesting happenstances. Just back off.

General Prognosis: This team should be competitive, but in a 6-10 way. They at least should be more watchable, but only if Orton can be NFL ready.

Early Season Game I'm Looking Forward To: Sept. 11 at Washington... just curious to see what this team is made of

posted by Gavin @ 3:55 PM  0 comments

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