Nfc North

September 05, 2002|By Team previews by Ken Murray

Chicago Bears

Last season: 13-3, first place, NFC Central. Lost divisional game to Philadelphia, 33-19. Coach: Dick Jauron (24-24), fourth year with Bears.

Story line: Can the Bears come close to matching last year's success -- and good fortune -- while playing home games in Champaign, Ill.?

Power game: Featuring a pair of wide bodies at defensive tackle in Ted Washington and Keith Traylor and a Pro Bowl pick in MLB Brian Urlacher, the Bears copied the Super Bowl champion Ravens' concept and finished with similar results. The Bears were second against the run and allowed the fewest points in the league.

Achilles' heel: QB Jim Miller is back after going 11-2 as a starter, but there are concerns about his durability. Twice last season he lost time to injuries and then was knocked out of the playoff game. The Bears signed veteran QB Chris Chandler, who also has a long injury history, as the backup.

Pressure's on: Rookie Marc Colombo. The first-round pick must replace departed left tackle Blake Brockermeyer on what was the NFL's best pass-protection line a year ago.

Ticket to San Diego: The Bears could have a better team this season, but might not have as good a record. The Super Bowl is a lot to ask of a team playing all its games on the road.

Detroit Lions

Last season: 2-14, fifth place, NFC Central. Coach: Marty Mornhinweg (2-14), second year with Lions. Story line: How quickly will the Joey Harrington quarterback era begin and how much of an impact will he have once he plays?

Power game: The Lions signed free-agent wide receivers Az-Zahir Hakim and Bill Schroeder, who add speed to the receiving corps and fit nicely in Mornhinweg's West Coast offense. Until they get better accuracy from QB Mike McMahon, or consistency from Harrington, the passing game could sputter, however.

Achilles' heel: It was hard for the Lions to pass on CB Quentin Jammer with the third pick in the draft because they're desperately thin at cornerback. They let Bryant Westbrook go and cut Terry Fair. Todd Lyght returns, but he's more of a nickel back.

Pressure's on: Mornhinweg. He's got to produce better results than the sad-sack season the Lions endured a year ago. And he's got major problems on both sides of the ball.

Ticket to San Diego: The Lions should get a top-five draft pick again next spring.

Green Bay Packers

Last season: 12-4, second place, NFC Central. Lost divisional game to St. Louis, 45-17.

Coach: Mike Sherman (21-11), third year with Packers.

Story line: Can QB Brett Favre get the Packers back to the Super Bowl before his window of opportunity closes?

Power game: When he's on, there's not a better quarterback in the game than Favre. Obviously, he wasn't on in the playoff loss at St. Louis, when he threw six interceptions. But the Packers made moves to improve the passing game, bringing in WR Terry Glenn and first-round pick Javon Walker. RB Ahman Green give the Packers' offense balance.

Achilles' heel: The Packers defense was suspect against the run last season. Adding DE Joe Johnson and MLB Hardy Nickerson could put it over the top.

Pressure's on: Glenn. His aberrant behavior in New England made him expendable, and he only cost the Packers a fourth-round pick this year. He's a key player in Green Bay.

Ticket to San Diego: The Packers have tightened things up on both sides of the ball to where they should make a serious run at the Super Bowl. If the road runs through St. Louis, so much the better.

Minnesota Vikings

Last season: 5-11, fourth place, NFC Central.

Coach: Mike Tice (0-1), first year with Vikings.

Story line: Will WR Randy Moss play hard every play for new coach Tice?

Power game: As long as the Vikings have Moss in the lineup, their passing game will be potent. Without much defense or a running game, QB Daunte Culpepper was left to shoulder the load last year. He threw one more touchdown than interception and missed the last five games with an injury. WR Derrick Alexander will try to replace Cris Carter without the emotional outbursts, but he's hardly an upgrade.

Achilles' heel: The Vikings' defense has been on a precipitous slide for years. It hit bottom last season and could have nine new starters, among them a pair of defensive ends from Miami -- Kenny Mixon and Lorenzo Bromell. The secondary had a league-low eight interceptions and the pass rush was less than adequate.

Pressure's on: Moss. Tice wants leadership and big plays out of the league's most dangerous receiver. He's promised to get the ball to Moss a lot more. Moss can't afford to take off any more plays.

Ticket to San Diego: Looking for a new identity under Tice, the Vikings will go where their new defense takes them.

MVP candidate

QB Brett Favre, Packers

Impact rookie

QB Joey Harrington, Lions

Best pickup

DE Joe Johnson, Packers

Biggest loss

LT Blake Brockermeyer, Bears

Most vulnerable

Coach Marty Mornhinweg, Lions

Best comeback

WR Terry Glenn, Packers

STAFF PREDICTIONS

Jamison Hensley

PACKERS

Vikings

Bears

Lions

Ed Lee

Bears

Packers

Vikings

Lions

Brent Jones

Packers

Bears

Vikings

Lions

Mike Preston

Packers

Bears

Vikings

Lions

* -- wild-card team, ALL CAPS -- NFC champ, GRAY -- Super Bowl winner

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