NFC preview: North

Can Rodgers lead Packers past Favre, Vikings?

August 29, 2010|By Sam Farmer, Tribune newspapers

Packers

Big questions: Is Aaron Rodgers headed for a career year? Clay Matthews had a terrific rookie year, but is there somebody else who will step up and bolster sack numbers? Charles Woodson was the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year last season; can he continue that pace in his 13th year? How will cornerback Al Harris recover from reconstructive knee surgery at age 35? Have the Packers finally solidified their offensive line?

Big moves: The window of opportunity is wide open for the Packers, who didn't do a lot of shuffling in the offseason. They used their top pick on tackle Bryan Bulaga, slated ultimately to take over for Chad Clifton on the left side, and got an eventual Atari Bigby replacement in safety Morgan Burnett.

Bottom line: The Packers showed last season they have as much offensive firepower as anyone. One key will be generating a better pass rush.

Vikings

Big questions: Does Brett Favre have another season like '09 in him, and how much will his surgically repaired ankle bother him? Will Percy Harvin's migraines hamper him? Can the team make up for the loss of Sidney Rice? Can the team turn around its tendency to turn over the ball? How much of an impact can linebacker E.J. Henderson and cornerback Cedric Griffin make in returning from leg injuries? Will rookie running back Toby Gerhart lighten the load for Adrian Peterson?

Big moves: Favre's decision to come back dwarfs everything. The drafting of Gerhart was big because of the loss of Chester Taylor. Otherwise, the Vikings return all 22 starters from a team that almost got to the Super Bowl.

Bottom line: If Favre plays the way he did last season, the Vikings are among the favorites to win it all. They dominated almost every statistic against the Saints — including five turnovers.

Bears

Big questions: How will Jay Cutler work with offensive coordinator Mike Martz, and can Martz take advantage of the quarterback's strong but occasionally erratic arm? How will center Olin Kreutz recover from offseason Achilles' tendon surgery? Will tackle Chris Williams live up to the high expectations line coach Mike Tice has for him? Back from a dislocated wrist that ended his '09 season almost before it started, can Brian Urlacher return to form? Does the acquisition of end Julius Peppers mean tackle Tommie Harris will be double-teamed less?

Big moves: Peppers could be close to a $100 million man, and the Bears are hoping he will help restore their defensive tradition. Running back Chester Taylor was a good acquisition. The team said goodbye to defensive ends Alex Brown and Adewale Ogunleye.

Bottom line: The Bears haven't been back to the playoffs since getting to the Super Bowl in the '06 season. It's now or never for coach Lovie Smith.

Lions

Big questions: Will QB Matthew Stafford take a step forward, or is he headed for a sophomore slump? Is Nate Burleson the receiver who can draw double teams away from Calvin Johnson? Alongside rookie Ndamukong Suh, can defensive linemen Kyle Vanden Bosch and Corey Williams play the way they did a few years ago? Did the Lions have the best Day 1 of the draft?

Big moves: Vanden Bosch was dominating when playing for Jim Schwartz, then Titans defensive coordinator. Can the two rediscover that success in Detroit? Much is expected from rookie running back Jahvid Best, especially with Kevin Smith coming off a severe knee injury.

Bottom line: The Lions gradually are recovering from their lost decade and could wind up being the NFL's most improved team. Still, that might not be enough to pull them out of the division basement.

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