It wasnt much of a race in the North a year ago, not after the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings started 1-3 and the Green Bay Packers opened 10-1. The Packers clinched the title with three games left, then coasted home with a 13-3 record.
Eventually, the Packers won by five games over the Vikings. In 2006, the Bears finished 13-3 for that same five-game bulge over the second-place finisher, Green Bay.
But just as the Bears came back to the pack in their disappointing 7-9 season, the consensus of opinion among six executives in personnel for National Football League teams contacted by the Journal Sentinel is that the Packers stay at the top wont last long.
Of the four personnel men willing to pick a winner in the NFC North, three chose Minnesota and one took Green Bay.
Im going to go Minnesota, an AFC scout said. Favre covered up a lot of things.
Favre, selected as the most valuable player in the division by scouts late last season, now plays for the New York Jets.
I see Minnesota this year, a scout for an NFC team said, because of the new quarterback (in Green Bay). I think Green Bay still will be a solid team and be very, very good next year. I think it will be a very close race.
Favres successor, Aaron Rodgers, will be subject to ups and downs as a first-year starter, another NFC scout said.
Hes got to step up, the personnel man said. The guy (Favre) thats not there makes everybody better. Its hard to say about Green Bay coming off last year because they had such a good year. How are they going to be with a new quarterback?
The one executive who forecast Green Bay as the repeat champion did it mainly because of Rodgers.
It will be hard to unseat the Packers because I think the quarterback is going to play well, the AFC scout said. I really do believe that. Hes got a lot of weapons around him. Theyve got a good running game. Theyve got a good defense. And theyve got some guys outside who can catch it.
That personnel man predicted that Green Bay would win with a record of 11-5.
One of the scouts picking Minnesota had the Vikings finishing between 10-6 and 12-4 with the Packers second at about 10-6.
Another scout, who picked the Vikings first at 10-6, said the inter-conference matchup this season against the AFC South would lower records in the NFC North. In 2007, the AFC South went 42-22, the best record among the eight divisions, whereas the NFC North finished a surprising third at 35-29.
Houston went 8-8 last year and finished last in that division, one personnel man said. Green Bay could theoretically have a good, solid year if they get the play theyre hoping from Rodgers. Or if they have that inconsistency they could go 9-7, they could go 7-9.
An executive from an NFC North team had it Minnesota 11-5, Green Bay 8-8, Chicago 7-9 and Detroit 6-10.
The tops for Minnesota probably is 11-5 but McKinnie could affect that, said one scout, referring to the four-game suspension for Vikings tackle Bryant McKinnie. I guess Green Bay will be about a .500 team.
The Vikings havent won the division since 2000, when the four teams played in the old NFC Central. That seven-year drought has been equaled just once in Vikings history (1981, 1983-88) since the divisional structure was born in 1967.
Ive seen Minnesota live and on tape, one scout said. I think theyve got a chance to make some noise, I really do. Theyve done a hell of a job putting that thing together. Im kind of excited about Tarvaris Jackson. Looked to me like hes getting better.
In the decade, Green Bay has won four titles, Chicago has won three, Minnesota has won one and Detroit hasnt won any. The Lions havent taken the division since 1993, a drought of 14 years that was exceeded only once before (1967-81) in their history.
Bad offensive line, bad secondary, bad quarterbacks, one scout said. Detroit always finds a way.
As the oldest team in the division, the Lions hope to reverse a recent trend. The NFC Norths most senior team has gone 2-14, 3-13, 5-11, 10-6, 5-11, 3-13 and 7-9 in the last seven years.
The Lions enter the season with 16 players who werent on their 53-man roster or injured-reserve list in 2007, compared with 15 for Minnesota and 12 each for Chicago and Green Bay.
Of the 35 players drafted by division teams, seven were cut, one was placed in a military-reserve category and one went on IR. The total of 212 players on active rosters includes five original rookie free agents.
That list includes Chicago quarterback Caleb Hanie of Colorado State, Green Bay running back Kregg Lumpkin of Georgia and three Vikings, including tackle Drew Radovich of Southern California, linebacker Erin Henderson of Maryland and safety Husain Abdullah of Washington State.
Here is a list of the starting lineup changes for teams other than Green Bay, which made only two.
CHICAGO (8): WR Brandon Lloyd for Muhsin Muhammad, WR Devin Hester for Bernard Berrian, LT John St. Clair for Fred Miller, LG Josh Beekman for Ruben Brown, QB Kyle Orton for Rex Grossman, RB Matt Forte for Cedric Benson, DE Alex Brown for Mark Anderson and SS Kevin Payne for Brandon McGowan.
DETROIT (6): RB Kevin Smith for Kevin Jones, FB Jerome Felton for Jon Bradley, NT Chuck Darby for Shaun Rogers, SLB Alex Lewis for Boss Bailey, LC Brian Kelly for Fernando Bryant and SS Dwight Smith for Kenoy Kennedy.
MINNESOTA (4): WR Bernard Berrian for Troy Williamson, FB Thomas Tapeh for Tony Richardson, DE Jared Allen for Kenechi Udeze and FS Madieu Williams for Dwight Smith.
Really!!! are these guys :xcensoredx: for real?