With preseason games about to commence, its time to check in on our NFC North counterparts to see if they've made the strides necessary to unseat the division champion Bears. Everybody Jump, Jump!
We've analyzed the Bears to death, and with the declaration of our starting five offensive lineman set (for now) we need to breakdown our NFC North villains and see if they've upgraded or downgraded their team from last year.
The bandwagon for Detroit was starting to fill up as the Lions closed last season on a four game winning streak, and was near capacity after a strong draft. However, the ghosts of failures past are lingering again and have tempered the expectations of this supposed team on the rise.
Draft class: The Lions highly touted draft class is looking a little less touted these days, with first-round pick Nick Fairley sidelined for most of preseason with a foot injury, second-round pick Mikel Leshoure's Achilles injury ending his season before it started, and possible slot receiver Titus Young suffering a leg injury during the first day of practice that has prevented him from fully participating in drills.
Other injuries: Tackles Jeff Backus, Gosder Cherilus, and Jason Fox have been limited in practice due to a variety of injuries. Maurice Morris broke his hand, and with the Leshoure injury, have left the Lions to count on new additions Jerome Harrison and Mike Bell as backfield options behind Jahvid Best.
Secondary concerns: Bringing back Chris Houston and signing Eric Wright are solid moves, but Alphonso Smith has been limited due to injuries, and the group lacks a proven player outside of safety Louis Delmas.
Linebacker additions: Adding Justin Durant, a possible Bears free agent interest, upgrades a group lacking playmakers, but will he be enough?
Verdict: Upgrade, but skeptical. Injuries have Millen-bitten this team during camp, and not enough significant upgrades were made to legitimize their back seven on defense. The team's better, but on paper only due to injuries.
Bringin' em Back: Linebackers A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop signed big contracts to stay with the team, making Barnett an expensive redundancy. Kuhn and James Jones both returned as well, finding the FA market this year not as attractive as expected. Cullen Jenkins was lost, but the team has enough promising young lineman to hopefully fill that gap with, including Mike Neal.
Goodbye Depth: In addition to Barnett, linebackers Brady Poppinga and Brandon Chillar were released, as was former first-round disappointment Justin Harrell. While these guys aren't household names, their releases may affect the great depth the Packers relied on last year on defense to overcome numerous injuries.
Sherrod's the Man: Derek Sherrod figures to play a big role on the offensive line with Mark Tauscher gone. While Sherrod wasn't as highly rated a prospect as Gabe Carimi, he'll benefit from working alongside a solid veteran line.
Verdict: Slight upgrade. Its hard to do better than winning the Super Bowl, but the Packers brought back some key guys while adding youth to a tackle position older than Wisconsin cheddar.
The "Chilly and the Farve" saga is over for the Vikings, and stadium roof permitting, this is a team looking to bounce back from a disastrous 2010 season.
New Offensive Scheme and Quarterbacks: The Vikings have to install new O.C. Bill Musgrave's offense in a short window while incorporating new quarterbacks Donovan McNabb and Christian Ponder. While questions surround both QBs, the real test will be if the new system can insulate either quarterback enough to be productive while letting Peterson run rampant.
Offensive Personnel Questions: Minnesota replaced potential stud Sidney Rice with debatable #2 Michael Jenkins, which wouldn't be a huge deal if Percy Harvin's health (migraines) wasn't an issue. Berrian's back and may have a bigger role, but the offensive line has quickly gone from a team strength to a team concern. Mount McKinnie was released for weighing 874 pounds (approximately) and replaced by Charlie Johnson from the Colts and Ryan Cook. Steve Hutchinson is aging, Loadholt's been up-and-down so far, and Sullivan has gone from stud to dud quickly enough to bounce back, but will he?
Defensive Departures: With the Williams wall being torn down with the release of Pat, the problem gets compounded with Ray Edwards leaving for big money to Atlanta and a secondary counting on a guy with two bad ACL's (Cedric Griffin). Safety Madieu Williams' departure is probably for the best, and Antoine Winfield is still a bad, bad, man, but this looks like a defense in transition, not on the rise.
Verdict: Downgrade. The Vikings could be fine in the short term with McNabb, and possibly okay in the long-term if Ponder works out, but for this year, implementing a new system on the fly offensively while losing some talent on defense doesn't bode well for a team possibly with L.A. dreams.