It is baseball season, but there are plenty of ways to get your fill of football too. Our own Hank Koebler, IV is on the beat making his way across the NFL landscape exhaustively covering team after team. These previews will get you up to snuff with everything you need to know about the transition to each 2010 team.
Each preview covers the team's outlook and projection for the 2010 season. We've got in depth coverage of each team's offense, defense and special teams. We'll cover who's in and who's out, rookies, players in their prime and savvy veterans. Finally, we'll look at strategy and style of play on both sides of the ball, as well detailed information about coaches and players.
Check back often between now and the September 9th season kick-off as new team previews are going up almost every day. Clicking on the NFL Football in the right sidebar will take you right to the latest previews each time you come back.
Today Hank is previewing the NFC North teams, the Minnesota Vikings, Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, and Detroit Lions.
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AFC South Predicted Finish
Although the "Final Four" rule of the uncapped offseason prevented the Vikings from making any big moves, they didn't have to. They retained every single starter on offense and defense, which is virtually unheard of in today's free-agency environment. It will be a huge advantage, as a team's on-field chemistry is an underrated but incredibly important factor in winning football games. The Vikings should have no problem winning the NFC North for the third year in a row, and they could very well go to the Super Bowl.
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It's uncommon for a team to return all of its starters like the Vikings will this year, but it's even more uncommon for two teams in the same division to do so. However, this is exactly the case for the NFC North, where the Packers and Vikings lost a total of zero starters in free agency this offseason. This means the Packers didn't have to replace any losses, and were able to focus their entire draft on shoring up their weaknesses. Because the Vikings beat the Packers twice last year, and the teams' rosters changed so little, the Vikings have a slight edge in the divisional race. However, it would be an enormous surprise if the Packers missed the playoffs this year.
This team's slim playoff hopes are contingent on a large number of players being effective after injury or poor performance kept them from playing as well as they should have in 2009. There are simply too many variables in the equation for the Bears to have a good shot at being a playoff team. The biggest concern is their pass rush, combined with their lack of depth at cornerback. When forced into nickel packages, the Bears' defense is going to be torn apart as opposing quarterbacks sit in the pocket untouched. Also, Chicago's schedule cannot be considered remotely favorable. Along with the difficult task of playing the Packers and Vikings twice, the Bears have to face the brutal AFC East for their inter-conference games. For these reasons, it is extremely difficult to imagine 2010 as the first year the Bears go back to the playoffs since their appearance in Super Bowl XLI.
The bad news for Detroit fans is that 2010 will most likely not be a playoff year. The good news is, this team finally seems to be headed in the right direction after being in the dreaded "rebuilding" phase since Barry Sanders retired. However, they're still two or three good offseasons away from being playoff contenders. One of the reasons their rebuilding has progressed more slowly than it should have was the drafting of Matthew Stafford. Even if he becomes a Hall of Famer, it doesn't mean that the Lions didn't have more pressing needs to fill while allowing Daunte Culpepper, an adequate starter, to hold the reins for another year or two. It makes no sense to draft a quarterback if you plan on starting him immediately when your offensive line can't protect him. Stafford missed six games due to injury, and when he did play, he was forced to scramble around and make throws on the run. Stafford wasn't drafted 1st overall because he was the player who could help the Lions the most. He was drafted 1st overall to sell optimism. No matter how badly the team does in their first year, the team can say that their new quarterback will only get better, and the team will get better with him. Instead of a defensive playmaker or an offensive lineman, the Lions opted for a short-term solution that would placate the fans. Sadly, this institutional cowardice was practiced yet again in this year's draft, when Sam Bradford was selected to play behind the Rams' struggling offensive line. This practice of selecting a quarterback so early in the draft as a panacea for the team's entirety of woes is shortsighted, and is a major reason why so many highly-selected quarterbacks fail in the NFL. As a result of their selection of Stafford, the Lions are farther behind than they should be in their quest to become playoff contenders. - Hank Koebler, IV
Hank is a sports journalist attending the University of Missouri's school of journalism.