20 July 2006

The barren wastelands of the NFC North

So I guess I'll do the NFC North now. I was gonna do this one last week but just slacked. This division rots. I'm pretty sure all four teams from the NFCE could win this division outright. Think about that for a moment.

Chicago Bears

The Bears are one of those teams I just refuse to believe in no matter what they do right. Even when they won thirteen games a few years ago, I knew they were bound to lose in the playoffs right away, knew they were gonna bomb again next year, and actually felt sorry for them, because it added a couple extra seasons of abject futility to the putrid Dick Jauron era. Seriously, how is this man currently employed?

Lovie Smith I like, so I'm kind of torn here. could he be building something? Possibly. The division seems eminently winable. But still, it's the Bears. How good can they be, really?

Well, let's see, if Rex Grossman stays healthy blah blah blah we all know that ain't happenin', Brian Griese's starting ten games for this team. Which like, whatever, I mean they won last year with Good Time Kyle Orton, arguably a worse QB than Brooks Bollinger himself. It makes no diference who the QB is, which is why Chicago is the magical land where WRs' careers go to die. Their number two man last year was Justin Gage. He had 31 catches. Not a typo.

What matters is Jones and Benson in the backfield and the defense. The line is basically the same, so the running game shouldn't miss a beat. But really, this team is all defense, an imbalance the team wisely addressed in the draft by spending four of their first five picks on more defensive players. To compensate, of course, for no significant losses to the unit in the offseason. They even signed Ricky Manning, who could probably start for a lot of teams, to play nickel back. Hey, don't get me wrong, defense wins championships, we all know that, but offense wins games.

Chicago, by the way, is the home of northern urban blues and Chess Records, brought up from the south by migrant workers as they moved north to find jobs in the booming industrial cities of the midwest. And the locus of American post-rock during its brief 90s boom, being home of Thrill Jockey and all.

Total wins: 9
Sounds right. Let's say four division (split MN and GB), two NFCW (SF and @AZ or @StL) and two AFCE (Buf, @NYJ). That's eight, and the other two (@NYG, TB at home in December) seem pretty winnable. Lotta gimmes on that schedule; this one might be worth a shot. Fine: over.

Division title: 5-9
They'll probably take it, which is why the odds are so short, but why would you bet this? Why would you take any less-than-one odds on something this far from a sure thing?

Super Bowl champ: 16-1
Hell no. I'm not even convinced they'll win a playoff game, even though they'll probably make it in.

Detroit Lions

You gotta feel sorry for Lions fans at this point. Hopeless team, no end in sight, Millen inexplicably still employed, and to top it all off they live in Detroit.

You could argue that this team has never really recovered from Barry Sanders's retirement. I however, prefer to think that the Lions have never recovered from Bobby Ross's retirement. Quick recap: after leading Georgia Tech to a national title in 1990 and the Chargers to the Super Bowl a few years later (where they got spanked by the Niners; Steve Young's only ring, incidentally), Ross led the Lions to a couple of .500-or-so seasons before unexpectedly retiring mid-season in 2000 while the Lions still had a winning record (surprise: didn't last). He then laid low for a few years before resurfacing as the highest paid federal employee in the United States (true!), where he has led the U.S. Military Academy's Black Knights to six wins in two seasons and has yet to beat Navy.

And today? Millen has hired Rod Marinelli, who's never been a head coach and spent the past ten years as Tampa's D-Line coach. Apprenticing under Monte Kiffin worked for Herm Edwards, so, fine, so far so good. Marinelli then hired Make Martz to run the offense. Great offensive mind, clearly more suited to be a coordinator than a head coach, so again, good.

But really, who cares? This team will continue to stink as long as Millen's running the show. This year will feature the careers of three promising young WRs becoming collateral damage in the QB battle between Josh McCown and Jon Kitna. Look at those names! This franchise hasn't had a good QB since George Plimpton. And beyond that? A full pallette of mediocrity at pretty much every other position. Yawn.

Detroit, by the way, is the birthplace of two wildly disparate musical styles: bluegrass, an urbanised form of old-time Appalacian folk music brought up from the south by migrant workers as they moved north to find jobs in the booming industrial cities of the midwest (um, pattern?), and techno, arguably the product of youthful malaise resulting from the scarcity of jobs in the decaying industrial cities of the midwest. What goes up, must come down.

Total wins: 7
Honestly? Seems high. Let's say they take two division (split with GB and either MN or Chi), two NFCW (SF and @StL, Martz revenge factor alone on the latter) one AFCE (Buf or @NYJ). That's only five, and I don't see them beating Atl or @Dal, unless Dal is resting starters week 17, but I doubt it considering the competition in the NFCE. Take the under.

Division title: 5-1
Not even this division, and that's saying something.

Super Bowl champ: 40-1
Oddly low considering that there're a few hundreds on the board (Buf, Hou, even TN). So it's not gonna happen, plus the odds suck. Think I'll pass on this one.

Green Bay Packers

I'll bet Mike McCarthy is secretly kind of pissed that Favre's coming back. He's Favre's former position "coach", which means he already knows that Favre is essentially uncoachable. He's got a first-round QB with a year on the sidelines under his belt, and really, what can a young QB learn by watching Brett Favre? How to ignore the play that's called and just hot dog it? How to rely on your once-dominant natural talent instead of studying the gameplan? How to throw perfect spirals into the arms of opposing DBs? If McCarthy had any balls he'd bench Favre and just start Rogers once the team goes about 2-6 or so for the first half of the season, but I really don't see that happening. The worst part of coaching a living legend like Favre is that he calls his own shots.

Favre or no Favre, this was gonna be a rebuilding year anyway. The O-line's decent but aging, they lost their best WR (who didn't play last year anyway), the RB position is in flux. The defense looks decent, though; I'm thinking A.J. Hawk could join Harris and KGB as a star in each unit anchoring a strong all-around side. If Rogers is ready to go and the front office drafts a strong RB, this team could be contending next year. And even this year might be a few wins better than the diaster some people are predicting.

Green Bay, as far as I know, has no culture outside of the Packers. If it's ever produced any significant music, I don't know about it. Which doesn't mean it hasn't, mind you.

Total wins: 6
Could they beat this? Let's give 'em two division (split Det and either Chi or MN), two NFCW (anybody but @Sea), one AFCE (@Buf or NYJ) and one more (NO, probably not @Phi). That's six. Skip this one.

Division title: 6-1
Not completely out of the question, and those are pretty good odds if you like long shots, but... nah.

Super Bowl champ: 50-1
Not this year, Brett. You'll always have '96. Actually, January '97, but whatever.

Minneapolis Vikings

Big changes afoot here, and they could pay off handsomely. New coach, new running game, new, uh, "new" QB. Who's 38 years old. And played here ten years ago. So not really new at all.

Brad Childress used to run the Eagles' offense, which most years consisted of Don McNabb and a bunch of warm bodies, so he doesn't necessarily need a big pile of talent to put together a good unit. Having said that, he's got plenty of it anyway. The running game will consist of a starting-calibre RB with limited mileage (Taylor) running behind one of the best left sides in the league (Hutchinson, the key to Shaun Alexander's line, fits right in between McKinnie and Birk) and the FB who used to block for Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson. What's not to like?

The defense is probably better than it ever was under Denny Green, starting with a strong line up front. Granted, the secondary consists mostly of safeties playing CB, but Winfield is a really good safety (at CB) who hits hard. And on days when Fred Smoot feels like showing up, which you gotta figure like, half the games or something, they'll even have a real starting CB. In fact, the more I look at it the more I like this team.

Minneapolis, by the way, was the home of a vibrant underground music scene in the mid-80s and, as American hardcore punk began to evolve into a more sophisticated breed of rock music (an "alternative" if you will, and eventually we all would, to mainstream rock), became one of the first significant music cities outside of New York and L.A., led by not one but two class-of-'84 bands (Husker Du and the Replacements) and the great Twin/Tone Records.

Total wins: 8
Why not? Four division (Split Chi and GB), three NFCW (all but @Sea) and two AFCE (@Buf and NYJ) gives them nine already, though they probably won't get another win between @Was and Car. Still, I think this looks like a better-than-.500 team overall, so I'm going with the over.

Division title: 5-2
Could happen, could happen. I don't have much faith in Chi and they're the only real competition, so why not? Decent odds, too; let's take it.

Super Bowl champ: 30-1
And hell, while we're at it, you know what? Who's to say these guys couldn't get hot at the right time, grab a home game if they take the division, carry a little momentum into the playoffs... nah, fuck it, let's stay realistic here.


Chi's the defending champ and the repeat is theirs to lose, but I think they may be capable of doing just that. That leaves MN as the only really viable option to replace them. Either way, whoever wins this division is getting stomped at home by a wild card team in the first week of the playoffs.

The picks: Chi > 9, Det < 7, MN > 8, MN 5-2 NFCN.


Anonymous said...

Favre is a joke!

Anonymous said...

I agree