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NFC DIVISIONAL PREVIEW

North

September 01, 2007|David Wharton

2007 in predicted order of finish . . .

* 1. Chicago: How often does a reigning conference champion face so many question marks? Can the beleaguered Rex Grossman mature into a quarterback who avoids turnovers? Can running back Cedric Benson fill the vacancy left by Thomas Jones' departure to the New York Jets? And does any of this matter? The Bears still have an intimidating defense that only gets tougher with the addition of Adam Archuleta at safety. Returner Devin Hester will bring his big-play threat to the offense as a receiver. Despite a schedule that opens with San Diego, Kansas City and Dallas, they aren't likely to be threatened in a mediocre division.

* 2. Green Bay: Something old, something new. The Packers need Brett Favre to squeeze one more winning season from his Hall of Fame career as he chases Dan Marino's passing records. Favre was upset about the front office not trying harder to sign Randy Moss, but he should be just as worried about replacing Ahman Green, who anchored the running back spot at Lambeau Field for so many years before leaving for the Houston Texans. Overlooked is a defense that got better as the 2006 season progressed, creating 33 turnovers and finishing 12th in the league. If linebacker A.J. Hawk and colleagues can continue to improve, Favre might not need so much magic.

* 3. Detroit: The ghosts of seasons past -- top draft picks such as quarterback Joey Harrington and receivers Charles Rogers and Mike Williams, none of whom panned out -- are long gone. Now Coach Rod Marinelli has his own nucleus of journeyman quarterback Jon Kitna and highly touted wideouts Roy Williams and Calvin Johnson. Tatum Bell arrives from Denver to bolster the running game, but without better play along the troubled offensive line nothing changes. The defense, which ranked near the bottom of the league last year, must also improve. The real question is: When will Detroit give up on team President Matt Millen?

* 4. Minnesota: Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson joins veteran Chester Taylor in the backfield of a Vikings offense that has a decent line but struggled to move the ball last season. They will be called on to take some heat off Tarvaris Jackson, the young and barely tested quarterback who needs to master Coach Brad Childress' West Coast offense. Minnesota must also play smarter than the team that had a league-high 123 penalties on offense last season. The defense is a slightly brighter spot -- tops against the rush last year, not so good against the pass -- but probably not bright enough to turn the Vikings into contenders.

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