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North Division

In order of predicted finish (2008 record)

September 03, 2009|Sam Farmer

Green Bay Packers (6-10)

Big questions: How will the Packers adjust to their transition to a 3-4 defense, which will put some of their players in unfamiliar spots? Pro Bowl defensive end Aaron Kampman moves to outside linebacker with more coverage responsibilities, and Pro Bowl corner Al Harris -- a bump-and-run expert -- will be in a lot more zone. On offense, quarterback Aaron Rodgers played through a dislocated throwing shoulder last season. Can he hold up for 16 games?

Big moves: Green Bay has retooled the right side of its offensive line and is without longtime right tackle Mark Tauscher, who gave up only 16 sacks in 10 seasons. The team's two first-round picks missed a lot of camp -- B.J. Raji (contract) and Clay Matthews (hamstring) -- but both should contribute.

Bottom line: If the offensive line holds up, and the defense makes a smooth transition to the new scheme, the Packers could be the surprise team in the division.

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Minnesota

Vikings (10-6)

Big questions: Is Brett Favre the ingredient the Vikings needed to finally get back to the Super Bowl? Can a 39-year-old quarterback step into an offense -- even one he knows well -- and, on short notice, hit the ground running? Brad Childress has essentially bet his job on it. Can Adrian Peterson, the 2008 rushing champion, have an encore when teams are going to be gearing up even more to stop him?

Big moves: Before Favre was added, the Vikings traded for quarterback Sage Rosenfels and drafted speedy receiver Percy Harvin, who probably will be an all-purpose threat. Losing the leadership of center Matt Birk and safety Darren Sharper hurts.

Bottom line: This could be the season for the Vikings, who believe they have the right quarterback to complement Peterson and also have the league's best rushing defense two years running. Favre is coming off surgery on his throwing arm, and a lot hinges on how much he has left.

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Chicago Bears (9-7)

Big questions: Do the Bears really have a franchise quarterback in Jay Cutler, or will he be a different player when he's not playing behind Denver's line and throwing to those Broncos receivers? Can Rod Marinelli get the defensive line back on track? Will Tommie Harris finally play up to the big contract extension he got last summer? Does left tackle Orlando Pace still have the legs to finish his stellar career the way he wants to?

Big moves: Clearly, the addition of Cutler was the headline-grabbing move of the off-season. But this franchise was built on defense, and Lovie Smith replaced the coaches at all three levels on that side of the ball. Evidently, he didn't think it was the players or the scheme. We'll see.

Bottom line: For years, the NFC North has struggled to contribute two highly competitive teams to the mix. This year there could be three. The No. 1 key for the Bears will be getting their defense back up to some semblance of its 2006 form.

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Detroit Lions (0-16)

Big questions: Will Jim Schwartz change the culture of losing for a downtrodden franchise that has won only 10 games over the last three seasons? Can Daunte Culpepper start at quarterback long enough to give No. 1 pick Matthew Stafford a chance to observe and learn? Will Detroit's huge influx of free agents make a difference?

Big moves: The Lions were compulsive shoppers in the free-agent market, picking up several fairly significant names, including linebackers Larry Foote and Julian Peterson; defensive tackle Grady Jackson; cornerbacks Phillip Buchanon and Anthony Henry; receiver Dennis Northcutt; and tackle Jon Jansen.

Bottom line: With Schwartz calling the shots, the Lions should be vastly improved on defense (they finished 32nd the last two seasons). Rookie safety Louis Delmas and tight end Brandon Pettigrew look promising too. But don't look for a Dolphins-type turnaround.

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