OVERVIEW: NFC North
Look for a changing of the guard In the NFC North in 2005 as I fully expect to see the Green Bay Packers pass the torch to the Vikings and finish below the .500 mark, Pack QB Brett Favre has spent 14 of his 15 NFL seasons in Green Bay and has had a Hall of Fame career which includes the honor of being the NFLs only three time MVP, Favre also has the distinction of being the NFLs Iron Man with regard to his starting 225 consecutive games.
However, Favre will turn 36 yrs old on October 10 and his offensive line is significantly weaker with the key losses of starting offensive guards Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle, and those losses are in addition to losing starting S Darren Sharper and bit players S Michael Hawthorne and S Bhawoh Jue who provided depth in an already weak defensive secondary.
Other than snagging Favres replacement in QB Aaron Rogers with their top draft selection the Packers had a very average draft which is not a good thing when considering that they really didnt pick up anyone of consequence in free agency, Green Bay opened up their 2004 campaign with a 1-4 straight up and ATS record which includes losing their first three home games to the likes of the Bears, the Giants, and the Titans which is not a good sign considering that these three teams finished up 2004 with a combined record of 16-32 straight up.
The Vikings appear to be the heir apparent to the NFC North throne as the ousting of WR Randy Moss who was nothing but a distraction along with the best draft of any team in the division and a good free agent crop might just turn these Vikings into a serious contender for the overall NFC crown when the smoke clears.
However, with that being said the real question is whether the Vikings can overcome the distraction of the team being sold as well as the silly game time decisions and poor clock management of HC Mike Tice who if you recall was busted for scalping Super Bowl tickets.
Detroit figures to give the Vikings a battle for the crown as long as they can remain healthy, Lion HC Steve Mariucci is in his third year with the organization and needs to make strides this year if he wants GM Matt Millen to hang around after 2005, Steve Mariucci was brought in after the Lions finished 2001 and 2002 with a combined record of 5-27 straight up and 15-16-1 ATS.
In Mariuccis two seasons with the Lions they have gone 11-21 straight up and 17-15 ATS which means although slowly there has been improvement, the Lions selected three Pac-10 players with their top three choices by drafting WR Mike Williams out of USC with their top selection which makes this the third straight draft that a WR was chosen with the Lions first overall pick, with the Lions second pick they chose DT Shaun Cody out of USC and with their third choice they picked CB Stanley Wilson out of Stanford.
The Lions got a possible steal in the fifth round with QB Dan Orlovsky out of Connecticut, Detroit was also very active in the free agent wars by picking up QB Jeff Garcia who used to play for Mariucci in San Francisco and thus knows this offense very well, if QB Joey Harrington continues to under perform expect to see a switch to Garcia. The additions of problem child WR Kevin Johnson and TE Marcus Pollard will bring veteran leadership to the offense.
HC Lovie Smith and his Bears continue to be a work in progress as they once again will bring up the rear in 2005, windy city faithful had high hopes for this team following a 13-4 straight up and 11-5-1 ATS season in 2001, however, in the three seasons since that break out year of 2001 these Bears have tallied a dismal 16-32 straight up and 20-28 ATS record and the song will remain the same in 2005 as the Bears used their top draft choice on RB Cedric Benson.
Benson will in all likelihood be one heck of a back, the problem lies in the fact that the Bears dont have an offensive line to block for the poor guy, Chicagos terrible offensive line play in 2004 was the root cause of the Bears seeing three QBs including Rex Grossman sidelined with injuries, its head shaking stuff to consider that this offensive line allowed a staggering 66 sacks which in the end caused the Bears to finish with an overall offensive ranking of 32nd in the league.
In closing I see the NFC North as a race between the Vikings and Lions for the top spot with the Packers coming in third and Chicago bringing up the rear, if not for the Vikings bad game time coaching I would expect to see them win this division handily, however, Viking HC Mike Tice will probably cost his team two close losses via bad decisions when its said and done.
The Vikings will probably be a public darling for most of the season so not much Value will be found by backing them, instead look to play against the Vikes when they are installed as road favorites this season as they are 4-10 ATS in this role over the past four years, the Vikings also tend to be way over valued by the public when playing at home as evidenced by the Vikes 1-10 ATS record as a home favorite of more than six points.
Look to jump on the Lion bandwagon this season when they are installed as road doggies, Detroit posted a road mark of 3-5 straight up and 5-3 ATS in 2004 which is eye opening stuff when considering that they had lost 24 straight road games prior to 2004, if these Lions can remain healthy and QB Joey Harrington or Jeff Garcia have a decent season these Lions will have an offense that can keep them in any game they play.
Jim Campbell is one of the nations most respected Sports Handicappers, he specializes in College and Pro Football, you can visit Jim at his website located at footballforecastor.com for all of your handicapping needs including free play selections, College and NFL stats, trends and award winning analysis on upcoming games.
With over 30 plus years experience in the handicapping profession Jim has built a solid reputation, his web based handicapping service at footballforecastor.com as been in existence since 1997 and year after year proves to be one of the very best handicapping services in America.