By Mark Craig
While wondering whatever happened to Rex Daniel Grossman III, let’s take the last look in our stroll through the eight divisions.
The NFC N…AVRE, er North.
The division winner could be determined based on what the old man in Mississippi decides to do.
Then again, if you really break down the division, the Vikings won it last year without father Favre. Why can’t they win it again without him?
Yeah, it’s a new year, but the Vikings, with or without Favre, should be good enough to win the NFC North. (As for being good enough to advance in the playoffs, we’ll leave that argument for another time).
. The Lions are awful and rebuilding everything, including their super scary new logo, so count them out. That’s an easy one.
. The Packers are coming off a 6-10 season and are rebuilding a bad defense with a completely new philosophy. Their best defensive player, Aaron Kampman, will be playing out of position, and two rookies, NT B.J. Raji and OLB Clay Matthews, will be counted on heavily.
. The Bears are coming off a 9-7 season and have their best quarterback in decades in Jay Cutler. But if a good quarterback has no one to play catch with, is he still a good quarterback? Plus, the NFL frowns on pass rushers using walkers, so Chicago’s old-timers might have to continue standing there and doing nothing, like they did all last season.
I know Brett needs to be coddled. He needs to be told he’s the greatest and Ted Thompson is the eternal enemy of all mankind. I do think the Vikings should sign Favre if he’s healthy enough to play. But for purposes of this discussion, I also think the Vikings should win the NFC North with or without him.
They have the league’s best running back (Adrian Peterson), not to mention crucial depth at that position; the best defensive line; a nice mixture of talent at receiver (Bernard Berrian and now Percy Harvin); and a now-underrated tight end (Vinsanthe Shiancoe). The offensive line is a question mark because of new faces at center and right tackle.
And, of course, QB has been the one massive issue since 2006. Sage Rosenfels and/or Tarvaris Jackson can succeed 80 percent of the time by just not messing up. But it’s that 20 percent when they’ll have to make a play that could determine the success or failure of the season.
The Vikings won the division last year with Gus Frerotte and T-Jack. And I’d consider Sage an upgrade over Gus because Sage can actually move his feet to avoid getting easily mugged.
Some other thoughts …
. In Chicago, coach Lovie Smith is taking control of the aging, 21st-ranked defense. Someone is getting a little nervous about being 16-16 and 0-0 in the playoffs since appearing in the Super Bowl.
. Is it me or did the Bears take a great return man (Devin Hester) and make him an average return man who’s a below-average receiver?
. Does anyone really think Daunte Culpepper is going to start more games than Matthew Stafford this season? Sorry, Daunte. It’s cool that you lost those 30 pounds, but how in the world do the Lions sell themselves to their fans without the hope that No. 1 overall pick Matthew Stafford provides. Several new faces were added on defense. To generate any kind of excitement for the team, the Lions have to get Stafford up and running with veteran WR Calvin Johnson and fellow first-round draft pick TE Brandon Pettigrew ASAP.
. Yeah, Cutler cost the Bears two first-rounders and a third-rounder. Yeah, he was a Pro Bowl player last year. But will he make an immediate impact with few weapons and a shaky offensive line?
. With that in mind, until I see Cutler in the Bears’ offense, I’d have to say the best quarterback in the division going into the season is Aaron Rodgers. Two years ago, the Packers were 13-3 and made the NFC title game with Favre. Last year, they were 6-10 without Favre, but nobody blamed the collapse on Rodgers. That tells you how well he played. He completed 63.6 percent of his passes for 4,038 yards, 28 TDs and 13 interceptions. He has a year of experience and good skill players around him. If the offensive line fills its many holes, Rodgers could have an even better season this year.
. Is Brad Childress’ job in jeopardy? Basically, all coaches are in danger every year. Just look at what has happened the past two years. Guys who have won Super Bowls (Mike Shanahan, Jon Gruden, Brian Billick) have all been fired. I DO NOT expect Childress to be fired. BUT … if he misses the playoffs with a relatively healthy team or goes one-and-done at home in the playoffs again, the pressure to fire him and start over with one of the many big-name coaches who are available will be strong. He knows that’s part of the job.