GREEN BAY PACKERS
Depending on your point of view, last year was the year where Brett Favre officially became Jesus' younger brother or received such an Obama like amount of fawning over by the media that you had to be hospitalized for dehydration after vomiting so much.
The Packers built on a strong finish to the the 2006 season, and ran away with the NFC North in 2007. While the talented young defense certainly had something to do with it, it was the offense, and specifically the passing game that led the way. The Packers ranked 3rd in the league in yards per pass attempt, aided by another 1000 yard season by Donald Driver, and a breakout, 12 TD season from second year player Greg Jennings.
When the Cowboys got bumped from the NFC playoffs in the divsional round, the Packers found themselves with an NFC Championship game at Lambeau Field. They, of course, were expected to win. The game went to OT, where Favre threw an INT on the first drive, setting up a game winning field goal for the Giants.
You may have heard that Brett Favre retired this offseason, but now wants to come back. The latest is that the Packers are trying to trade him, probably to either the Jets or the Bucs, but since they haven't been able to so far he plans to report to Packers camp. I'm not going to get into why he retired when he didn't want to retire or who is right or wrong because this all so tiresome I'm ready to drink some Drano just so I don't have to listen to it all anymore.
All I know is the NFL is a cold, cold business, and I seem to remember Joe Montana finishing his career in a Chiefs uniform, and he won a hell of lot more Super Bowls than Favre has. What's keeping the Packers from releasing Favre and letting him go where he pleases is the coincidence that they play in a division where their 2 chief rivals, the Vikings and Bears, are in desperate need of a quarterback, and they want to make sure he doesn't end up in either of those places. At the same time, they want Aaron Rodgers to be their starting quarterback, and are trying to engineer a situation where Favre is safely packed off to a team that the Packers don't play twice a year. Most likely, that's what's going to happen, and when it does, Favre will almost certainly be going to a team with a lot fewer weapons than what he had in Green Bay last year, and he will struggle to come anywhere near the level of performance he reached in 2007.
Now, as for the rest of the team, Ryan Grant was a revelation at running back last season, seizing the starting job midway thru and averaging 5.1 yards a carry. Grant is now playing contract footsy with the team, which I'm sure is going to end up in him probably not endearing himself to the franchise that much, and setting him up to lose his job to Brandon Jackson, who was the starter at the beginning of last year but couldn't keep the job.
The receiving corps remains excellent, with Driver and Jennings and James Jones forming one of the leagues most formidable trios.
One area of concern is in the secondary. The defense actually took a step back last year, and part of the reason was that corners Charles Woodson and Al Harris were both another year older. The defense ranked 12th in the league in yards per pass attempt, which isn't horrible, but isn't going to win you a Super Bowl either. Having a pair of pass rushers like Aaron Kampman (12 sacks, 21 hurries), and Kabeer Gbaja Biamila (9 1/2 sacks) provides insurance for that secondary, but the loss of DT Corey Williams, who not only was the line's best run stopper, but also had 7 sacks from the tackle position (which is very good) is going to hurt.
HERE'S YOUR FORECAST
If you have a burning need to feel bad for an NFL player, feel bad for Aaron Rodgers. He will be under an electron microscope all season. He's in a good situation though, and has all the tools around him to succeed, and I don't think the offense will fall off that much with him running it. For what it's worth, I'll be gentle with him, if only because I can't stand anymore Favre veneration. Let's call the Packers a playoff team.
A popular axiom amongst people who don't really understand today's game is that the formula for winning is "Run the ball and stop the run". Well, the Vikings ranked 1st in the league in yards per rushing attempt last year, and 2nd in the league in fewest yards allowed per rushing attempt. I mean, you can't do much better than that, right? So, if that theory is right, it should have been the Vikings going 16-0, and not the New England team that ranked 14th in Y/RA on offense, and 26th on defense.
But the Vikings didn't go 16-0, they went 8-8, and missed the playoffs, somehow. This despite having rookie Adrian Peterson set the world on fire, averaging 5.6 yards a carry en route to 1344 rushing yards and 12 TDs, and his complement, Chester Taylor, averaging 5.4 yards and finishing with 848 yards.
The Vikings failed because a. they couldn't stop the pass, and b. they couldn't throw the ball. They helped prove that in the 21st century, the NFL is a passing league.
Failing so badly in those 2 areas gave the Vikings the luxury of knowing what they needed to fix. To fix the pass defense, they made a huge trade for pass rusher Jared Allen, who led the league with 15 1/2 sacks with KC last year. The pass rush was anemic last year, so Allen should go a long way toward making it harder for teams to throw the ball deep on the Vikings. I'm going to go ahead and give them a thumbs up on fixing that pass defense.
As for their passing offense, Tarvaris Jackson is still the QB. Know this, time child, if the Vikings don't make the playoffs this year, it'll be Tarv that gets blamed, and probably rightly so. The Vikings believe in him. I don't really know why, but maybe they know more than me. I am usually right about QBs though. I cite David Carr as proof.
Jackson will have one more weapon at his disposal this year, and that's former Bears WR Bernard Berrian, who knows a thing or two about making an incompetent QB look better than he is, so he looks like an ideal fit.
HERE'S YOUR FORECAST
The difference between this year's team, which some say is a Super Bowl contender, and last year's 8-8 squad is Jared Allen and Bernard Berrian. That's who the Vikings have entrusted with righting what was wrong with the team last year. They'll also need Tarvaris Jackson to make a great leap forward, which he might, or might not. Still, you don't need to be a great team to make the playoffs in the NFC, you need only be a good team, and the Vikings are that. They'll get to the postseason this year.