By the TSB Staff
The NFC North will undoubtedly be a reality series this fall with the Brett Favre-Minnesota Vikings story likely to be “the lead” all year in most NFL content-producing mediums. #1 overall draft pick Matt Stafford helping rebuild the Detroit Lions, Jay Cutler bringing the Chicago Bears solid quarterback play for the first time since the Industrial Revolution will be huge as well. But what about under-the-radar NFC North storylines? What interesting developments have been under-reported?
The Bears’ loss of safety Mike Brown.
Even though he’s had injury problems, I was shocked at how little I heard about the Bears letting him go. I thought maybe it was because I was in California at the time, but it turned out my brother (who’s been in Chicago the whole year) didn’t even know about it until seeing that Brown signed with the Chiefs in June. Yes, Brown has lost a step with his injuries and age, but he played 15 games last year and proved that he can still make plays. More importantly, he brought leadership and experience- Brian Urlacher has always gotten more press, but I really believe that Brown was the heart and soul of the Bears’ defense.
Perhaps the main reason that I think Brown’s departure is a big story though, is because of the safeties that the Bears kept. If the Bears had some great, established safeties then I would have had an easier time understanding letting Brown go. But the team’s current list of safeties reads like this: Kevin Payne, Danieal Manning, Craig Steltz, Josh Bullocks, Al Afalava. I really hope some of the above guys can prove themselves as consistent NFL starters, but if the Bears’ safeties are repeatedly beaten this season, you have to wonder about the decision to let Brown go.
What’s missing? The answer is anything about the Green Bay Packers. As we’ve seen from even just the past week, ESPN will report every time Brett Favre involuntarily farts when he gets under center for the Vikings. It’s like a politician, where everyone is giving him advice on how to act, what he needs to do to gain his teammates trust, and the best way to overcome the doubts.
The Lions are a story because they are a team with a new image, the biggest being the new badass Lion on the helmet. The worst team in the league from the previous year always gets obligatory press coverage because it’s interesting to see how they change their approach on Sundays.
The Bears have a mini-Favre in Jay Cutler, who is a great talent but already a prima donna. And he doesn’t even have a winning record as a starter. How he responds to moving from a team with good receivers, a banged up running game, and a terrible defense to a team with a good running back, bad receivers, and an aging defense will be something to watch.
That leaves us with the Packers, and the biggest storyline that anyone can pick up will be the transition to the 3-4 and how Aaron Rodgers responds as a second-year starter. But honestly, name one story about the Packers that has made any sort of noise on ESPN or anywhere outside of Wisconsin. And no, the team’s reaction to Favre’s return doesn’t count. Green Bay has the talent and depth to be much better than last year’s 6-10 record indicates, and although Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy build the team through the draft, the fact that they only kept one coach from 2008 on the defensive side of the ball this season says something about the team’s sense of urgency. The whole Packer organization is an underreported and under-the-radar story, which is funny considering it is one of the top three most popular teams around the world. For proof, I offer this: My girlfriend spent a semester in Spain and her host brothers knew nothing about football, but they all had Green Bay Packer bobble-heads.
The coverage of the Favre signing was to the sports world what the death of Michael Jackson was to the pop culture masses.
I’m actually more curious to see if rookie WR Percy Harvin can unseat Devin Hester as the next American Idol of the return game. The kid can fly and actually might end up being a decent wide receiver as well. Did you hear that #23?
What ever happened to Devin Hester’s return game anyway? He is the Rueben Studdard of the NFL- minus about 200 lbs.
Other NFC North storylines- “My Tight End” sounds like the name of an alternative lifestyle reality show, but actually it’s a question. With the exception of “the Packers,” (again, minds out of the gutter), all North division QBs have a new tight end. Who will be the first TE to establish that “till free agency do we part” chemistry with their ball hurler? Cutler and Olsen, who have already established chemistry on the Chicago nightclub scene? Stafford and Pettigrew? Both are NFL “first timers,” who only have each other in a world of potential pass rushers? Or old man Favre and Visanthe Shiancoe? Given Favre’s love of men who can go long, anything is possible.
I know, the Jay Cutler talk and the love affair with him is ridiculous right now, and it’s getting just as tiresome as the Brett Favre story. Well…maybe not that bad…but it’s getting old. The thing people need to be talking about with the Bears is what happens if they are bad? I mean, there’s a lot of speculation about the receivers, and maybe it’s founded, but it would seem to me that there isn’t enough speculation about the defense.
What happens if Tommy Harris isn’t ok? What happens if Brian Urlacher continues to slide as he ages? What happens if Lance Briggs’ ego continues to grow and it gets in the way of his performance? What happens if Peanut Tillman isn’t ok, and doesn’t heal properly? What happens if Danieal Manning doesn’t get better? What if Nathan “The Interceptor” Vasher sucks again this season? What if no one steps up in the secondary? What if the defensive line STILL can’t get pressure on an opposing QB this season?
See? There’s a ton of questions. The defense isn’t a sure thing to be great. The offense BETTER score a lot of points, because the defense just might be giving up quite a few…
The point is, if the Bears aren’t a playoff team, and end up .500 or worse, is Lovie Smith’s job on the line? Jerry Angelo’s? Both have really put their necks on the line with the Cutler deal yet not bringing in any top WR (like Anquan Boldin). Shouldn’t they be on the hot seat just because of that?
In my opinion, it has to be Aaron Rodgers coming into his own as an elite QB in the NFL. He put up pretty ridiculous stats last year, especially for a first year starter (4,038 yards, 28 TDs, 13 INTs, and a 63.6% completion percentage). He managed to do it with the whole Brett Favre thing weighing down on him, which makes the feat even more impressive. While the mainstream media will be keeping an eye on Favre’s follies in Minnesota, Cutler’s conquest of Soldier Field, and Stafford’s starting gig in the Motor City, Aaron Rodgers will be quietly be amassing elite numbers for the green and gold at Lambeau Field.