Most Overlooked NFC North Storylines

staffordgrinding

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?

SAM SVOBODA

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.


JAKE MCCORMICK

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.bearstrainingcamp2

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.

SOXMAN

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.bearstrainingcamp1

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.


PAUL SCHMIDT

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?vikingsheadshadow

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?

SHAYMUS MCLAUGHLIN

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.

Minnesota Minutes

By Andy Weise

-Good ole Peter King is stirring the pot once again in Minnesota after his recent interview on PTI suggesting that if Brett Favre were to return another season in the NFL, he’d want to play for the Minnesota Vikings. Cue up the endless amounts of speculation and most likely another set of tampering suspicions that the Vikings organization will endure if Favre actually does end up here in Minnesota. I’ve always said from day one, he can play for Minnesota for a year – that will be fine with me as I just want to see the expression on the face of Packers fans when their hero runs out wearing white, purple and gold.

-The Minnesota Twins are pushing the debut of more commercials this year focusing on the marketing of Target Field, the new home of the Twins that will open a year from now. I’m curious if the money that no longer goes to the payroll of the players is going to this product rollout. After trading Johan Santana and letting Torii Hunter walk a year ago, the Twins have given raises to Joe Nathan, Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer. Jason Kubel got a recent bump, but the team is still well below the 2007 payroll. I’m rooting for the Twins to actually step up and make an offer to free agent third basemen Joe Crede, come on Billy Smith.

-When the Gophers ended that terrible streak against Illinois, I had a couple of text messages waiting in my outgoing box for the last; let’s just say it’s been awhile since Minnesota beat those guys. I’m heading to a classic match-up of high school b-ball on Tuesday when Robbinsdale Cooper faces off with Hopkins. It’s a match-up featuring Rodney Williams (4-star Gophers’ recruit from Cooper) against his best friend Royce White (5-star Gophers’ recruit out of Hopkins). Hopkins features a team with at least five future division 1 players and could probably beat a lot of D1 college teams right now. Hopefully White and Williams do not disappoint.

-Kevin McHale got a standing ovation as he entered the floor of the new Boston Garden when the Timberwolves faced the Celtics on Sunday. Now as I saw the replay of the standing ovation I thought: Are they cheering for him because of his playing days in Boston? Surely he was a great player, but then I reminded myself – “Well he did give Boston another title last year.” Not only did he trade Kevin Garnett to Boston but he also traded them Wally Sczerbiak a year and a half prior. Wally ended up landing them Ray Allen. The Wolves have done well as of late, but they still need to add better defensive players at the point guard and center position. With multiple picks coming this offseason, they could land Hasheem Thabeet and one of many point guards available.

-One rumor that won’t go away? Flip Saunders will return to coach the Timberwolves in 2009 when Fred Hoiberg takes over the Vice President of Basketball Operations position. Flip is still sitting at home collecting money from the Detroit Pistons and will definitely be a candidate for multiple openings next year. While McHale has certainly improved the team over his second run as coach, McHale dislikes the travel from his many years as a player and in the end, and that will be enough for McHale to decide he’s had enough. I hope he does go out on a positive note though. He was tremendous during his playing career at the University of Minnesota and he did have some success during the Kevin Garnett era. But most would agree that his stay has been extended too long.