2008 NFC North Preview

Vikings new favorite; Packers don't slip too far
By Paul Bessire, WhatIfSports.com
June 17th 2008

We will preview an NFL division each day for eight days, before presenting final standings, fantasy and statistical leaders, award winners, playoff results and power rankings. This analysis is part of a broader endeavor with FOXSports.com's Fantasy Football.

Rosters and depth charts are up-to-date and as accurate as possible as of June 8, 2008. A schedule of upcoming NFL preview content including links to other previews that have already been posted is located here.

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For this analysis, each regular season game is simulated 1,000 times, with the sum of the winning percentages of those games being our final predicted record. As can be noted, sometimes a team is "favored" (wins more than 50% of the time) in a different number of our games than the expected record shows. We list this record as the Absolute Record. The assumption of the Absolute Record is that the more likely scenario always happens. Since we know that it does not (see Super Bowl XLII), our expected record (in parentheses next to each team) is far more accurate. Also, especially since we are rounding, it is possible for a team to win a game more often, yet score the same or fewer points on average. In those cases, for Absolute Records, we always take higher winning percentage and are not predicting a tie or a win by an underdog. This is another reason why the expected records are more accurate, as the teams are so evenly matched, the game could easily go either way.

Today we preview the NFC North.

Minnesota Vikings (11-5)
In 2008, they may not be as good as historically great defenses such as that of the 1985 Bears or 2000 Ravens, the Vikings figure to have the best defense in the NFL. Jared Allen is the perfect addition to this team. He should benefit by a strong interior defense (and vice versa). The expected wins keep creeping higher despite the questions at quarterback, but whomever the Vikings ultimately settle on as the answer to those questions could mean plus or minus a few wins. The Vikings average 25.3 points per game (#9 in the NFL) and allow 18.1 points (#1) against a schedule featuring seven games against 2007 playoff teams.

Absolute Record: 14-2

Most Significant Newcomer: Jared Allen, DE - This is just the second topic,and we have already talked about how much Allen can mean to this team. In 2007, the Vikings gave up just 3.1 yards-per-carry on the ground, but were sometimes susceptible to big plays in the passing game and finished near the middle of the league in passing yards-per-attempt and sacks. Allen will help the latter two relative weaknesses without hurting the rushing defense. Playing in all 16 games, the simulated season has Allen with 76 tackles and a league-best 18 sacks.
Biggest Strength: Defense - Have we told you it is the best in the league yet? With the addition of Allen and the maturation of young players Brian Robison, Cedric Griffin, Marcus McCauley and Chad Greenway, Minnesota is not just a run-stuffing, strong-up-the-middle team. The Vikings have great talent at every defensive position. Everyone knows about what Pat and Kevin Williams, E.J. Henderson and Darren Sharper mean to this team, but bringing in veteran free safety Madieu Williams and drafting Tyrell Johnson were great moves to offset off-season losses to the position. And we still have not even mentioned Adrian Peterson and the offensive line...

Most Exploitable Weakness: Passing Game - Not only has this been a theme for the Vikings since Randy Moss left, it will be a theme this year in the division. The team seems confident in Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback, and Bernard Berrian was a great pickup, so this phase will be improved. Jackson has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns and his career 58.1% completion rate is not spectacular. Plus, with the best defense and rushing attack in the league and a very strong special teams, the passing game would have to be on par with that of the Colts or Patriots not to be mentioned here.

Possible Fantasy Sleeper: Bernard Berrian, WR - We are not going too deep here, but few think as highly of Berrian as this analysis. We have the deep threat catching 71 balls for 1,160 yards and eight touchdowns.

Closest Game: @ Jacksonville (Week 12) - The Vikings play five games where the average score is within three points, so there are some from which to choose. Jacksonville presents a very similar opponent. The Jaguars have given Minnesota the blueprint. We will see in Week 12 if the new kid on the block can thwart the team that has been there before.

Fantasy Notables: Tarvaris Jackson (22) 2,652 yards, 19 TDs, 14 INTs; Adrian Peterson (3) 1,921 total yards, 15 TDs; Chester Taylor (38) 804 total yards, 8 TDs; Bernard Berrian (8) 71 receptions, 1,160 yards, 8 TDs; Visanthe Shiancoe (31) 30 receptions, 312 yards, 2 TDs; Ryan Longwell (14) 43/43 XPs, 26/29 FGs

Projected 2008 Results:

WeekOpponentWin%Avg Score
1@Green Bay Packers5522-21
2Indianapolis Colts3922-24
3Carolina Panthers5528-19
4@Tennessee Titans6521-17
5@New Orleans Saints7425-18
6Detroit Lions6228-19
7@Chicago Bears8526-15
9Houston Texans7527-15
10Green Bay Packers6327-18
11@Tampa Bay Buccaneers8326-16
12@Jacksonville Jaguars5323-22
13Chicago Bears7529-15
14@Detroit Lions5922-19
15@Arizona Cardinals6925-19
16Atlanta Falcons8532-13
17New York Giants4722-23



Green Bay Packers (9-7)
Apparently, Brett Favre retired. That's going to make a difference for this team. However, the numbers think the Packers will still be in the playoffs. This may be the most difficult team to project because it is so difficult to figure Favre's impact on things like yards after the catch and the success of the running game. The defense is too good and Ryan Grant is too promising for the Packers to completely fall out of the hunt. The Packers average 24.9 points per game (#11) and allow 21.8 points (#12) against a schedule featuring six games against 2007 playoff teams.

Absolute Record: 11-5

Most Significant Newcomer: Brian Brohm, QB - This may surprise a lot of fans. In our system, Brohm grades as the draft's best quarterback prospect. Aaron Rodgers is a big injury risk. Naturally, Brohm should get some chances to show his mettle. The team around him is so good, and he makes such smart, efficient decisions, that the Packers will succeed when Brohm is under center. The projections have him making four starts and throwing for 898 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions. Plus, a Brandon Chillar write-up would not have been too exciting.

Biggest Strength: Defense - The strengths and weaknesses may look like the Vikings, but the defense is not quite at that level. The Packers do not do anything poorly on defense. They can stop the run, defend the pass, force turnovers and get to the quarterback. Charles Woodson, Al Harris, A.J. Hawk, Nick Barnett, Aaron Kampman and Atari Bigby all excel in every facet of that side of the ball and each could be a Pro Bowl player this year. One concern is the loss of promising DT Corey Williams, but the team hopes someone will emerge as a playmaker from a group that includes Johnny Jolly, Colin Cole and last year's top pick, Justin Harrell.

Most Exploitable Weakness: Pass Offense - The Packers had one of the strongest passing attacks in the league. The receiving corps did not lose anybody. In fact, it added Jordy Nelson in the draft. And some would say that letting Bubba Franks go was addition by subtraction. So what happened? Oh yeah, Favre. The passing offense has to be considered a weakness because we have so little on which to base its projections (and Jeff Tedford products like Kyle Boller, Akili Smith and Joey Harrington don't get us too excited about Aaron Rodgers).

Possible Fantasy Sleeper: Atari Bigby - Brian Brohm is an option, but we already talked enough about him above. And, whether the players succeed in them or not, the roles of the rest of the offense look pretty clear. So we went defense and found the hard-hitting safety with a name close to our hearts. Bigby was everywhere late in the season and in the playoffs. The projections give him 97 tackles, 3 interceptions and a sack.

Closest Game: @ Seattle (Week 6) - Matt Hasselbeck may take the ball and think he is going to score, but it does not look like either team does much of that. With strong defenses and offenses with new parts that are still working out the kinks in Week Six, a close, low-scoring game should be expected.

Fantasy Notables: Aaron Rodgers (23) 2,523 yards, 17 TDs, 11 INTs; Ryan Grant (10) 1,551 total yards, 13 TDs; Greg Jennings (22) 58 receptions, 969 yards, 7 TDs; Donald Driver (31) 70 receptions, 858 yards, 6 TDs; Donald Lee (13) 47 receptions, 517 yards, 4 TDs; Mason Crosby (4) 41/41 XPs, 31/38 FGs

Projected 2008 Results:

WeekOpponentWin%Avg Score
1Minnesota Vikings4521-22
2@Detroit Lions7027-21
3Dallas Cowboys2121-29
4@Tampa Bay Buccaneers5721-20
5Atlanta Falcons7132-19
6@Seattle Seahawks5417-17
7Indianapolis Colts3224-27
9@Tennessee Titans6424-21
10@Minnesota Vikings3718-27
11Chicago Bears7128-17
12@New Orleans Saints5526-24
13Carolina Panthers4325-25
14Houston Texans7931-18
15@Jacksonville Jaguars5526-25
16@Chicago Bears8329-21
17Detroit Lions7630-17



Detroit Lions (6-10)
Wait, Jon Kitna was talking about losses in his prediction, right? Maybe he meant that the team would be favored to win or lose by a touchdown or less in ten games. The Lions average 20.6 points per game (#25) and allow 27.0 points (#25) against a schedule featuring seven games against 2007 playoff teams.

Absolute Record: 2-14

Most Significant Newcomer: Leigh Bodden, CB - Obviously, the defensive backfield was a big weakness in 2007. The Lions addressed that with several major additions in the off-season. Bodden is the best of the group. When healthy, he is an above-average coverage corner who can make big plays with passes defended or picked off. Bodden also excels in open-field tackling. The simulated season sees him tallying 66 tackles and five interceptions in 12 games.

Biggest Strength: Confidence (?) - Jon Kitna, Roy Williams and others do not lack confidence. They rarely get discouraged (with their own abilities at least). It's not always a strength, but confidence may be what turns an underdog into a winner. There are several games like that on the schedule, so anything could be possible. No entity - outside of Jason Hanson - on this team could truly be considered a strength. Players like Calvin Johnson, Ernie Sims, Leigh Bodden and Daniel Bullocks (if he fully recovers from injury) along with rookies Kevin Smith and Jordan Dizon add some promise and hope to this team for the future.

Most Exploitable Weakness: Rushing Offense - Kevin Smith should have a more than respectable rookie season. However, the running game was almost completely ignored under Mike Martz, and there will be a steep learning curve to build it back up.

Possible Fantasy Sleeper: Kevin Smith, RB - Get him while he lasts in this league. Smith was used so much in college that he may hit a wall earlier in his career than others. For now though, the team will be leaning on him as soon as it can. The projections put Smith at 1,121 total yards and nine touchdowns. Drew Stanton, Michael Gaines and Brian Calhoun warrant consideration here as well.

Closest Game: @ Atlanta (Week 1) - I would love to hear how Kitna or Williams project the rest of the year if they lose this game to the Falcons. It's a coin flip now. If they fall, the season may already be over.

Fantasy Notables: Jon Kitna (26) 2,543 passing yards, 16 TDs, 12 INTs; Kevin Smith (31) 1,121 total yards, 9 TDs; Tatum Bell (48) 722 total yards, 5 TDs; Calvin Johnson (14) 73 receptions, 1,154 yards, 7 TDs; Roy Williams (24) 79 receptions, 995 yards, 6 TDs; Michael Gaines (36) 29 receptions, 284 yards, 2 TDs; Jason Hanson (12) 34/34 XPs, 28/32 FGs

Projected 2008 Results:

WeekOpponentWin%Avg Score
1@Atlanta Falcons5125-25
2Green Bay Packers3021-27
3@San Francisco 49ers3020-31
5Chicago Bears5327-19
6@Minnesota Vikings3819-28
7@Houston Texans3319-28
8Washington Redskins2521-28
9@Chicago Bears4920-26
10Jacksonville Jaguars2121-30
11@Carolina Panthers2717-29
12Tampa Bay Buccaneers3621-24
13Tennessee Titans4221-24
14Minnesota Vikings4119-22
15@Indianapolis Colts1718-34
16New Orleans Saints4625-26
17@Green Bay Packers2417-30



Chicago Bears (6-10)
While no one really has any idea what this team is trying to do on offense, the defense is not getting any younger. In 2008, most teams at the bottom of NFL divisions seem to have some kind of plan or reason for hope. Unless Matt Forte becomes the next Walter Payton, Chicago seems to be a team that may fall even further after 2008. The Bears average 19.9 points per game (#30) and allow 25.7 points (#23) against a schedule featuring six games against 2007 playoff teams.

Absolute Record: 5-11

Most Significant Newcomer: Matt Forte, RB - Forte should step right in and throw for over 3,000 yards and 25 touch... No wait, the Bears are sticking with Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton at quarterback. Forte will catch 70 passes as the team's deep thre... Wait, the Bears apparently do not need to replace Bernard Berrian either. Oh yeah, Forte is going to be thrown to the wolves as the Bears' Week 1 starting running back. Obviously, especially with Cedric Benson's on and off the field issues, each of these positions needed upgrades. The 2,000 yard rusher out of Tulane will definitely get touches in 2008. Unfortunately, Cedric Benson missed the memo about starting players not breaking the law and getting cut in between the simulation run and the preview post date. So, Forte's numbers were originally 873 total yards and six touchdowns. Adding all of Benson's numbers from the simulation would give him 1,658 total yards and 11 touchdowns.

Biggest Strength: Special Teams - Robbie Gould and Devin Hester help to form the most dynamic special teams in the league. The linebacking corps is also strong on the field; but its public contract disputes and increasing cap numbers are just as much a part of the problem with this team.

Most Exploitable Weakness: Offense - A schedule that features teams like the Rams, Falcons and Lions (twice) is the only reason why the Bears' offense does not come in last in the league. The Titans' or Dolphins' receivers may actually be more intimidating than Marty Booker, Mark Bradley, Brandon Lloyd, Earl Bennett and Marcus Monk. Why does this team keep stockpiling tight ends?

Possible Fantasy Sleeper: Earl Bennett, WR - He is the prototypical possession receiver on a team full of possession receivers (is Greg Olsen the biggest deep threat on this team?), but his hands may be the best of the group, and the team needs young players it can sell to the fans. The projections give him 29 catches for 311 yards and two touchdowns, yet it could easily be more than that if the Bears abandon the Marty Booker bandwagon in favor of the kids.

Closest Game: Detroit (Week 9) - Splitting with Detroit may not be considered a great feat, but the Bears need this win if they want to prove they are not one of the worst teams in football - and getting worse.

Fantasy Notables: Rex Grossman (32) 1,520 yards, 9 TDs, 8 INTs; Kyle Orton (33) 1,455 yards, 10 TDs, 7 INTs; Matt Forte (40) 873 total yards, 6 TDs (*before Benson's release); Marty Booker (56) 55 receptions, 622 yards, 4 TDs; Desmond Clark (12) 40 receptions, 554 yards, 3 TDs; Greg Olsen (23) 31 receptions, 363 yards, 2 TDs; Robbie Gould (5) 29/29 XPs, 33/43 FGs

Projected 2008 Results:

WeekOpponentWin%Avg Score
1@Indianapolis Colts814-34
2@Carolina Panthers2517-30
3Tampa Bay Buccaneers2920-24
4Philadelphia Eagles1519-28
5@Detroit Lions4519-27
6@Atlanta Falcons7528-21
7Minnesota Vikings1515-26
9Detroit Lions5126-20
10Tennessee Titans3116-22
11@Green Bay Packers2917-28
12@St. Louis Rams5325-26
13@Minnesota Vikings2515-29
14Jacksonville Jaguars2418-25
15New Orleans Saints5725-20
16Green Bay Packers1721-29
17@Houston Texans5123-24

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