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After a five month hibernation, the NFL is about to poke its head out of the cave. Training camps around the country break out in a couple weeks. We are less than a month from the Bengals versus Cowboys and the first pre-season game in Canton. The September 9th regular season kicks off down in the bayou and sends the defending champs out on to the field against the same NFC team they beat to reach the Super Bowl.
A sober Sean Payton (read his book) on the sidelines toting Lombardi's Trophy versus a hungry, white stubble faced, Wrangler wearing quarterback with a surgically repaired ankle (we think) and a talented cast around him.
The National Football League knows how to make an entrance.
We know your Whatifsports.com football diet has been craving nourishment. Well, we are about to provide you a pre-season appetizer before training camps start. Beginning Monday July 12th, Whatifsports.com will preview a NFL Division-a-Day.
Throughout the 2010 NFL season, Whatifsports.com will provide Foxsports.com its game predictions and
Fox Sports Fantasy Football fantasy projections on a weekly basis. Using our NFL simulation engine, we have "played" the entire 2010 NFL season. Each game was simulated 501 times. The simulation engine has provided us game-by-game predictions and projected fantasy stats for all 32 NFL teams and 350 players.
Rosters and depth charts are up-to-date and as accurate as possible as of June 30, 2010. A schedule of upcoming NFL preview content including links to other previews that have already been posted is located here.
Also, we account for players with injury histories who are considered likely to miss games despite currently being healthy by randomly taking them out of what the analysis dictates is the correct number of games throughout the season. For players who will begin the season injured or who are assumed to replace the current starter during the season, we deliberately make those roster changes in the appropriate weeks. All of these items can cause some perceived inconsistencies with the scores, especially when a team plays one opponent from its division with one set of starters and uses different personnel later.
Today we preview the NFC North
Minnesota Vikings (WIS Prediction: 11-5)
Absolute Record: 11-5
Let's just pretend Brett Favre is going to be the quarterback of the Minnesota Vikings in 2010. His off-season ankle surgery could have been delayed had he not wanted/desired/craved a repeat performance of his 2009 campaign. Up until a deja vu moment in the playoffs, where he got picked off by New Orleans, #4 rewrote part of his NFL legacy during the regular season. Favre was productive and efficient completing 68.4-percent of his passes, throwing 33 touchdowns and only 7 interceptions. He built up a rapport with Sidney Rice and rookie Percy Harvin like he'd been playing with them for years. Rice benefited from Brett's gun slinging by hauling in over 1300 yards, 4th best in the NFL. This team, with Brett behind center, is loaded.
One More Year?We are waiting on Favre - again
Most Significant Newcomer: None - I suppose you could say the drafting of Toby Gerhart, but I'm hesitant to highlight a guy backing up Adrian Peterson. This guy won't make the same impact Chester Taylor did right away. After years of service Chester Taylor bolted Minnesota for Chicago via free agency. Here's the breakdown of his 2010 income in Chicago:
$2 million signing bonus
$955,000 base salary
$4 million roster bonus
$45,000 workout bonus
Total: $7.0 million
His role with the Vikes changed dramatically after Peterson came to town. He toted the rock 303 times in 2006 and rushed for 1216 yards. Fast forward three years, where the passing game trumped running and Peterson was the first option; Taylor carried the ball 94 times for 338 yards. Gerhart will get his reps, but nothing like Taylor.
Biggest Strength: Passing Game - Tavaris and Sage please don't get excited. If Brett Favre returns he will turn 41-years-old this October. Though the tread on the tires is a bit worn, Favre had the top quarterback rating in the league at 107.3. The Vikes were just recently a one-dimensional team with ADP taking most of the offensive reps, but when Favre joined the party, Minnesota's mindset on offense changed and this is a pass-first offense. His first two seasons, for each pass play, Peterson was getting to touch the ball, a ratio of nearly 1:1. In his first season with Favre, the ratio of pass plays to Peterson rushing attempts climbed to 1.5:1.
Most Exploitable Weakness: Rush Defense - File this under "stories that never die". The Williams brothers, Kevin and Pat, still have a 4-game suspension looming after testing positive for a diuretic in 2008. On June 24th, a Minnesota Court of Appeals rejected the NFL's request to move the case up the priority list. The ruling is important because it means, at least for the moment, that if any decision does come down about the Williams' suspension, it would be after the season. There's no question that if Kevin and Pat are suspended, the Vikings second ranked rush defense will find two gaping holes on the line.
Possible Fantasy Sleeper: Visanthe Shiancoe, TE - This sleeper may be wide awake, but is not a household name. Yet. When you go to draft tight ends, Dallas Clark, Antonio Gates and Tony Gonzalez fly off the board. Well, Shiancoe's 11 touchdowns in 2009 should move his mojo up draft boards this summer. He's increased his receptions from 12 in 2006 (while with NYG) to 56 last year while in the crosshairs of #4. Add to that Brett Favre's tendency to look for his TE inside the 10-yard line and the scoring opportunities are plentiful. Did I mention Favre needs to come back for any of this preview to play out?
Closest Game: Week 16 @ Eagles (Avg. Score 23-20 - Eagles)
Fantasy Notables: Brett Favre (10th) 3865 yds, 24 TDs, 7 INTs; Adrian Peterson (2nd) 1472 rush yds, 15 TDs (total); Sidney Rice (4th) 1338 rec. yds, 8 TDs; Visanthe Shiancoe (17th) 529 rec. yds, 3 TDs; Ryan Longwell (2nd) 34-39 FGs, 39 XPs
2010 Minnesota Vikings
|1||@New Orleans Saints||43||23-26|
|5||@New York Jets||75||21-14|
|7||@Green Bay Packers||36||18-24|
|8||@New England Patriots||61||21-19|
|11||Green Bay Packers||43||20-21|
|14||New York Giants||69||27-19|
Chicago Bears (WIS Prediction: 5-11)
Absolute Record: 3-13
Check out the Bears coaching staff for the 2010 season: Lovie Smith - Head Coach (love him or hate him, he did go to a Super Bowl), Mike Martz - Offensive Coordinator (planes leaving O'Hare have been warned), Rod Marinelli - Defensive Coordinator (Sweet 16's still make him cringe) and Mike Tice - Offensive Line coach (in case you in Minnesota cared, he spent the last couple seasons coaching the Jaguars' tight ends). So, the Bears definitely have coaching experience on their side as they try to bounce back from a 7-9 season. Jay Cutler was atrocious at times, throwing a league-high 26 interceptions in '09.
Fumbling a ForteForte's 5 fumbles ranked 2nd among RBs
Most Significant Newcomer: Julius Peppers, DE - The Chicago Bears made the Super Bowl in 2006 based on a "defense wins championships" philosophy. That season their defense held opposing teams to less than 16-points-per-game. Last season, minus the heart and soul of their defense, Brian Urlacher, their defense ranked 21st in points allowed (23.4) tying them with the Cleveland Browns. Enter defensive end Julius Peppers and his 6-year, $84-million contract. The former Carolina Panther ate up quarterbacks the last two seasons, recording 25 sacks. He was probably the most coveted free-agent this off-season and the Bears landed a significant pass rusher.
Biggest Strength: Rushing - Matt Forte is more exhausted than Isner and Mahut. The Bears' running back has been option 1 and 2 in Chicago's backfield and may have worn out during his sophomore season. He's taken over 71-percent of the rushing attempts in his first two seasons and may have simply hit a wall. He fumbled 5 times (losing three) in 2009, most of which occurred while the Bears were driving. Compare that to his rookie season when he eclipsed 1000-yards and fumbled only once. The free agent signing of veteran Chester Taylor will take some pressure off Forte and give him a blow when he needs it. Mike Martz and his expertise in the passing game may create a pass happy offense, but until Cutler remembers to throw to the guys in navy blue, I'll hold off on claiming passing is the Bears' biggest strength.
Most Exploitable Weakness: Secondary - Opposing teams weren't afraid to air it out against the Bears in 2009 and were rewarded on the gamble. Chicago gave up 29 touchdowns via pass while quarterbacks enjoyed a combined 64.2 completion percentage. Brian Urlacher's absence on the field truly trickled down and the Bears' defense lost that spark on the field. Bears' fans will need to keep their fingers crossed that Charles Tillman and Zack Bowman can keep up their solid play and some of their teammates pull up the slack. Peppers' bulldozing his way to the quarterback may also make these guys' lives a lot easier.
Possible Fantasy Sleeper: Chester Taylor, RB - Matt Forte was a top 5 pick in most drafts last season. That may change this time around as the ever popular running back by committee may hit the Windy City. Don't get me wrong, Forte will be the feature back , but unlike in Minnesota where it was pass first, ADP second, Taylor may find himself back in a familiar role of a third down back and swing pass option. You aren't going to pay a guy $7-million and not use him in the offense.
Closest Game: Week 6 vs Seahawks (Avg. Score 19-15 - Bears)
Fantasy Notables: Jay Cutler (24th) 3380 yds, 16 TDS, 23 INTs; Matt Forte (20th) 913 rush yds, 7 TDs (total); Devin Hester (39th) 897 rec. yds, 4 TDs; Greg Olson (18th) 514 rec. yds, 2 TDs; Robbie Gould (21st) 26-34 FGs, 24 XPs
2010 Chicago Bears
|3||Green Bay Packers||10||12-27|
|4||@New York Giants||20||13-26|
|14||New England Patriots||21||15-23|
|16||New York Jets||41||14-15|
|17||@Green Bay Packers||5||9-30|
Green Bay Packers (WIS Prediction: 13-3)
Absolute Record: 16-0
The locker-room manager is still trying to get the grass stains out of Aaron Rodgers' jersey. The Packers quarterback was sacked 50 times in 2009 and still managed to pass for over 4400 yards and ranked 4th in touchdown passes (30) and QB rating (103.2). Ryan Grant proved that he can be an elite running back in the NFL by rushing for over 1200 yards for the second season in a row. The Packers ranked second in total defense during the regular season, but took one on the chin in their Wild Card game against Arizona. They allowed 45 points in regulation before Rodgers was stripped to end things in OT. The return of Al Harris will be welcomed as will Charles Woodson and Nick Collins' ability to match their 2009 contributions.
Tip of the HelmetAaron Rodgers has quickly become a top 5 QB
Most Significant Newcomer: Brian Buluga, OT - Chad Clifton's back-up could apply some pressure to the veteran tackle if Rodgers' jersey doesn't stay clean. There has also been some discussion of moving him to another position on the line. A big backroom storyline is that Buluga has not officially signed a contract with the Packers. He says he hopes to have that taken care of before training camp starts. Because the Pack didn't sign any free agents this off-season, the only other newcomer that could make his presence felt is rookie safety Morgan Bennett.
Biggest Strength: Passing Offense - Driver and Jennings combined for over 2000 yards receiving and 10 touchdowns in 2009. Rodgers averaged 8.2 yards per attempt. Their total offense ranked 6th in the NFL and over 55-percent of their total yardage came through the air. The question mark at tight end was answered mid-way through the season as Jermichael Finley proved his talents warranted more playing time and another option for Rodgers. Grant will keep linebackers honest and open up the passing game again in 2010.
Most Exploitable Weakness: Offensive Line - Be Missouri and show me that you can stop a pass rush. Aaron Rodgers is a top tier quarterback and keeping him healthy needs to be priority number one. Taking too many shots like he did in '09 is detrimental to not only his health, but the offense's confidence. Otherwise it becomes "here we go again" and you have finger pointing and a team divided. The offensive line was exploited and the Packers still won 11 games and made the playoffs. Imagine a world where Rodgers has time to throw.
Possible Fantasy Sleeper: Jermichael Finley, TE - Finley was in the Top-10 in touchdown receptions by a tight end in 2009. He missed some time too due to a knee injury. With Donald Lee listed as #2 on the depth chart, Finley is sure to see more passes come his way in 2010.
Closest Game: Week 9 vs Cowboys (Avg. Score 22-19 - Packers)
Fantasy Notables: Aaron Rodgers (2nd) 4650 yds, 30 TDs, 6 INTs; Ryan Grant (8th) 1299 rush yds, 15 TDs (total); Greg Jennings (8th) 1207 rec. yds, 7 TDs; Jermichael Finley (6th) 804 rec. yds, 5 TDs; Mason Crosby (4th) 29-41 FGs, 45 XPs
2010 Green Bay Packers
|8||@New York Jets||84||21-12|
|13||San Francisco 49ers||91||26-9|
|15||@New England Patriots||71||22-17|
|16||New York Giants||79||28-17|
Detroit Lions (WIS Prediction: 2-14)
Absolute Record: 0-16
There was only way to go for the Lions in 2009 and they did their best to go 0-16 again. Two squeakers over Washington and Cleveland gave Detroit the victories, both moral and actual, that the franchise needed to put 2008's historic season to bed. Matthew Stafford slid into the starting quarterback role after the Daunte Culpepper experiment finally blew up. The rookie proved on more than one occasion that he was worth the top draft pick. Though he threw more interceptions (20) then touchdowns (13), Stafford only played in 10 games. He also built a solid on the field relationship with Calvin Johnson. Though Megatron's touchdowns were cut in half, Stafford threw the ball his way. Calvin's main problem was because of the Lions' lack of a second wide-out threat, defenses were comfortable double-teaming him. With Nate Burleson coming to Mo-Town, Johnson should detract defenders from cheating over in 2010.
Most Significant Newcomer: Ndamukong Suh and Kyle Vanden Bosch - The Detroit Lions' defense ranked dead last in 2009. They were in the bottom 10 in rush yards allowed per game (126.6) and dead last in passing defense (265.6 ypg). Team general manager Martin Mayhew made some off-season moves to fix that issue immediately. The Lions signed free-agent defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch and paired him up with former tutor Jim Schwartz. Then the defensive line beefed up more with the addition of 2nd overall pick Ndamukong Suh. The franchise put a lot of resources into this 300+ pound human wall and need him and veteran teacher, Vanden Bosch, to apply some pressure to opponents' offensive lines and get to the quarterback. That way the raw secondary, which we'll get to, doesn't deal with as much stress to make plays down field.
Biggest Strength: Passing Game - Ignore the fact the Lions had the second worst QB rating in 2009 (58.1). Well, at least pretend to. The addition of Burleson and tight end Tony Scheffler will give Stafford some more targets on pass plays. Coach Schwartz could also use Scheffler with fellow tight-end Brandon Pettigrew at the same time. We will also have to check out the health of Kevin Smith as the season plays out and the tenderness of his repaired knee. He was a strong contributor to Lions' offense in 2009 and could be one of the league's best if he can recover. If not, look for rookie Jahvid Best to carry the load.
Most Exploitable Weakness: Secondary - Veterans Phillip Buchanon and Anthony Henry are gone. It's a youth movement in the secondary including Chris Houston, Ko Simpson, and Dante Wesley. The only bright spot in the Lions' last line of defense is the return of Louis Delmas. The second year safety out of Western Michigan recorded 94 tackles and 2 interceptions in 2009. Coach Schwartz will need Delmas to increase production in 2010 to keep wide-outs out of the endzone. If Detroit has any chance of moving up in the NFC North, allowing 30.9 points per game needs to stop yesterday.
Possible Fantasy Sleeper: Jahvid Best, RB - Talk about a lot of hype. Considering Best missed the last four games with California due to a concussion, he must be all right in the head for the Lions to take him with their second first-round draft pick. He's also needed surgery on his elbow, shoulder and hip in the past. That's the bad, but Best's speed is the good. He's lightning fast and Detroit's coaching staff has praised him for his OTA workouts. Best finished his career at Cal among da Golden Bears all-time leaders in rushing touchdowns 29 (3rd), 200-yard rushing games 3 (1st), and all-purpose yards, 4,045 (5th). If Kevin Smith isn't 100-percent heading into the pre-season, look for Best to get some of the action.
Closest Game: Week 5 vs Rams (Avg. Score 19-18 - Rams)
Fantasy Notables: Matt Stafford (31st) 3343 yds, 14 TDs, 26 INTs; Kevin Smith (25th) 883 rush yds, 5 TDs; Calvin Johnson (24th) 1045 rec. yds, 4 TDs; Brandon Pettigrew 411 rec. yds, 2; Jason Hanson 19-27 FGs 19 XPs
2010 Detroit Lions
|4||@Green Bay Packers||5||6-35|
|5||St. Louis Rams||48||18-19|
|6||@New York Giants||5||9-33|
|9||New York Jets||16||10-21|
|12||New England Patriots||6||12-30|
|14||Green Bay Packers||5||9-34|
|15||@Tampa Bay Buccaneers||35||14-20|
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Ryan Fowler is the Content Manager for Whatifsports.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.