Same old for NFC North

By Jon Gluskin

It took a desperation heave on a fourth-and-25 play as time expired in week 17 to decide the NFC North last year. An Arizona Cardinal touchdown that beat the Minnesota Vikings put the Green Bay Packers into the playoffs.

The NFC North might not be filled with as much drama this season, but it does promise to have an abundance of excitement and spectacular plays. It will also have some awful plays.

The division will once again be a two-team race between the Vikings and the Packers, but this year the Vikings will come out on top.

Week one was an accurate portrayal of what the coming 16 weeks will bring. The Vikings offense is unstoppable as its 35-17 defeat of the Dallas Cowboys proved. The Cowboys zoned in on controlling superstar wide receiver Randy Moss and did a pretty good job – holding Moss to 27 yards receiving.

However, quarterback Daunte Culpepper found eight other receivers over the course of the game, piling up a total of 242 yards and five touchdowns – including two to Moss. The Vikings made it known they are more than a team that just lobs the ball to Moss 80 yards downfield.

And the Vikings defense, which was their downfall last year, held up throughout the game. If it can just be mediocre – which it will be – the Vikings are going to be very hard to beat and will end up at 12-4.

As long as the Packers have Brett Favre behind center, they will be in playoff contention. Even Bears fans have to admit, Favre is still the quarterback you’d want leading your team in a must-win game. If not, you’re being an ignorant Packer-hater.

The scary thing is that Favre isn’t even their most dangerous offensive weapon. That guy is running back Ahman Green, who can run and catch as well as anyone, as he showed Monday, scoring three touchdowns, two rushing and one receiving.

Throw in their solid receivers – Donald Driver, Robert Ferguson and Javon Walker, who’s on the verge of stardom -and the Packers have a top-tier offense.

Like the Vikings, their defense will be their main concern, but if their game with the Panthers means anything, their defense will be more than adequate en route to a 10-win season. The Packers defense shut down the run, holding the Panthers to a measly 37 yards as they won the game 24-14, while forcing two turnovers.

The Chicago Bears-Detroit Lions game was a sad showing of the two teams, but unfortunately, this is how things will be for both teams throughout the season.

While Detroit ended up winning the game – breaking their abysmal streak of 24 consecutive road losses – the Bears are still the better team.

Both teams looked pretty bad at best, but there were still a few bright spots. For the Bears, Thomas Jones had a nice day. In his debut, he rushed for 67 yards and two touchdowns.

Quarterback Rex Grossman made a few good plays, but this year will be a learning experience for him, and Chicago fans can’t be too hard on him.

David Terrell had a good performance in accumulating 126 yards but needs to learn to control himself and not get a 15-yard taunting penalty after making a 35-yard catch. (David, you just aren’t good enough yet to do that.) The Bears are a team on the rise, but will only finish 7-9 at best.

If the Lions were going to have a decent season, their hopes might have been shattered when wide receiver Charles Rogers broke his collarbone on the Lions’ first offensive drive of the game. Rogers, who broke his collarbone last year, causing him to miss 11 games, is lost for the rest of the season.

This will mean rookie Roy Williams will have to make an even bigger impact for the team. So will young QB Joey Harrington, who has shown much potential and is on the verge of breaking out. As Williams’ highlight-reel catch showed, he has the potential, but asking him to be a superstar in his first year is a stretch.

Detroit will once again be in the cellar of the NFC North but has as much potential as any team in the NFL in the next three or four years.

The Lions will benefit from the addition of promising rookie running back Kevin Jones, a void the organization has been trying to fill since the early retirement of Barry Sanders. For the time being, 6-10 may be optimistic.

As week two approaches, a few things are certain: Daunte and Randy will keep shredding defenses. Brett will make plays that he shouldn’t. Rex will look really good sometimes and really bad other times. And Joey and the Lions will get back to being the Lions.

Jon Gluskin is a junior in communications. He can be reached at [email protected]