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Thoughts on Early Power Rankings

Peter King of Sports Illustrated recently did his first offseason power ranking and since there is little else going on, I thought I’d give my thoughts on it.

King has the Green Bay Packers ranked number one in the league, which obviously means he thinks they will win the division.  King says:

It’s not just the maturation of Aaron Rodgers. It’s the carryover from a fluky end to 2009 (the weird playoff loss at Arizona) and the fact that only one team in football — New Orleans — had a better point differential than the Pack’s plus-164 last year. I like Jermichael Finley to become a great player in his second starting season. I don’t trust the pass-rush (where Clay Matthews is the only real thing), and I worry about two of the top three corners coming off ACL surgery, and aging. But the defensive front is formidable, and a very good match for the good run teams of the NFC North. I also like Weeks 2 through 5 on the schedule (Buffalo, at Chicago, Detroit, at Washington), which sets up for a strong start.

My take:  The Packers defense was middle of the road last year disguised by the fact that they played 10 games against teams in the bottom half of the league in offense and an 11th game against Arizona who benched their starters.  They played five games against teams ranked in the top half of the league and surrendered over 25 points per game against them and lost three of those five games.  Factor in that Al Harris was a shell of his former self before blowing out his knee, they didn’t make any additions to the pass rush or to the cornerback position and I see the Packers as vastly overrated right now.

The next highest NFC North team was the Vikings at 13, and King had this to say about them:

Whether old What’s His Name comes back or not will determine Minnesota’s fate. Brett Favre or no Brett Favre, the Vikings have an offensive line in decline.

My Take: For starters, Brett Favre is playing in 2010, there is no will he or won’t he.  The annual retirement watch is a ploy to get him out of OTAs and other offseason commitments.  He’s been trying to get out of those since 2002.  Back to the Vikings.  Much like the Packers, the Vikings were the beneficiaries of weak opponents last season which padded their offensive and defensive rankings.  There are three major question marks along the offensive line and holes in the secondary and linebacking corps.  The strength of their defensive line helps mask the deficiencies of the back seven, but the Williams Sisters are going to miss the first four games of the season [Editor’s Note, the suspensions are on indefinite hold.]  The Vikings are a middle of the pack team with the potential to be a threat in the playoffs if things bounce right.

The next team was the Lions at 24 and King stated:

If the Lions were in the NFC West, they might win it this year. They’re making significant progress — assuming Ndamukong Suh is the genuine item and Kyle Vanden Bosch has something left.

I will save my assessment of the Lions for a more in depth look at the team over the next few weeks.

King ranked the Bears one position behind the Lions at 25 and here are his thoughts on Chicago:

The Mike Martz-Jay Cutler marriage could work, or it could explode. The defense will be solid, assuming Julius Peppers comes to play, but he can’t solve everything on a unit that allowed 375 points last year.

My Take: I am not a Mike Martz fan.  I think his ego threw his career off track and his teams put up numbers but not wins.  The Lions and 49ers lead or challenged for the lead in turnovers, sacks allowed and were in the bottom third of the league in rushing in his time with them.  Nothing will change.  The Bears have major issues on both lines, at receiver, in the secondary and the linebacking corps needs a healthy and productive Brian Urlacher.  I think he’ll be healthy for the start of the season, but maintaining it and being productive are long odds.  I think everybody associated with the team knows that it’s playoffs or housecleaning, that proposition hardly ever works out well.  At the first sign of trouble everybody will start covering their own rears and the “team” concept will be gone.

Overall, I agree with King’s order of finish in the NFC North.  I disagree with how high he has the Packers ranked and how low he has the Lions ranked.  The Vikings and Bears are about where I’d put them. 

I think if there is a team to surprise in the division, I think it’s the Lions.  The Lions have added some explosive playmakers on both sides of the ball, and if Stafford makes the kind of leap that Aaron Rodgers made the Lions could be a .500 team.  By the same token, they still have a lot of holes to fill and could struggle their way to four wins.

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