By Marc Lawrence
The ‘Black and Blue' is down to two... that is two winning teams with four combined playoff appearances the last three years. Somewhere, Vince Lombardi is rolling over in his grave.
Ironically, the two winning teams, Green Bay and Minnesota, have had one common denominator and that is Brett Favre. With his status (surprise) still up in the air, the division is just that - up for grabs.
This year the NFC North meets the AFC South in interleague play, a situation that has not fared well for the guys the Northerners as they are just 11-22 straight-up all-time in these frays
In addition, the NFC North has struggled during the final four games of the season, going 100-143-6 ATS since its inception, including 7-27-1 ATS when laying points.
If it sounds like this division is dying a slow death it's because they are. RIP.
Note: Team writeups excerpted from the 2010 PLAYBOOK Football Preview magazine. Designated ‘Play On' and ‘Play Against' Best Bets follow each team's preview.
CHICAGO TEAM THEME: SAY(ERS) IT AIN'T SO
According to former Bears Hall of Fame RB Gale Sayers, the Bears are in for a long season in 2010. "(QB Jay) Cutler hasn't done the job. (LB Brian) Urlacher, I don't know how good he's going to be coming back. He's 33 years old... They haven't done a good job. If Lovie doesn't do it this year, I think he's gone." Whew. While Sayers admits he lives and dies with the team, his comments hit the team harder than the rash of injuries did to the defense last year. The addition of Pro Bowl DE Julius Peppers will help. OC Mike Martz is excited about his team's prospects this year. "I love our receivers. I think that our receiver corps will be the strength of this team. You can put that in granite. I can promise you that one... this will be the strength of this football team." As far as Chicago fans are concerned, they are hoping Sayers' mouth runs for more yards than his legs ever did.
PLAY ON: as dog vs. Green Bay (9/27) - *KEY if +3.5 pts or more
TEAM THEME: SUPPORTING STAFF
The Lions were busy acquiring personnel in the off-season in hopes of protecting franchise QB Matthew Stafford. Stafford suffered three injuries last year and threw 20 interceptions as a rookie. But head coach Jim Schwartz points out all three injuries came when the Lions were trailing in the fourth quarter, and many picks came when the Lions put Stafford in bad situations. "It was basically taking hits because he was trying to do something that he shouldn't have to do being down 17 points with four minutes left or something like that," Schwartz said. "So staying healthy is important for him, and that will help him take care of the football." The Lions filled two very big needs by getting defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and running back Jahvid Best with their two first-round picks. They also surrounded Suh with strong support personnel in Kyle Vanden Bosch and Corey Williams. No longer will opposing quarterbacks be allowed to carve the Lions secondary like the Thanksgiving Day turkeys they resemble.
PLAY AGAINST: vs. New England (11/25)
GREEN BAY TEAM THEME: CATCH US IF YOU CAN
There was a lot to like about the Packers in 2009. Owners of the top ranked rush defense and best in the league in turnover margin last year, Green Bay made huge strides across the board, improving from six wins to 11, despite an offensive line that was ravaged with injuries. Bad news for the rest of the league is head coach Mike McCarthy really likes his team's chances in 2010. "We're a better football team in 2010 today than we have been in the past... I really like the way our football team looks on paper; I like the individuals that we have added," was McCarthy's assessment of the team after the NFL Draft. Keep an eye on 6th round, 24-year RB James Starks of Buffalo who hasn't played in a year-and-a-half. If healthy, he could be a steal. The bottom line is as long as QB Aaron Rodgers remains upright, the Pack is the team to beat in the NFC North.
PLAY ON: vs. Miami (10/17)
MINNESOTA TEAM THEME: MAYBE, MAYBE NOT
You knew it was coming. When Bret Favre tossed his Super Bowl-denying pick in the final moments of last year's championship game against New Orleans, it was almost like O.J. Simpson waiting on news that he would eventually land in jail. It was expected. For all the good Minnesota accomplished in 2009 - including the most wins since 1998 - the Vikings fell one horrifying play short of making it to SB XLIV. Obviously the big concern is whether No. 4 decides he wants more and is willing to come back for another season in 2010. We can talk all about the forward progress the Vikes made last year, such as going 3-0 SU and ATS at home from December out after having been 2-5 SU and 0-7 ATS in three previous season under Brad Childress... or Minny's mighty 10-2 ‘In The Stats' log during its final 12 games of the campaign. But the fact of the matter is everything centers around the Ol' Wrangler's return.
PLAY ON: at New Orleans (9/9)