How Bad Is The NFC North?
Let me start this post by saying that if the Bears are counting on the expected ineptitude of the NFC North to be their calling card for success in 2006, they better think again. They've got plenty of their own issues to worry about. Plenty.
Dusty Dvoracek, a promising rookie who was looking a bit like a long-haired crazy dude in the middle of the defensive line in the mold of Steve McMichael, has been ruled out for the entire season. (Bummer.) So has starting fullback Bryan Johnson. (Bummer.) Mike Brown and Alex Brown are currently questionable for the start of the season. Rex Grossman has yet to lead a touchdown drive. Thomas Jones is still far from 100% if his performance on Friday is any indication. Cedric Benson is still clueless. Tight end remains a mysterious concept the Bears have yet to grasp.
Yeah, I'd say Lovie Smith has plenty to worry about.
That said, the Packers may be on the verge of being a special kind of bad. Last night they trailed the Bengals 17-0 before Joe Theisman even had a chance to mutter his first moronic statement of the night, and we all know that doesn't take long. The score at halftime was 34-7 before the starters were replaced. Brett Favre had a fumble - or was it a backwards pass? - returned for a touchdown on the Packers' first possession. The play was comical and prompted one to wonder if Favre's horrendous 2005 season may have only been the first act in one of the ugliest ends to a fabulous career ever. I know little of new coach Mike McCarthy, but when he was shown on screen my first thought was, "Um, this guy doesn't even look like an NFL head coach." Not that a successful NFL head coach has to look a certain way, but McCarthy looks like he should be firing up the special teams for some Green Bay high school on a Friday night. He just does. He just looks out of his element.
In other words, if the Packers match their four wins of last year, I'll be surprised.
Meanwhile, new Lions coach Rod Marinelli continues taking his tough guy routine to ridiculous lengths. On Saturday, he made the Lions fly on the day of a game in Oakland just to, you know, be tough and shit. Just to show who's boss. I have a feeling that the Marinelli era is a ticking bomb that will blow sooner than later. (Though Matt Millen will probably be given a contract extension.)
Up in Minnesota, Vikings players still can't stay out of the police blotter.
The point is, the NFC North looks about as winnable as it's ever going to be. Of course, this is on paper, and on paper means nothing. But the Bears have every reason to believe that, with a little smarts and a little luck, the division is right there for the taking. When you add in the fact that the Bears' 2006 schedule is the second easiest in the league despite their status as a division winner, they should consider themselves incredibly lucky. All signs seem to be pointing in the right direction.
If the Bears fail to take advantage, they'll have nobody to blame but themselves. And it'll be a damn shame.