Wednesday, December 07, 2005

THE NFC NORTH PLAYOFF PICTURE!

NFC NORTH:

CHICAGO BEARS

OVERVIEW: From a fantasy perspective… aside from brutish Bear back Thomas Jones, Chicago’s a fantasy wasteland. WR Muhsin Muhammed was s’pose to be a top opp’ at his position. Unfortunately, once QB Rex Grossman went down… so did Moose’s value. However, while this season is done for… next season’s a whole other story. Grossman offers mobility and arm strength that Orton can’t match… and this year’s Signal Caller (KO) is no lock to be next year’s QB. Be that as it may, the Chi-Town D is littered with fantastic fantasy IDP plays. Predicated upon who the Bears face in the first round… RB Thomas Jones is a fine #3/”Flex” back fantasy start.

OFFENSE: When Sexy Rexxy Grossman, who should be ready to return sooner rather than later, went down with his second season-ending injury in as many years... the Bear brass was ready. Coach Lovie Smith, who abso-freakin'lootly' deserves some heart-attack serious "Coach of the Year" consideration, didn't panic. Lovie tossed cub QB Kyle Orton (so far, 1,591/9/13 and completing 53.4%) out onto the field, confident that the mid-round pick would be a fine "care-taker." And, indeed Orton's done just that. While the rook' hasn't won many games... he's only lost one, early season 5-pick tilt. Chicago's ridden "Bear-back;" RB Thomas Jones (236 carries, 1005/6). A '00 Cardinal 1st round draft pick who was widely viewed as a bust... until his 7 score, 948 yard '04 campaign, the brutish Jones has capably carried Chicago's mail. The team gave a BIG dollar contract to former Panther pass catcher Muhsin "Moose" Muhammed (48/561/3). Given the veteran pass catcher's age (32) and the state of the iffy Bear O, this move was widely criticized... and rightly so. "Moose" has scattered 3 TDs across 13 games, and has eclipsed 80 receiving yards in a scant 2 games. The next most productive Bear Wideout would be Justin Gage (20/225/1), an '03 5th rounder who's averaging a little over 20 YPC. This year's top pick, RB Cedric Benson, didn't start his career in timely fashion and frankly, he has yet to get on track. Now, hobbled by a sprained right knee... Benson won't make any sort of impact until next season. If any good came of taking Benson with the 4th overall pick this year... it's that his presence pushed incumbent Thomas Jones to reach his real potential, and to play through that which he never would have.

DEFENSE: The defense... the '05 squad has done the record-setting '85 unit proud! Through Week 12, the young unit leads the league in most categories, and is amongst the top 4 in those it doesn't own. "Total Yards Allowed? 262.8 (ranked 1st), Rushing Yards Allowed? 93.3 (ranked 7th), Passing Yards Allowed? 169.6 (ranked 2nd), Points Allowed? 127 (ranked 1st), Interceptions? 18 (2nd only to the Ball-Hawkin' Bengals), INTs returned for TDs? 3 (1st, tied with the Vikings and Broncos), Forced Fumbles? 14 (only Indy, KC and Philly' have more), and with 37 Sacks, only Indianapolis and San Diego have more. The Chi-Town Front-4 can bring as much pressure as a pair of medieval thumb-screws; DEs Adewale Ogunleye (on pace for a career high in Tackles and a 2nd best season of Sacks) and Alex Brown (also, will come close/break a career high in solo stops and set a career mark for Sacks) are a fantastic pair of Book-ends, and young ('04 1st round pick, 14th overall) DT Tommie Harris is fast-becoming the stopper the team envisioned. LB Brian Urlacher is finally healthy, he's not having trouble shaking free of blocks as the team had feared, and his game is reaching another level. "Papa Bear" will come close to his career mark for solo Tackles (120), and he should break his career Sack mark of 8. Likewise, '03 mid-rounder LB Lance Briggs is a Tacklin' machine. He may not garner Urlacher's Sacks, but Briggs “stays at home” and few ball carriers elude the sure-tackling backer who possesses sideline to sideline ability. As for the defensive backfield, LCB Charles Tillman has a nose for the ball (4 picks, 1 more INT will set a career mark) and is tremendous in run support. His partner in pass-defending crime, RCB Nate Vasher, is rapidly becoming one of the most feared DBs in the game. Nate “The Great” has already snagged 7 INTs, and he returned one of Pack’ Gun Slinger Brett Favre’s errant passes for a defensive score last week. And then there’s SS Mike Brown. Brown may have lost a step after 5 years of injuries and administering punishing hits… but few Ss are better at separating a receiver from the ball… or his senses.

**PLAYOFF PROGOSTICATION: As my grandfather’s old-time “bookmaker” friend would have so succinctly put it; “Chicago?… ain’t NO team gonna’ wanna’ be meetin’ up with Chi-Town in the second-season, boy.”
The likelihood of Minnesota overtaking the Bears for the Divvy’ crown is unlikely. The Bears aren’t an offensive juggernaut… that’s no surprise. Rather, the Bears get it done by pounding away with RB Thomas Jones and a power running game, and, of course, their grizzled D. Any franchise that can strike early and put the Bears in a bit of a hole… even a 10 point lead could do it, should beat them. Rookie Kyle Orton was supposed to clutch a clipboard and wear a soft-cap for several years… at best. Frankly, I don’t think the Bears ever envisioned Orton as a starter- I think the Bears saw a capable back-up, mop-up duty guy in their 4th round ’05 selection. And, as per his abilities… should the Bears find themselves down by 2 scores… I don’t see Orton bailing the team out.

Minnesota Vikings:

OVERVIEW: In an odd twist of fate… or knee, as it were, the season-ending injury (which may, actually, turn into a career threatening injury) to QB Daunte Culpepper just may have galvanized this team into action. I certainly wish C-Pepp’ no ill-will and the truth of the matter is… I have a gorgeous autographed Culpepper “Home Jersey” hanging in my “Hobby Room.” However, after dropping their first 2 contests… and posting a 2-5 record by mid-season, "Minny’s turned major!" Yikes! them Vikes’! The group has rallied, as they do each and every season, behind titanic Tice. But, as per new owner Zygi Wilf, it will take more than a “one-and-done” post-season run to keep Tice’s ship afloat. So, after being singled-out as perhaps the NFC North’s biggest disappointment Minnesota picked themselves up off of the turf, they straightened out their shoulder pads and adjusted their cups, and reeled off 5 straight and 6 of their last 7! QB Brad Johnson is doing a fine job directing the O, and the D is finally playing up to the lofty expectations set for it. Looking at things from a fantasy angle, keep an eye on how Coach Mike Tice divides the totes as RBs Moore and Bennett possess different skills. The pass catching contingent could see former Seahawk WR Koren Robinson ascend to the top spot, for Nate Burleson has disappointed. Robinson couldn’t fly straight as a ‘Hawk, but if he can toe the line as a Viking… “K-Rob” could reach his ample po’.

OFFENSE: From an NFL perspective, the loss of WR Randy Moss was nearly insurmountable. Whether or not you believe in “addition by subtraction,” there’s no disputing the fact that contrary to expectations, WR Nate Burleson has been unable to replace the game-breaking, Locker-Room fracturing talent. Rookie receiver Troy Williamson has been slow to pick-up the playbook, and the team has shuttled both RBs Mewelde Moore and Michael Bennett in and out of the lineup. The sole constant has been the team’s leading receiver; TE/H-Back Jermaine Wiggins. The good news? QB Brad Johnson has replaced Culpepper. The veteran SuperBowl Signal Caller is not turning the ball over, he’s quite arguably playing at a higher level that ‘Pepp was, and most significantly… Johnson’s proving to be a calming presence. While Johnson is no youngster, he’s savvy enough and strong-armed; the part-time purple-passer constitutes a VERY capable stretch-run fantasy Signal Caller. If I were in need of a #3/”Flex” WR, I wouldn’t hesitate to snatch former Seahawk Koren Robinson off of the ‘Wire. K-Rob tacked 148 more receiving yards onto his resume’ last week… but keep in mind that the bulk came on a single, 80 yard TD reception. If Robinson continues to emerge as a swift vertical threat, than the attention he’ll inevitably attract will render Red-Zone specialist Marcus Robinson and shifty slot receiver Travis Taylor all the more lethal.

DEFENSE: The Defense received quite the off-season make-over! To name but a few; LBs Sam Cowart and LB Napolean Harris (part of the Randy trade), DT Pat Williams, S Darren Sharper and CB Fred Smoot were added via Free Agency/trade, and DE Erasmus James (1st rounder, 18th overall) and DT C.J Mosely (6th rounder) were acquired through the draft. At last, motivated by both the bitter taste of losing and coach Tice’s size 15 boot meeting with butt, the D-unit appears to be gelling. With 7 INTs (2 returned for TDs) and 13 Passes Defended, Safety Darren Sharper is again a ball-hawking Centerfielder. CB Antoine Winfield leads the team with 75 Tackles and is unafraid to stick his nose into a pile in run support duty, and with 6 ½ Sacks (4 in the past 4 games), DE Lance Johnstone is pressuring opposing QBs. In recent games, the Vikings have stiffened up against the run; Week 13 saw leapin’ Lion Artose Pinner reap 64 ground yards (Ok, Ok, and a TD), Week 12 saw Brown back Reuben Droughns rush for a mere 73 yards (no TDs) after rackin’ up more than twice that the week before, and the Vikes’ slapped Pack’ back Sam Gado around, yielding a scant 7 yards on 10 totes Week 11. In addition to their new-found run-stuffing tuffness’, the Vikes’ Secondary has been My-T impressive as well. Peaking at the right time, the Defense … if not a strength, certainly isn’t the liability it was during the first quarter of the season.

**PLAYOFF PROGNOSTICATION: Assuming both franchises continue playing at their current levels, Minnesota will likely be unable to overtake Chicago for the Divisional title. However, assuming the purple and white continue playing at their current high level, the team should snag a Wild-Card berth. And, given where the Vikes were at by the time Week 3 rolled around… ANY Playoff berth is a welcome one. Should the D continue to force turnovers at its current pace… Minnesota could be a “Sleeper” SuperBowl candidate.

THE NFC SOUTH TO FOLLOW! COMMENTS AND QUESTIONS WELCOME!

1 Comments:

At 3:45 PM, Blogger LordX19 said...

You have left out the glorious Detroit Lions. I am sure that they have been working on a time machine, which is why they have been holding closed practice sessions. This will enable them to turn the clock back so they can undo the mistakes they have made in the last 5. . .er . . .10 . . .um . . .years.

 

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