It’s time to start thinking football

The first round of Wisconsin high school football games will be played one month from today.
And the National Football League will be starting shortly after. It is time to get into serious football thinking mode.
I know, most fans never completely stop thinking about football. It stews in your blood like lava bubbling inside a volcano. Well, it is time to erupt.
High school football players will take the field for their first practices in two weeks. But instead of concentrating on the prep side, let’s take an early look at the NFL, primarily the NFC North Division.
The NFC North is one of the most intriguing divisions heading into the 2013 season because all four teams have legitimate reasons to believe they can be division champions.
The Green Bay Packers are reigning division champions, but that doesn’t give them any security heading into a new season. The Packers have just as many holes and question marks as any other team.
About the only sure thing for the Packers is the passing game. Aaron Rodgers is one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL and the trio of Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson and James Jones ranks among the best groups of receivers in the league. Don’t expect the loss of Donald Driver and Greg Jennings to hurt the passing attack at all. They were really inconsequential in last year’s attack.
There’s no telling whether the flip-flopping of the offensive line will work for the Packers. There may be high hopes for the running game, but there’s no guarantees that DuJuan Harris, Eddie Lacy or Johnathan Franklin can be productive over a 16-game schedule.
The Packer defense is equally filled with questions. There are talented players, but they haven’t shown signs of being an above-average defense in the past two seasons.
The Minnesota Vikings had an excellent draft, but expecting significant contributions out of the first round picks might be a stretch. That can be said especially for receiver Cordarelle Patterson. He wants to be the next Randy Moss, but he has just as much chance to be the next Troy Williamson.
The Vikings will live and die on the production of running back Adrian Peterson. He had one of the greatest seasons ever by an NFL running back in 2012, but expecting the same production, or even more, might be overstepping logic.
Minnesota’s defense has to rely heavily on its pass rush. Other than Chad Greenway, the Vikings’ linebackers aren’t strong and the secondary is on the young side.
The overhaul done by the Chicago Bears leaves them as the biggest question mark in the division. And they are the team that could take the biggest fall. Without Lovie Smith and Brian Urlacher, can the Bears’ defense be the same? It doesn’t seem likely.
Chicago’s fate will rest largely with Jay Cutler and the offense. The changes in the coaching staff were made to inject life into the offense and get the most out of Cutler, Brandon Marshall and Matt Forte. The Bears need more weapons around them. They aren’t there yet.
It’s hard to believe that Detroit could slosh to another 4-12 season. Calvin Johnson may be the best receiver in football and Matthew Stafford is an above average quarterback. The key to the Lions’ offense is Reggie Bush. If he can produce like he did in Miami, Detroit will be a drastically better offensive team than in 2012.
Whether the Lions will be better on defense is another question. They dumped some of their established defenders, but will their replacements be any better? Time will tell.
It certainly looks like this should be a highly entertaining division. Injuries, and teams that have the depth to withstand the injuries best, will likely decide the standings at the end of the 2013 season.

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