10 things to watch for in the NFC North

BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:17 AM ET

1. Brett Favre will return to quarterback the Vikings. End of story. There is evidence, like that dying-duck pass that killed Minnesotaís Super Bowl dream, to suggest he has had better ideas.

But, he wonít quit. Favre is one of those guys who canít quit until it becomes painfully evident that he no longer has the physical tools. That may involve someone carrying him off the field. As it is, heís living on borrowed time with instinct, cunning and guts. The quick arm, speed, and most of the agility, were left on the turf in Green Bay. That said, given an opening, he can still rip the heart out of a defence.

The Vikingsí biggest weapon remains Adrian Peterson, but like Favre he can turn into his own worst enemy with a league-high 20 fumbles the past three seasons.

All of which points to this being the season that Aaron Rodgers and the Packers get to deliver their old buddy some payback. Green Bay had the top rushing defence in the league last year and accumulated a bountiful 141 points off turnovers. Rodgers is emerging as an elite quarterback and there just arenít many jobs open in training camp on a solidly built roster.

So, about that 2010 NFC championship photo? Say ďcheese.Ē

2. Going nowhere: The Bears made constructive steps adding Julius Peppers, Chester Taylor and offensive coordinator Mike Martz. But the offensive line makes about as much progress as a hamster on a spinning wheel. Matt Forte had 19 rush attempts from inside the five and scored twice. That adds up to third-best in the division, not to mention, frustration.

3. Gate crasher: Move over Antonio Gates. Packersí tight end Jermichael Finley has the size, agility and strength to be the positionís next superstar. Should develop into a primary target for Rodgers, especially in the red zone.

4. Star-crossed: The Lions drafted quarterback Matthew Stafford to be their saviour. And, everyone knows what happens to saviours. The kid doesnít stand a chance, especially with offence that averaged only 25.6 rushing attempts a game last season. It means that to have even a chance to win, Stafford has to complete 25 passes every game. Wonít happen.

5. Family matters: Favreís wife, Deanna, has renewed her membership at Lifetime Fitness in Minnesota. Yeah, heís not going anywhere but under centre.

6. Running on empty: If Mike Martz is such an offensive genius how come he hasnít had a good offence since the 1999 Rams? And that team had four potential Hall of Famers. The Bears? Here he has Devin Hester and Johnny Knox - who would be really good if Jay Cutler could kick them the ball.

7. Air raid: Big changes in the Lionsí secondary. Canít hurt. Detroit ranked last in the NFL with opponents throwing for 266 yards and 68.1% completion rate. Louis Delmas looks a keeper at safety and Chris Houston from the Falcons should help but they need rookie Amari Spievey to develop quickly to keep the visitor side of the scoreboard from lighting up like something on a pinball machine.

8. The Happy Gang?: Martz and Cutler have to build some kind of chemistry quickly. That may be difficult if the team struggles early. Martz isnít known for his patience but he is known to be caustic towards QBs who donít figure out his offemnce. Cutler? Mr. Happy he is not. Of course, if you hadnít had a winning season since high school maybe youíd be a bit sour, too. Could be a train wreck waiting to happen.

9. Alphabet soup: Ndamukong Suh. A word search. Or, Motownís next superstar? Someday the defensive tackle could be a household name around here as big as Al Kaline, Gordie Howe, Barry Sanders. But being unsigned as camp opens today isnít a great way to start. Typical Lionsí though. Have gun; shoot foot.

10. Protect jay: Cutler was hurried on 22% of pass plays, fourth worst total in the NFL last year. Offensive line coach Mike Tice has been hired to fix that ó but it may be a bit like handing a guy duct tape to patch the Titanic.


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