- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 26, 2007

CHICAGO BEARS

Last season: 13-3 (lost in Super Bowl)

Coach: Lovie Smith (31-21), fourth season

Story line: Thomas Jones was traded to the Jets, so the days of an effective running back tandem are over — it”s Cedric Benson”s job.

Power game: Linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs are elite players. Defensive tackle Tommie Harris (if healthy) and return man Devin Hester are among the best at their positions.

Achilles” heel: The Bears never know what they”re going to get out of QB Rex Grossman. Benson has never had to carry the load.

On the hot seat: Grossman. Yes, his team reached the Super Bowl last year. But, no, he hasn”t been a consistently good player.

Bottom line: This isn”t a great team, but they”ll be good enough to win an awful division a third consecutive year.

GREEN BAY PACKERS

Last season: 8-8

Coach: Mike McCarthy (8-8), second season

Story line: Brett Favre likely is playing his last season. Does the old gunslinger have one final playoff run in him?

Power game: Wideout Donald Driver caught 92 passes last year. Linebacker A.J. Hawk is a tackling machine.

Achilles” heel: Running back Ahman Green went to Houston and the Packers waited until the draft and Brandon Jackson to find a replacement.

On the hot seat: GM Ted Thompson. His decision not to replace Green with an established veteran could be costly.

Bottom line: Defensively, the Packers should be decent. The offense, however, will struggle with consistency. The running game is a giant question mark, and that means more will be put on Favre”s aging right shoulder.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS

Last season: 6-10

Coach: Brad Childress (6-10), second season

Story line: The Vikings possess perhaps the league’s best running game (Chester Taylor, Adrian Peterson) and worst passing attack (young QB Tarvaris Jackson).

Power game: Taylor and Peterson each could surpass 1,000 yards rushing. Defensive tackle Kevin Williams is an elite player.

Achilles’ heel: Quarterback play. Jackson is a work in progress, and backup Brooks Bollinger isn’t proven, either.

On the hot seat: Childress. He seemed overmatched last year. His decision not to get a veteran quarterback to help Jackson could be a disaster.

Bottom line: The Vikings will have no problem running the football or stopping the run. Just about everything else will be a problem.

DETROIT LIONS

Last season: 3-13

Coach: Rod Marinelli (3-13), second season

Story line: Scoring won’t be a problem for the Lions. Whether the defense can stop anybody is a mystery.

Power game: Roy Williams, Calvin Johnson and Mike Furrey could combine for 225 catches. Nose tackle Shaun Rogers is a franchise player.

Achilles’ heel: The offensive line allowed 63 sacks last year and remains a mess. The secondary could develop into a problem without cornerback Dre Bly.

On the hot seat: Matt Millen. Another losing season finally might signal the end to the Millen Error in Detroit.

Bottom line: Even with Jon Kitna as the quarterback, the Lions are favored to lead the NFL in passing yards. That, however, won’t equal more wins.

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Chicago 2. Green Bay 3. Detroit 4. Minnesota

MVP candidate: Linebacker Brian Urlacher, Bears

Best coach: Lovie Smith, Bears

Top newcomer: Running back Tatum Bell, Lions

Most missed: Running back Thomas Jones, Bears

Top rookie: Wide receiver Calvin Johnson, Lions

Best stadium: Solider Field, Chicago

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