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Indeed, there is so much new, and possibly improved, about these Redskins, who added a bunch of free agents in the hope they can score more points and become competitive again. At running back alone, holdover Clinton Portis has keeping him company. But the pass-catching situation is tenuous.

Things look brighter on defense, especially if Haynesworth isn’t brooding. Washington ranked 10th a year ago, and newcomers CB Phillip Buchanon, LB Chris Draft, DE Vonnie Holliday and DT Maake Kemoeatu should upgrade the unit that is led by MLB London Fletcher, and has a budding star in Brian Orakpo.

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NFC NORTH

Green Bay Packers

It took Green Bay half a season to truly adapt to the 3-4 alignment of defensive coordinator Dom Capers. Then the Packers were dynamic _ at least until Kurt Warner and the Cardinals tore them apart in the playoffs.

That D should be even tougher in 2010, anchored by a rapidly rising group of linebackers (A.J. Hawk, Desmond Bishop, Nick Barnett and Clay Matthews). Aaron Kampman left for Jacksonville, but he didn’t fit last season anyway. The main question marks will be in the secondary, which was ravaged by injuries last year, and every aspect of special teams.

Still, the Packers were 11-5, mainly because they scored 461 points and Aaron Rodgers further proved he can be an elite quarterback, similar to that unretiring type who preceded him in Green Bay. The Pack must solidify their shaky offensive line, behind which Rodgers was a standout despite Green Bay yielding 51 sacks. Rodgers’ receivers are first-rate, and watch for tight end Jermichael Finley to break out.

Minnesota Vikings

Let’s see, can we get through a Vikings capsule without mentioning retirement? Or unretirement? Of course not.

When Brett Favre returned to purple, the Vikings became dangerous contenders. They have all the makings with a huge offensive line, although it tends to wear down; superb running back Adrian Peterson; excellent tight end Visanthe Shiancoe; dynamic receivers Bernard Berrian and all-around threat Percy Harvin. But the offensive rookie of the year again has been plagued by migraines, and top wideout Sidney Rice (hip) is out at least six games.

Minnesota had 48 sacks last year, sparked by end Jared Allen’s 14 1/2 and 8 1/2 from Ray Edwards. The Williams Wall (Kevin and Pat) at tackle remains formidable, but the pass D needs upgrading. This division should come down to the head-to-head meetings with the Packers, and a wild-card slot figures to go to the runner-up.

Chicago Bears

Acquiring QB Jay Cutler was supposed to boost Chicago’s offense to elite status. Instead, with Cutler forcing the ball and a weak rushing game, the Bears ranked just 23rd in yards gained. They also made 34 turnovers, 27 of them interceptions.

Stripped of high draft choices after the Cutler deal, the Bears have needed to rebuild from within or through trades and free agency. Easily their biggest move was grabbing the highest profile free agent, DE Julius Peppers, for six years and potentially $91.5 million. Maybe he can spark a revival of the Monsters of the Midway after Chicago was a mere 17th on defense in 2010. Getting back MLB Brian Urlacher could be even more significant.

Story Continues →