As Keanu Reeves once eloquently said, “Whoa”. I’m trying a two-fer today.
Much was expected of the Packers and Bears last year. The Bears were done in by a uncharacteristically bad defense that couldn’t stop the pass. The Packers were done in by a defense that couldn’t stop the run. They also lost six games by four points or less. That’s gotta hurt. We’ll go position by position.
Prior to 2008, Kyle Orton was just The Guy Who Was Slightly Better than Rex Grossman. Now he’s The Guy Who Was Thrown Away for Jay Cutler. Cutler is the best Bear quarterback perhaps ever. I’m sorry, Sid Luckman fans. Do not forget that he had two 90-catch receivers last year. The leading receiver for the Bears last year was a running back. As a fan you’d rather have a good QB and iffy receivers than the other way around. Jay will push 4000 yards passing and be a solid starting fantasy QB.
Save a compelling relief performance against the Cowboys in 2007, we hadn’t seen anything from Aaron Rodgers since his free fall on draft day 2005. All Rodgers did was total 32 touchdowns and make Packer fans forget a little about that guy with the beard. Rodgers is a good quarterback with fantastic receivers. He has been injury prone in the past, but won’t slide much further than the fourth QB in redrafts.
For a season, Matt Forte has broken the Bear drafted running back curse. Call him the anti-Cedric Benson. He led the team in receptions and was the workhorse. I doubt that he’ll lead the team in receptions again, although 50 catches is probable. Detractors will point to the 3.9 yards per carry. The offensive line was rubbish last year. Pure rubbish. Orlando Pace and Chris Williams will help at tackle. Kevin Jones should get more carries as the primary backup. Forte’s price might be a tad too high for your tastes this year.
Ryan Grant had the same paltry 3.9 per carry average. Spending most of his offseason clamoring for a new contract, Grant was not at full strength last year. He’s going to be the team’s main runner, with Brandon Jackson as the third-down back. DeShawn Wynn and Kregg Lumpkin will battle for playing time. Ryan’s should be a good RB2 in 2009.
There’s one word that comes to mind when the subject of Bear wideouts is brought up. Puke. You’d think that Devin Hester forgot how to return kicks last year since he spent too much time working on his wide receiver “craft”. Not so much. His numbers were Bobby Wade-esque. Cutler can throw the deep ball, so maybe he’ll get a few of those 80-yard touchdowns. I can’t vote for his consistency. As for the rest, go ahead and pick the winner between Earl Bennett, Johnny Knox, Juaquin Iglesisas, Rashied Davis, Brandon Rideau and Derek Kinder.
Bear fans would remove a pinky finger for one of the Packers’ top four wideouts. Greg Jennings is the number one guy. What’s not to like out of the 80 catches, 16.2 yards per catch, 9 touchdowns, and his rugged good looks? The former number one and still all around quality guy is Donald Driver. He passed 1000 receiving yards for the fifth straight year, albeit barely. He’s going to lose some time to the youngsters Jordy Nelson and James Jones. These two represent nothing but upside. Unless they suck.
The Bears have two receivers in tight end form. Greg Olsen catches passes when he’s not pretending to block. He may not start every game, but he’s going to catch 60 passes, and few tight ends do that. Desmond Clark is the backup whose numbers have dwindled ever since Olsen joined the team. Clark is useful if Olsen gets hurt or is limited.
Donald Lee returned to fantasy tight end earth last year. His only saving grace was the five touchdown receptions. He’s a fantasy backup, and not much more.
Mason Crosby and Robbie Gould are top kicking options.
Bear D big numbers: 27 sacks, 22 interceptions, 14 fumbles recovered, 3 defensive touchdowns, one kick return touchdown. The Bears D is still a name D and will be drafted higher than they deserve. Only a full return of Hester as a kick returner makes this defense worthy of starting.
Packer D big numbers: 27 sacks, 22 interceptions, seven defensive touchdowns, two return touchdowns. Wow. If you think touchdowns are variable, defensive return TDs are doubly so. I like that Will Blackmon is a dedicated returner. Other than that, there’s not much to like since this defense is switching to the 3-4, and there will be growing pains.
For the Bears, you want to own Adewale Ogunleye (DE), Brian Ulracher and Lance Briggs (LB, Briggs is better), Charles Tillman (CB), and Kevin Payne (SS).
For the Packers, remember that Aaron Kampman who used to be a good DE is now an OK outside linebacker. I would take Nick Barnett’s production over A.J. Hawk’s “waiting for it” potential. Nick Collins (FS) and Atari Bigby (SS) in the secondary are good selections as well.
The offenses are good. The defenses need work. I’d bet on a resurgence by the Bears on the defensive side, whereas the Packers might have the best offense in the league. Seriously.