Game Changers: The New NFC North

FS Louis Delmas

We take a peak at the new faces and impact players across the NFC North for 2009.

It's been a blockbuster offseason in the NFC North. The Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions acquired quarterbacks they think will be difference-makers for the next decade and the Minnesota Vikings apparently are on the precipice of landing a quarterback that they hope will be the difference-maker of 2009.

Green Bay, even after having two first-round picks in the draft as part of a revamped defense led by proven coordinator Dom Capers, has flown under the radar.

"I think everybody is cool with that," big-play receiver Greg Jennings said on the day he signed his lucrative contract extension. "We don't really care about what goes on in our division as far as acquisitions that were made. Teams are trying to get better each and every year. That's why we made the changes on defense. That's why we drafted the guys that we drafted. We're trying to improve in areas we felt we needed to improve. That's what it's all about: trying to get better as an organization. Teams in our division are trying to do that and we're trying to do the same thing. As long as can fly under the radar, we'll fly low. Hopefully, we'll end up with a big bang and we won't have to fly as low at the end of the season."

Who will make the largest impacts in this vastly changed division?

No. 13: Orlando Pace, T, Chicago

The future Pro Football Hall of Famer isn't what he used to be, but he's at least a slightly above-average left tackle. Putting him at that all-important spot allows the Bears to move last year's top pick, Chris Williams, to right tackle.

No. 12: Louis Delmas, S, Detroit


Louis Delmas
Greg Shamus/Getty Images
The hard-hitting Delmas, a second-round pick from Western Michigan, joins veteran cornerbacks Phillip Buchanon and Anthony Henry in a new-look secondary. Hey, it can't be any worse. The Lions' secondary picked off exactly one pass last season.

No. 11: Clay Matthews III, LB, Green Bay

Matthews' impact will be larger if he beats out Jeremy Thompson at right outside linebacker. Of the Packers' top linebackers, he is the only one with any experience in the 3-4. He has all the tools, from athletic ability to genes, to make an immediate difference.

No. 10: D.J. Moore, CB, Chicago

The undersized Moore (5-foot-9) won't start this year, but he was an interception machine at Vanderbilt. Remember the impact Tramon Williams made last season with five interception as a part-time starter.

No. 9: Matthew Stafford, QB, Detroit

With Daunte Culpepper down about 30 pounds and playing for one more contract, and the Lions' new leadership group in only its first year, there's little reason to play Stafford right away. Quarterbacks taken No. 1 overall almost always flop when thrown in the fire right away because they don't have a supporting cast. So, expect Stafford to wait — for the good of Stafford and the franchise.

No. 8: Juaquin Iglesias, WR, Chicago


Juaquin Iglesias
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
The Bears have a big-time quarterback, but who will he throw the ball to with a pedestrian group of receivers at his disposal? Maybe it will be Iglesias, who was drafted late in the third round. Rookie receivers, however, generally are slow to make an impact, though Cutler found rookie second-round pick Eddie Royal 91 times last year.

No. 7: Julian Peterson, LB, Detroit

Peterson is penciled in as the strong-side starter. In nine seasons between the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks, he posted 56 sacks, 38 passes defensed and eight interceptions.

No. 6: Terrelle Smith, FB, Detroit

Smith was one of the top fullbacks available in free agency, having led the way for eight 1,000-yard rushers in 10 seasons. He was an afterthought as pass-happy Arizona reached the Super Bowl last year.

No. 5: Larry Foote, LB, Detroit

Add Foote at middle linebacker to Peterson and former first-round pick Ernie Sims, and the Lions have a well above-average group of starting linebackers. Foote, with his experience with the Super Bowl champions, will be a huge presence for an 0-16 team that's starting from scratch.

No. 4: Percy Harvin, WR, Minnesota


Percy Harvin
Tom Dahlin/Viking Update
After an electrifying career at Florida, the Vikings' first-round pick is seen as the draft's boom-or-bust prospect. He can catch and run, and the Vikings tried him as a Wildcat quarterback. If Harvin can act like a professional, he'll give defensive coordinators fits for years.

No. 3: B.J. Raji, DE, Green Bay

Raji will start at left defensive end, be one of the interior rushers in nickel situations and back up Ryan Pickett at nose tackle. In his free time, he'll deliver popcorn to fans in the club seats. The pairing of Raji and left outside linebacker Aaron Kampman should be a strength of the new defense.

No. 2: Brett Favre, QB, Minnesota

OK, so we're jumping the gun a little bit, since there's a chance Favre will send coach Brad Childress a text-message halfway through the first day of training camp to say he's going to stay retired or he needs another week to decide. But the Vikings have a great running game and a great run defense, a combo that always wins with an effective quarterback. Can the Vikings endure the media circus that took its toll on the Packers last year?

No. 1: Jay Cutler, QB, Chicago

For a franchise that's had a quarterback reach the Pro Bowl exactly once in 44 years, getting Cutler changes everything. As the Packers learned during Favre's glorious run, with a top-notch quarterback, you're always a contender. He can throw it a mile and he can run out of trouble. Now, will he thrive under the immense pressure from a championship-starved fan base?

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