On the outside, confidence seemed to be running low on Crosby entering training camp. On the inside, there seemed to be no problems. The Packers chose not to bring in any competition at kicker for Crosby after a subpar 2009 and are hoping a new holder and a little extra work will go a long way. It will. About to enter his fourth season, Crosby is ready to match talent with results. The feeling here is that his struggles have been blown out of proportion, made worse only by remarkable proficiency among the top half of kickers in the league. This season Crosby joins that group. A couple of long made field goals and continued success with touchbacks on kicks should garner him the attention he needs to rise to the top in the NFC.
The Lions will make the NFC North a four-team race
There might not be a more competitive division in the NFL than the NFC North in 2010. The Packers, Vikings, and Bears all have high hopes. And the Lions – yes, the Lions – will throw their hat into the mix as well. Two wins over the past two seasons is hardly an indicator of success to come, but it is difficult not to notice a change coming in Motor City. Starting with head coach Jim Schwartz, this Lions bunch has some punch. Matthew Stafford is a keeper at quarterback, and Calvin Johnson and rookie Jahvid Best have the potential to be two of the better playmakers in the league. On defense, rookie Ndamukong Suh, free agent Kyle Vanden Bosch and safety Louis Delmas are forces to be reckoned with. The Lions will be a surprise team in the NFC, challenging in the North until late in the season.
Three Packers will go over 1,000 receiving yards
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Defense will regress dramatically this season
History says that the Packers' defense should improve in the second year of Dom Capers' 3-4 scheme. But its solid body of work statistically in 2009 makes that almost impossible. Instead, the Packers could be headed for a free fall on defense. Why? Because there are no big improvements in personnel and no weak schedule to pad the numbers. This prediction is hard to quantify, but it would not be surprising to see the Packers drop into the bottom 10 in the league statistically on defense. With Clay Matthews now a marked man, there is essentially no pass rush to speak of, which is the biggest concern. The linebackers are average blitzers at best, and cornerback Charles Woodson might be the most instinctive pass rusher on the team. But blitzing Woodson means he is taken away from making plays on the back end. The Packers will need him there without Al Harris and with a group of youngsters who struggled against second-teamers in the preseason. Add in questionable depth across the board and the Packers could be in for a long, long year on defense.
The Packers will lose more games on the road than Aaron Rodgers has interceptions
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Rookie Morgan Burnett will lead the team in interceptions
Whether on film in college, in NFL training camp practices, or in preseason action, Burnett has shown to be a big-time playmaker. He has a nose for the ball and the smarts to make it happen. Because he is a rookie, he should get tested by opposing offenses. That might be a good thing. His presence could take away some turnovers from Pro Bowlers Charles Woodson and Nick Collins, who have been among the league leaders in interceptions over the past two years. Look for Burnett to play more of a free safety role until he gets comfortable in the defense. Then he can work more interchangeably with Collins.
Someone besides the Cowboys, Packers, Saints or Vikings will represent the NFC in the Super Bowl
It is easy to see why everyone likes the aforementioned four teams as the overwhelming favorites in the NFC. It is much less easy to see why not. Here are some theories: The Cowboys will let drama and pressure get to them while trying to become the first team to "host" a Super Bowl. The Packers will only be held back by their defense. The Saints will suffer a hangover after the incredible magic ride of 2009. And the Vikings will only go as far as their age-defying quarterback will take them. That usually means a playoff exit. Thus, look for a surprise team to step up. Three teams to watch – the Giants, Falcons, and 49ers. The Giants and Falcons are ready to rebound, and the 49ers are ready to break through.
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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org