Ask the Experts: NFC Edition

Who will step up in the North? What's next for the Niners, Seahawks and Lions?

Q: Who will be the Minnesota Vikings' starting QB in 09? - John from Brookhaven, Pa.

Chris Steuber: That's an interesting question. I think Minnesota will give John David Booty and Tarvaris Jackson a chance to prove themselves next year in training camp, but if Brad Childress is still the head coach and Philadelphia is willing to part ways with Donovan McNabb, I could see McNabb in Minnesota.

McNabb in Minny? (Getty)
Adam Caplan: Probably no one on their roster. It wouldn't be a surprise if they made a trade for a quarterback or looked to free agency.

Tom Marino: I would have to think Tarvaris Jackson, beginning his fourth season in professional football would have the needed experience and maturity level to be the guy, particularly since he has every physical skill you look for at the position.

J.P. Losman, I believe an unrestricted free agent, Chargers Charlie Whitehurst, and Texans Sage Rosenfels are three that could be given consideration, but keep in mind that the price for QB's is ever so steep.

Ed Thompson: One thing is for sure -- he's not currently on the roster. Cardinals QB Kurt Warner is the most talented thrower who will be an undrafted free agent at the end of the season. He could be worth pursuing as long as the Vikings also seek a younger quarterback to develop, perhaps through a trade, such as Washington's Colt Brennan. Other than Warner, the only other free agent QB who is in the realm of being a starting-caliber passer is J.P. Losman, but I don't think he'll solve any problems in Minnesota. The other bad news is that there really isn't anyone in next year's draft class who jumps out at me as ready to start as a rookie. Minnesota may need to be aggressive with a trade offer to upgrade the position. If Miami's John Beck or Chad Henne can start for them next year, Chad Pennington could be another QB they could nab with the right trade offer. Or if Warner stays in Arizona, Matt Leinart might be worth considering through a trade.

Q: I can't believe the lions don't give the ball to Kevin Smith 20-25 times a game. He is the best of the rookies. Just watch his highlight video from UCF on YouTube. - JK from Greeley Colorado

RB Kevin Smith (Getty)
Chris Steuber: I agree that Kevin Smith is a talented back, and I predicted that he would be the Rookie of the Year this season. But I guess I was wrong. I watched Smith play at Central Florida for three years, and his game is eerily similar to former All-Pro running back Ricky Watters.

Adam Caplan: He's a little slow actually and hasn't really commanded the ball so far. But you're right in that they need to give him a better shot. Rudi Johnson isn't the answer.

Tom Marino: Well, Josh, the University of Central Florida is a long way from the NFL. Also keep in mind that the Lions are trailing in many games and the opportunity to give a back 20 to 25 times is limited when your club is trying to play catch up as is the case with the Lions.

Ed Thompson: While Smith is a respectable talent, I have to disagree with the assessment that he's the best of the rookies. How he looked against the teams that played UCF hasn't translated to success in the NFL as of yet. I like his versatility and believe he will be a good back in this league, but the Lions are so desperate for wins that head coach Rod Marinelli would gladly give the ball to Smith that many times if he could produce the results. He had 16 carries in the season-opener and only managed 48 yards that day.

Bears LB Bruan Urlacher (Getty)
Q: What are the chances that someone wins the NFC North with a .500 record or worse? - Tom from NY

Chris Steuber: I don't see that happening, because I believe the Packers will eventually run away with that division and finish 10 – 6.

Adam Caplan: The guess here is that Green Bay will win that division at 9-7 (kind of like the NFC West in previous years).

Tom Marino: Probably not very good, but through the first six weeks of the season, nobody in the NFC North has really shown much in the way of consistency. Look for the Packers to play better in the second half and finish with a ten win season. Jay P

Ed Thompson: It wouldn't be a shock to see either the Bears or Packers to win the division at 8-8, but I'm thinking the Packers have a shot at winning at least nine if they can get their secondary back to full strength.

Q: What do the Detroit Lions need to be a contender? - Jay from Detroit

Rod Marinelli (Getty)
Chris Steuber: Contender… we're talking about the Lions, right? I'm kidding, but seriously, they have to get a general manager who has a clue on draft day. Acquiring those three draft choices from Dallas puts the Lions in a situation of being able to rebuild a disastrous franchise searching for an identity. They have some nice talent at certain positions, but they have to shore up their trouble areas, most notably their secondary.

Adam Caplan: Better personnel on both sides of the ball and they need to make better personnel decisions. So you can make a case for them to bring in better personnel evaluators.

Tom Marino: Seriously, I don't see many areas on offense or defense where I felt the Lions had championship-type personnel. Management has done a very poor job, made some very poor decisions, and has no real short or long term plan as far as I can see.

Ed Thompson: A quarterback who can hoist the offense on his shoulders from time to time, an improved offensive line and a powerful running back who can improve their inside running game. On defense, they could use at least two playmakers in the secondary and at least one young, aggressive DT with a non-stop motor to get them into the thick of an NFC North race.

Q: Can the Niners turn it around??? I had hopes of a 9-7 season but I'm happy with an even 0.500. - Chris from San Carlos, CA

LB Patrick Willis (AP)
Chris Steuber: The Niners are a talented team, but they have to have more stability. It appears that Mike Nolan lost the team, and it was reflected in their play. I think they can turn it around, but it's going to take time and they will have to be led by a new regime before an upward swing is possible.

Adam Caplan: On offense, the offensive line hasn't been consistent enough from week to week and the receiver group lacks playmakers. 

Defensively, they have been very disappointing. Other than Patrick Willis and Nate Clements, there's a lack of overall talent on defense and it shows from week to week. The secondary has been really poor and the lack of a pass rush is tied into that.

Tom Marino: Chris, the 49ers have some very talented players at a number of positions at both sides of the football, but at many critical area's they have yet to turn the corner. T.J. O'Sullivan is a serviceable QB, but until they get better in that critical area, I believe the team will. The good news is that the rest of the NFC West are also not playing particularly well to this point of the season. I wish the 49ers well for the remainder of the season, but this club is still a ways away from being a contending football club.

Ed Thompson: If the 49ers stop shooting themselves in the foot, they should improve. This is a team with some talented players, but their league-worst fifteen give-aways is killing them, especially in light of their mediocre defense. All things considered, I agree with you that an 8-8 season would be considered a successful year for this squad.

Q: Has the window for the Seahawks closed? If so, do they have enough talent to compete in the next few years or will they need to completely rebuild there team? - Alan from Indianapolis

Chris Steuber: The Seahawks have good parts, but some of their key components are starting to rust. With this being Mike Holmgren's last season in Seattle and the disappointing start they've had thus far, the best thing for Seattle to do is to rebuild.

Mike Holmgren (AP)

Adam Caplan:  Not only has the offense been struggling  but no one can figure out what has happened to the defense. They have to improve at receiver and on defense, they must improve in the secondary if they are to be a good team again.

Tom Marino: Alan, I would have to say the window of opportunity is very close to being closed and I do not believe the club has enough quality young people at key positions to see them contending for a NFC West title in the immediate future. Sorry Alan, but I believe a major over haul is in the Seahawks future.

Ed Thompson: You hate to give up on any team this early in the season, but Seattle has been snake-bit this season. I think they'll be fortunate to win five games this year. I still believe in their defensive talent, but they have to address the wide receiver position (even when healthy, this isn't an intimidating bunch) and figure out what they are going to do at quarterback with questions about Hasselbeck's long-term durability. They have a respectable running game, but they need to compliment it with a much-improved passing attack. 

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