Before I began to write this post, the Vikings experienced season altering news: Sidney Rice is having surgery and will be out for at least the first half of the season. With Percy Harvin having migraine problems, Brett Favre's arsenal has gotten inexperienced very quickly. This affects the NFC North in many ways.
Green Bay Packers - 1st in division - 13-3
Sleeper - Jermichael Finley, TE - Labeling Finley as a sleeper may seem ridiculous, but before the Packers last preseason game, no one was touting Finley as the top 5 TE that he seems to be after that performance (I know, I know, it's preseason, but still). Finley is a huge red zone target for the team and was the top TE in all of fantasy land in the final 5 weeks last season (that means: in the fantasy playoffs). What's so awesome about Finley? You can generally get him as the 7th or 8th TE drafted (Gates, Witten, Gonzalez, Davis, Daniels, Celek generally get drafted before Finley).
Bust - I can't find a single bust on the Packers offense. All 5 of the players at the tops of the offensive depth charts (QB, RB, TE, WR1 & WR2) are draftable and will produce.
Rookie to watch - None - Tough for a rookie to crack an offensive rotation that is as good at the top and as stable as the Packers' is.
You already know - Aaron Rodgers, QB - Really, any of 4 names could be here, but I chose the best of the bunch. Rodgers is primed to be one of the 2 best fantasy QB's this season and is getting drafted like one. With Finley poised for a breakout, Grant pounding the rock and Jennings and Driver hauling in the catches, Rodgers has plenty options to air it out.
Chicago Bears - 2nd in division - 9-7
Sleeper - Matt Forte, RB - After suffering through a sophomore slump, Forte is poised to bounce back and put up numbers similar to his rookie season. Though the Bears added Chester Taylor as running back depth, Forte is their #1 RB and will be given plenty of opportunities to shine. With Jay Cutler airing the ball out this season, it will open up the offense and give Forte plenty of room to run.
Bust - Devin Hester, WR - As long as Hester is listed as a #1 or #2 WR, Hester will be considered a bust. Never a receiving threat, Hester is a pure return man, with exciting speed and moves, but terrible hands. IF you are drafting a Bears WR, Johnny Knox and Devin Aromashodu are the ones to get.
Rookie to watch - Juaquin Iglesias, WR - This is a reach, but if he is given the chance, he will excel in an offense that will throw the ball more than it is used.
You already know - Jay Cutler, QB - With Mike Martz at the helm of the offense, Cutler is going to throw, throw, throw this season. That means more yards, more touchdowns and, well, more interceptions. Though he only had 12 last season, he could near the 20 interception mark this season, with Martz propensity to air it out on offense. Definitely a top 10 QB, but you never know what Cutler will do from week to week.
Minnesota Vikings - 3rd in division - 8-8
Sleeper - Bernard Berrian, WR - With Sidney Rice out and Percy Harvin suffering from migraines, Berrian becomes the guaranteed #1 WR (barring injury) for Brett Favre to throw to. This means he should be looking at a 1,000 yard season and close to double digit touchdowns so long as, you know, he can catch the damn ball.
Bust - Brett Favre, QB - A man who was so high just two days ago can drop so low once he loses his best WR from last season and his 2nd best WR is still suffering from the migraines he had the previous season. With the loss at WR, the Vikings should give the ball to Adrian Peterson a lot more, meaning Favre will have less chances to air the ball out.
Rookie to watch - Toby Gerhart, RB - Not many rookies on the offensive side of the ball but, should anything happen to Peterson, Gerhart becomes the man in Minnesota. With a great offensive line to run behind, Gerhart should score a handful of touchdowns just by relieving Peterson a few times a game.
You already know - Adrian Peterson, RB - Top 2 RB, great hands, scores tons of touchdowns, just a player you don't need to explain much. If he has solved his fumblitis, he will have a bigger season than last.
Detroit Lions - 4th in division - 5-11
Sleeper - Nate Burleson, WR - You know, I thought about putting Brandon Pettigrew in this spot, but then I got to thinking. With all the defenses keying in on Calvin Johnson, Burleson is going to be put in a situation to succeed. Getting left one on one with smaller CB's, Burleson will be able to shine and put up solid numbers and make a push to be a viable #2 WR by the midway point of the season.
Bust - Matthew Stafford, QB - Even if he does take a step forward this season, he still won't put up the numbers worthy of being a starting fantasy QB. He does make for a drool worthy keeper league QB, but he won't truly shine until next season. Once he has a full season at the helm, with Jahvid Best in the backfield and develops a stronger bond with the offense, he should see himself landing as a top 10 QB in 2011.
Rookie to watch - Jahvid Best, RB - Seemingly everyone's front running rookie of the year, Best has all the skills necessary to excel at the NFL level. Joining a young team, who's eyes are set on the future, Best will be under no pressure to be a top RB in the league right away, as the passing game should be the primary focus of the team. A solid flex play to start the season, I see Best ending the season as a #2 RB starter and a 2nd rd pick for 2011.
You already know - Calvin Johnson, WR - Johnson, or Megatron as he's known, is a legitimate top 5 WR who's star should shine much brighter this year. With the Lions having some semblance of a ground game this season and Burleson being probably the best WR mate he has had since he has been on the team, Johnson's numbers can only go up this season. He may fight for the top spot this season, meaning his draft spot makes him somewhat of a steal.
Baltimore Ravens - 1st in division - 11-5
Sleeper - Is there such a thing as a sleeper in an offense as hyped as the Ravens offense currently is?
Bust - Todd Heap, TE - Oh Todd, where did we go wrong? We trusted you to become Flacco's safety valve, his blankie, yet you disappointed us. We just wanted top ten status from you. It's been 4 years since you were a reliable target. I'd say you had one more good season left in you, but the Ravens have too many options to rely on you anymore.
Rookie to watch - Team depth will prevent a rookie from stepping into any kind of a fantasy friendly situation.
You already know - Anquan Boldin, WR - You know this guy. Perennial #2 to Larry Fitzgerald, absolute beast on the field. Scoffs at recovery time. Enjoys getting hit as much as he enjoys hitting others. Not a burner, by any means, but he still gets yards and touchdowns and is a viable #1 WR.
Pittsburgh Steelers - 2nd in division - 10-6
Sleeper - Ben Roethlisberger, QB - I know he is going to miss 5 fantasy weeks (including the bye), but even without Santonio Holmes, he comes back and will be a top 10 fantasy quarterback the rest of the season. And he can be had in the final third of he draft (or $2 in an auction). That's the kind of value you pine for in fantasy sports. Just make sure your starter has a bye week after week 5 and start Ben the rest of the season.
Bust - Byron Leftwich, QB - Steelers fans will no how valuable Ben is to them once Leftwich is done with their offense on his first drive. Inaccurate arm, poor decisions and losing his wheels, Leftwich plays like the quarterback he used to be, but produces like the quarterback he is. The Steelers offense won't be the same until week 6.
Rookie to watch - Not a rookie to be found looking up and down the Steelers depth chart. Well, at least not a rookie worth watching.
You already know - Hines Ward, WR - Mr. Dependable, will get his numbers regardless who's behind center. Almost a guarantee for 1,000 yards a season, the dirtiest WR in football continues to be a threat, age notwithstanding.
Cincinnati Bengals - 3rd in division - 8-8
Sleeper - Terrell Owens, WR - Probably the first time Owens has ever been considered a sleeper, but he is. People will look at what he did in Buffalo and think he is done, but he will be living life as the 3rd option on the offense and won't have to be the focal point. with Ochocinco getting the attention from the best DB's on the field, Owens will be able to prowl the field, snatching up everything thrown his way. A solid #3 WR or first WR off the bench.
Bust - Cedric Benson, RB - I just don't think his body holds up through another full season of punishment. Not to mention Bernard Scott is lurking and will surely still some carries this season, to keep Benson healthy and able to survive the entire season. Plus, the addition of Antonio Bryant, Terrell Owens and drafting of Jordan Shipley points to the Bengals airing it out a lot more this season.
Rookie to watch - Jordan Shipley, WR - Slowly making his way up the depth chart, Shipley is the ideal slot receiver for the Bengals. Sure handed, not afraid to go over the middle and a fantastic 3rd down receiver, Shipley should see plenty of time on the field.
You already know - Carson Palmer, QB - With more weapons than he has ever had, Palmer should have his best season this season. Two bonafide star WR's (even if they are both a little old), a solid slot receiver, a great running game and an ever improved offensive line makes Palmer a very underrated QB who could be a top 10 guy by the end of the season.
Cleveland Browns - 4th in division - 4-12
Sleeper - Mohamed Massaquoi, WR - The best hands on the team and the second most reliable weapon, Massaquoi will benefit from having Jake Delhomme behind center. The definite #1 WR from the team, he should see plenty of looks and have every chance possible to succeed.
Bust - Jerome Harrison, RB - I hate to put Harrison here, but all signs point to Montario Hardesty to be healthy for the season opened, making it tough for Harrison to get the guaranteed #1 RB load. HE was a fantastic producer down the stretch last season, but I just cannot see him reproducing those same numbers for an entire season.
Rookie to watch - Montario Hardesty, RB - All healed up and looking to make his first appearance in a Browns jersey in their upcoming pre-season game, Hardesty is a back in the bruiser mold. A smash mouth runner, he is a larger back than Harrison and should a boon to the offense. If the Browns offense has any success through the air, Hardesty should be able to make a fight for the OROY.
You already know - Jake Delhomme, QB - Not much to say, except he left an ideal situation in Carolina for a less than ideal situation in Cleveland. His numbers will see a decrease across the board with the lack of talent at the receiver spot and one can only hope that his interception numbers come down as well.
With an end to the North divisions, you can look forward to the South divisions tomorrow. If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to email or leave a comment.