The Big Question: NFC North standings

NFC North teams finished 2009 in this order: Minnesota, Green Bay, Chicago and Detroit. Has anything happened this offseason to suggest a different preseason ranking for 2010?

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The Bears and Lions have made significant financial commitments to improve their personnel. The Packers have worked hard to keep intact the team that won seven of its final eight regular-season games last season. The Vikings, meanwhile, have lost tailback Chester Taylor and might not have two defensive starters -- middle linebacker E.J. Henderson and cornerback Cedric Griffin -- when the season opens because of lingering injuries.

Most important for this discussion, Vikings quarterback Brett Favre hasn't announced whether he will play another season. The odds remains heavily in favor of that eventuality, but an unexpected retirement would considerably weaken the Vikings and probably make the Packers the preseason division favorites.

On the other hand, if Favre returns, it's probably fair to use last year's finish as our first preseason projection for 2010. Not enough has happened to make a preseason projection that suggests a new balance of power. Packers general manager Ted Thompson noted at the owners meetings this week that "we don't keep score in the offseason," while coach Mike McCarthy said everyone has started over with a clean slate.

"The only thing you really carry over from the year prior is experience, whether positive or negative," he said. "But to sit there and say you're going to be a good team today because of what you look like on paper, that's a huge mistake that we don't want to fall into. I do think our depth has increased, and with another draft class, we'll have an opportunity to have competition throughout our whole football team. And that's what you want."