The NFC North is home to some of the best rivalries in the NFL. I think this division is on the up-and-up. Green Bay has been established for years now, but I wouldn’t even call them the favorites to win the division. Other teams are already playoff-caliber, and even if they’re not, they’ve got pieces in place to at the very least be competitive throughout.
So disregard everything I said in my intro paragraph about the Bears. I don’t think the Bears are an awful team, I just don’t really think they have a definitive direction. They haven’t made it clear that they’re blowing it up or that they’re gunning for contention.
The offense took a big hit when fan favorite Matt Forte left via free agency to join the Jets. The two biggest names left on that side of the ball are quarterback Jay Cutler and wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey. It would be in the best interest of the Bears to extend Jeffrey ASAP, since he’ll be hitting the open market at the end of the season. As far as on the field goes, it would be in their best interest to protect Cutler, who has consistently been one of the most oft-sacked QBs since he was drafted. Losing Adam Gase, who is an offensive genius, could potentially hurt, so don’t be surprised if you see Cutler have a fall back into his turnover-prone ways.
On defense, they improved their linebacking corps, headlined by the signing of Danny Trevathan and drafting Leonard Floyd, who I was a fan of at Georgia. That doesn’t help the fact that their secondary completely sucks. I mean, Tracy Porter is their top corner, and he hasn’t done one thing right since picking off Peyton Manning in the Super Bowl like 100 years ago. Their personnel decisions on the defensive side of the ball basically epitomize what I said earlier – signing Trevathan and trading away dead weight like Shea McClellin imply that they’re trying to improve this year. But then they don’t go get help in the secondary, where they were debatably lacking even more.
Chicago has the potential to be okay. But the NFC is, in my opinion, the better of the two conferences. And I don’t see them leapfrogging either Minnesota or Green Bay into playoff contention. Hell, I don’t even see them definitively over the Lions.
My fellow N2K writer, Gabe, is a diehard Lions fan. Poor kid. Poor, poor kid.
Seriously though, the Lions’ franchise took a step backwards with the departure of Calvin Johnson, who retired at 30 years young. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about a Super Bowl-contending team or the Detroit Lions – any team that loses a player who is as dominant, well-rounded and just utterly as great as Johnson was, they take a step back. Now, Matthew Stafford is not left with much else, with his best receiver being Golden Tate (shoutout to Notre Dame). They signed Marvin Jones too, but I just don’t think he’s that good, especially since he won’t have AJ Green to open things up for him. While the Lions had an excellent draft, they really missed an opportunity to draft a quality receiver when it was chock full of them. But on the bright side, their first pick, Taylor Decker, helps to build a stronger o-line in front of #9, who they need to keep healthy now more than ever.
Speaking of the Lions’ draft, they also got Alabama-schooled rookie A’Shawn Robinson to help out Ziggy Ansah and Haloti Ngata. Low key, that’s a pretty solid line. The rest of the defense? Well, I’m sure they try. Their secondary isn’t really good, and their linebackers are pedestrian at best. But if they can get consistent pressure on the quarterback? Then, they can make up for the lack of talent in those other areas. I think that’s just expecting too much out of a sub-par group.
The Lions will try, and they will be competitive. They’ll realistically be in a dogfight with the Bears for 3rd in the division. However, it’ll be another year of waiting for Lions fans.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers should be a playoff team for one reason and one reason alone. Two words: Aaron. Rodgers.
That’s not to say that the green and yellow have a bad roster, because they don’t. Led by head coach Mike McCarthy, one of the best coaches in football, they have a prominent offensive attack. When he decides to not be overweight, Eddie Lacey just just an absolute beast. Like he’s a complete nightmare for defenses to game plan against. He takes pressure off of #12, who can make a great receiver out of just about anyway. Davante Adams and Randall Cobb didn’t really explode like they were expected to last year after Jordy Nelson went down, but they’re both very capable. Plus, Nelson will be back on the field this year, which is basically like an offseason upgrade to the Packers. They got Jared Cook and Richard Rodgers as their tight ends, and both are solid options in the passing game as well. Offensively, the key is for the line to keep Rodgers upright.
On defense, they’re basically Clay Matthews and everyone else. Seriously, Green Bay has one of the worst defenses in all of pro football. Matthews is the only one that can get consistent pressure on the quarterback; their defensive line is either old, slow or both, and losing BJ Raji, who wasn’t too great to begin with anyway, doesn’t help. Their linebacking corps is unimpressive, and their secondary is pedestrian at best. The Packers D basically benefits off of playing at home once the weather gets colder. However, this year, 5 of their away games are in the months of November and December, so even that advantage is no more.
I fully expect Green Bay to be a 10-win team and the 6 seed. I expect them to start off hot and be a lot of people’s Super Bowl picks in October, because that’s how every football season starts. But in the end, I think they’ll exit after the first weekend of the playoffs.
Super low key, the Vikings had a very good offseason, adding to a team that was a shanked field goal away from beating Seattle. I not only expect the Vikings to win the North, but also to make some noise in the playoffs.
When you talk Minnesota football, the conversation really begins and ends with Adrian Peterson. I don’t give a damn if he’s 31. I don’t give a damn how many injuries he’s had, or whether we’ve known about all of them or not. And I don’t give a damn if he has more mileage on his legs than a high school kid’s ’98 Corolla. The man’s football career will never die. You can pencil him in for over 1,000 rushing yards and 8+ touchdowns easily. But now, he’s not alone. I think Teddy Bridgewater will finally take the step to prove himself as the franchise quarterback the Vikings envisioned when they drafted him a few years back. Their first round pick was Laquon Treadwell, who was the consensus best receiver available (even though he was the fourth wideout picked). He will be an immediate impact, with around 60 or more catches for 5 or more touchdowns. I think he’s a good compliment to Stefon Diggs, who can stretch the field, and Kyle Rudolph, who’s a good option from the tight end position.
Defensively they are a quietly quality team. Their linebackers are led by chiseled vet Chad Greenway and Anthony Barr. But the real strength of this team is their secondary. Harrison Smith is an excellent safety, Xavier Rhodes is stupid good as a top corner, and they drafted Mackensie Alexander out of Clemson, who somehow fell all the way to the second round. Not that Terrence Newman is good anymore, but he provides that veteran presence that every young secondary needs. On special teams they’re solid too, with the most interesting kicker in football Blair Walsh being one of the game’s best. I expect Clemson rookie Jayron Kearse, who will eventually be the next Kam Chancellor, to contribute as well.
Watch out for the Vikings. I’m just going to say it now, on July 19th, before anyone else steals my thunder.
My NFC North Standings Prediction
Vikings (13-3), 2
Packers (10-6), 6
***Italicized numbers indicate predicted playoff seeding.
Cover photo from zimbio.com.