NFL season preview – NFC North

 

1. Green Bay Packers 

This team is flat out loaded and it is going to be flat out loaded for a long time to come.  Super Bowl win, followed by a 15-1 season.  I don’t care that they got bounced by the eventual Super Bowl champs, a 15-1 season is still extremely impressive.  What’s even more impressive is the horrific defense they played all season long.  That will not continue.  If Aaron Rodgers has a top 20 defense to support him he will have a great look at his 2nd Super Bowl title in 3 seasons. 

The running game should be ok with Alex Green, James Starks, and of course now the arrival of former Bengal Cedric Benson.  The Benson signing to me seems like a terrific move for the Pack.  The receiving core has been one of the best in the NFL for a while now.  A lot of people are intrigued to see what 2nd year wide out Randall Cobb can do.  He proved last season he is going to be a great return man, we will see if he can be another great weapon for Rodgers as well.  The o-line is very solid, and the addition of Jeff Saturday was great, he still has some gas left in his tank. 

The defense is the key to all this and if there is one guy on D that the Pack need to get back to normal it is Clay Matthews.  They drafted Nick Perry out of USC to play opposite Matthews in hopes of taking some attention away.  The injury to Desmond Bishop will not do this unit any favors however in the first half of this season.  Charles Woodson is moving to safety and Dom Capers is one the best defensive coordinators in the game so it should improve…SHOULD.  The first 6 picks of their draft were all on the defensive side of the ball so you can expect it to at least not be terrible! 

It was bound to catch up with them last season and it finally did.  But the improvements they have made this offseason should be at least enough to make the Pack even more of a title threat this season.

 

 2. Chicago Bears

Well they got the band back together.  Cutler and Marshall reunited in the windy city.  Some people look at this and think not only does Cutler now have a big time WR to throw to but it’s a guy who he has great chemistry with and had great success with.  But I would pump the breaks a bit on it meaning the Bears are headed back to the playoffs. 

This isn’t a Mike Shanahan offense, it’s a Mike Tice offense.  It will be interesting to see how Tice does in control of this offense as he is a former o-lineman.  I would expect them to be more about controlling the ball, running the ball, and conservative throws rather than Cutler letting loose.  How Cutler will respond to that is anyone’s guess.  But having Marshall there and drafting Alshon Jeffrey in the 2nd round has a lot of people geeked up on the Bears.  So does adding Michael Bush to Matt Forte in the backfield.  That does seem like it should be an effective 1-2 punch at RB.  I don’t like their o-line and I think it’s safe to say it’s the weakness now of this offense now that they’ve addressed the WR’s.  Then of course in the return game Devin Hester is still very much a threat to bring one back. 

On the defensive side of the ball, they’re aging but they’re still going to be effective.  To me Lovie Smith has just been a solid coach, nothing more nothing less.  But the one thing you can’t argue is how solid the defense has been since he arrived.  Julius Peppers is still an elite DE and he is joined now by 1st round pick Shea McClellin out of Boise State.  Brian Urlacher still has some gas left in the tank, as does Lance Briggs.  The secondary is suspect, so they will rely heavily on the front 7 to do a lot of damage. 

If this team stays healthy there is no doubt they will at least compete for a wild card spot.  Some experts think that this team is a Super Bowl contender.  That potential is there but they have questions to answer on the field first.

 

 3. Detroit Lions

I love the talent on this roster.  Talent wise this team isn’t far behind the Packers.  And they finally have a good thing going in Detroit after so much losing for over a decade.  Stafford is the real deal at QB, Megatron is perhaps the best WR in the game, Suh and Fairley on the D-line is going to be scary for a long time.  So what’s the issue?  Nobody can stay out of jail!  It reminds me too much of the Bengals in 2005 and 2006.  In 05, the Bengals were the best young team in football.  They had so much talent everywhere and looked like an eventual Super Bowl champion.  But then so many problems off the field started happening and weather they admitted it or not it was a huge distraction for the team.  That’s what I fear is going to happen in Detroit this season.  And like that Bengals team they lack the experienced guys to help the youngsters through these issues.  Unlike the Bengals however I believe this season will just be a speed bump for the Lions moving forward.  Too many character guys in the right spots for this to be a long term problem. 

Mathew Stafford is fast becoming an elite QB.  Of course he has to stay healthy but he has the body type to withstand the punishment.  An incredible blend of wits, leadership, pocket presence and of course has the arm to go with all that.  And wherever Stafford can throw it, Calvin Johnson can go get it.  A total freak, he is virtually impossible to cover 1 on 1.  I loved 1st round pick Riley Reiff out of Iowa.  This is a guy that some projected to be a top 12 pick that they snagged with the 23rd pick in the draft.  Reiff should eventually become the LT the Lions have needed to protect Stafford for the last 2 years.  And in the 2nd round they took former Sooner Ryan Broyles to add yet another weapon toStafford’s arsenal.  They didn’t need him, and Broyles is coming off a serious knee injury, but if he pans out that offense will be even scarier.  Also I would watch for Titus Young to make a big jump this season playing opposite Megatron.  He got hurt early in training camp last season and took until late in the year to get his game going.  The running game will be the big question mark on offense.  If Leshoure can stay healthy he may give them enough.  Even IF Jahvid Best can come back they can no longer rely on him to stay healthy. 

They could have something special on their d-line with Suh and Fairley but the latter needs to get his act together.  Outside of the front 4 the defense is solid but nothing special.  They will rely heavily on getting to the QB with a 4 man rush.  

It’s unfortunate for Lion fans after finally having a winning season, but I just don’t seem them getting past the off field problems.  Moving forward they’re set, but expect a set back this season.

 

4. Minnesota Vikings

The rebuild in Minny is well under way and from the looks of things they have a long ways to go.  First off this season will tell a lot as to weather they have the right man for the job at QB. 

Many questioned the pick of Christian Ponder in the 2011 draft, but he showed flashes of being a franchise QB last season.  However the flash that I’m thinking of more than any came in his first game against the Packers who had the worst defense in the league.  Ponder doesn’t have great help on the outside.  Percy Harvin is a great weapon to have, but they need that big play guy opposite of him for Harvin to be really effective, and while Jerome Simpson is talented I don’t believe he is that guy.  The big question mark for the Viks this season is how will Adrian Peterson bounce back after his late season ACL tear?  We keep hearing how great he looks physically but we will have to see once he steps on the field.  The guy to watch on the offense is 2nd year TE Kyle Rudolph out of Notre Dame.  I have heard more than a few comparisons to Rob Gronkowski…pretty amazing praise.  1st round pick Matt Kalil should help get their o-line back to one of the leagues best in short order.  Kalil is one of the top LT prospects to come along in the last 10 years, right there with Joe Thomas and Jake Long.  

On defense Jared Allen remains one of the leagues best pass rushers, but beyond him there isn’t much.  Chad Greenway is a very good OLB, I liked trading up to snag safety Harrison Smith out of Notre Dame late in the 1st round, but the D much like the offense still needs a lot of work. 

They have some solid pieces in place but there is still a long way to go for the Viks to get back to the top of the division.  If they got to 5 wins playing in that division, I would call it a successful year for the Vikings.  They’re in tough.

 

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