Published by Jerz 7/28/2014
The NFC North is an interesting division and one that I can say I know very well (as a fan of one of it’s residents). Green Bay has been the toast of the division ever since Aaron Rodgers emerged as the starting QB of the Packers. The Chicago Bears have had a few playoff “glimmers” during that time as have the Lions and Vikings respectively. All 4 teams made off season moves that give their fans reason for hope. Let’s tackle the questions that exist.
Can Green Bay’s defense step back to the front of the cart and help Aaron Rodgers and the offense pull the proverbial wagon to the top of the NFC “Norse”? There is no coincidence that the Packers don’t strike the same fear in the hearts of the opposition as they use to. There is NO question that Aaron Rodgers is not amongst the Top tier quarterbacks in the game today but does his team rely on him to do TOO much? The emergence of Eddie Lacy gives Green Bay a reliable rushing threat to take some of the weight off of Rodgers but he is still asked to compensate for a defense that has fallen off of the table since their Super Bowl run of 4 years ago. They are now a team that can be had if Rodgers isn’t playing absolutely out of his mind. They do have some talented young players that can improve and should improve but I won’t buy into the Julius Peppers hype like he’s the 2nd coming to the Reggie White signing (God rest his soul). Peppers does add another pass rushing element (though he’s expected to play outside linebacker at the age of 34 after having his hand in the dirt his entire football life) to go alongside Clay Matthews but the question is will he disappear for stretches of games like he did with Chicago the past few seasons? The secondary has been a mess and rookie safety Ha-Ha Clinton Dix should help and possibly give a playmaking element that’s been missing since injuries ran Charles Woodson out of town. I still think Green Bay can be a threat to win the division but it would have to be a perfect storm of them doing everything right and their improved division foes absolutely collapsing. The loss of Aaron Rodgers almost cost them their season and I’m not sure how confident fans are about the guys competing to back him up. Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien don’t exactly strike fear in the hearts of opposition so Green Bay’s shaky offensive line play will have to make sure to keep #12 safe for 16 games (even more if they make the playoffs).
Can the Bears repeat their offensive success of 2013 and have they done enough to improve a defense that was one of the worst in the history of their existence? To answer the 1st part of the question, I think they absolutely can. Despite starting training camp off with a sputter, this team does return all 11 starters from last year’s offense that was 8th overall in yards and 2nd in points scored. They also have the luxury of being able to add on to the plays they like and had success with and trim those that weren’t as comfortably executed. Quarterback Jay Cutler isn’t under the pressure of playing for a contract (nor is Brandon Marshall now, for that matter) and head coach Marc Trestman is expecting 2nd year wide receiver Marquess Wilson to step up and make plays as the team’s 3rd receiver. The defense has a NEW look and the holdovers have a bad taste in their mouth that they can’t wait to wash out. The “nasty” that newcomers Lamarr Houston and Jared Allen add to the front 4 will pay immediate dividends and should help the 2 levels behind them make more game changing plays. Allen has been one of the most productive defensive ends the last 7 years and is 2 years younger and more durable than the guy he replaced (Julius Peppers) and Houston has the type of versatility that defensive coordinator covets in a lineman he can stand up in a 3-4 look (referred to as a “Joker”), move inside on passing downs and play end in a 4-3 look. The difference can be noticed after just a few days in camp but will obviously be put to the test in the preseason. The Bears (much like Green Bay) are looking to establish a #2 quarterback behind Jay Cutler (with the departure of last year’s hero Josh McCown) that can hold the fort in the event Cutler has to miss a few games (which he has the last 4 season). The Bears have as good a shot to win this division as anyone including Green Bay and I feel they have closed what use to be a gaping talent gap between the two. Time will tell…
Will a coaching change be enough to turn Detroit into the playoff contenders they believe themselves to be? The firing of Jim Schwartz and hiring of Jim Caldwell could be the change in culture this team absolutely needs to take the next step. The Lions have teased their fan base since making the playoffs in 2011 and are in perfect position to strike (with teams like Green Bay and Chicago retooling poor defenses). This team had absolutely no business choking away a division lead late in the season with Minnesota not even in contention and both Chicago and Green Bay’s starting quarterbacks missing significant time yet they did. Quarterback Matthew Stafford has unquestionable arm talent yet questionable decision making that has to drive his team and fans nuts. His dependability on the unworldly talents of wide receiver Calvin Johnson get him in trouble almost as much as it produces play of the week caliber material. This offense features not only the superbly talented Johnson but also the versatile Reggie Bush and new additions Golden Tate and Eric Ebron. The defense has a dynamite tackle combo of Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley that gives opposing offensive lines nightmares while also drawing penalties for being undisciplined. Bringing in a Jim Caldwell could really turn this team in the right direction and help this team beat it’s opposition more than it beats itself and that is a scary proposition for not just the NFC North but the NFL period. Stay tuned…
The Minnesota Vikings are just a few years removed from a playoff appearance yet seem to be so far away from getting back there anytime soon. It’s odd because when you think about a talent the likes of All-World rusher Adrian Peterson you never want to count this team out. The problem is, at times, that’s all they seem to have. “The Christian Ponder experiment” is officially over, with the drafting of Teddy Bridgewater and the defense will look to replace the pass rushing prowess of Jared Allen (hopefully with 1st round pick Anthony Barr). The Vikings offense hopes to get more out of veteran wide receiver Greg Jennings and expect BIG things out of 2nd year pass catcher Cordarrelle Patterson. I think this is a team trying to establish an identity under new, first time head coach Mike Zimmer that may just be the lesser talented team of the 4 in the division. They have more questions than answers, at this point, and I think their fans may want to temper expectations some. They really are just victims of being in a division with 3 other teams that are just better than them right now. I hate to see another year of greatness from Adrian Peterson wasted but I think that’s exactly what we’ll see as this team will be lucky to win 6 games.