Thursday, September 4, 2014

NFC NORTH PREVIEW AND PREDICTIONS

     With football season right around the corner, it's time to go and make predictions on how well each team will fare during the regular season. Today we take a look at the NFC North, where the Green Bay Packers have reigned supreme for the last few seasons. Will the Packers win it again, led by star quarterback Aaron Rodgers? Or will the Detroit Lions, Chicago Bears or Minnesota Vikings pull off the upset and snag the division crown in 2014? Let's take a look and make some predictions for the upcoming 2014 season. 
courtesy of mmqb.si.com

1.) Green Bay Packers: It was a rocky season full of injuries, but the Packers were still able to come back and win the NFC North even with a 8-7-1 record. Rodgers missed several games last season due to injury, but when he was healthy he led a 6th ranked passing attack that averaged just under 267 yards per game. He threw for 2,536 yards and 17 touchdowns, compared to six interceptions, in just nine games last season. Rodgers also showcased why he is one of the most accurate passers in the game by completing 66.6 percent of his passes. 
     Green Bay finished 7th in rushing, with an average of 133.5 yards per game in 2013. Running back Eddie Lacy led the charge in his rookie season by rushing for 1,178 yards and 11 touchdowns on 274 carries. Running back James Starks proved to be a solid number two option for the Packers as he ran for 493 yards and six touchdowns on 89 carries. Wide receiver Jordy Nelson had an explosive 2013 season with 85 catches for 1,314 yards and eight touchdowns. Other contributors included wide receiver James Jones (59 catches, 817 yards, 3TDs), wide receiver Jarrett Boykin (49 catches, 681 yards, 3TDs), and wide receiver Randall Cobb (31 catches, 433 yards, 4TDs). 
     Despite the offenses' success in 2013, the Packers defense struggled to keep up. Green Bay ranked 24th against the pass (247.3 yards per game) and 25th against the run (125 yards per game). Linebacker A.J. Hawk led the Packers with 118 tackles and five sacks. Linebacker Clay Matthews and defensive end Mike Daniels combied for 14 sacks. In the secondary, cornerback Tramon WIlliams and safety Sam Shields combined for seven interceptions.

Big Questions: Are the Packers still a team that's good enough to compete for a Super Bowl? Green Bay lost several offensive weapons in the offseason with Jones and tight end Jermichael Finley. And now defensive tackle B.J. Raji is out for the season.The Packers also lost defensive lineman Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly to free agency. Does Green Bay have enough depth to last through the season? 
courtesy of sportingnews

Bottom Line: Rodgers is one of four or five elite quarterbacks in the game that can succeed with whoever you put around him. Remember when wide receivers Greg Jennings and Donald Driver were among the best at their position in the NFL when playing in Green Bay? Well, Driver quickly retired and Jennings wasn't able to duplicate the success in Minnesota. 
     Keep an eye out for tight end Andrew Quarless (32 catches, 312 yards, 2TDs) to have a big season in replacing Finley. The offensive line will also have starters coming back in tackle Bryan Bulaga and guard T.J. Lang. The defense will be more of a concern, but the secondary and linebacking corps should be strong with Hawk, Matthews, Williams, and Shields all returning. Nose tackle Letroy Guion will have to step up in order to replace the production Raji has given Green Bay over the last few seasons.

Prediction: (10-6). The Packers have a tough opening stretch with road games against Seattle, Chicago and Detroit. BUT if they can survive that stretch, the rest of the schedule looks favorable with lots of home games at Lambeau Field later in the season. When you have an elite quarterback like Rodgers, you will always have a chance to win games and win a division like the NFC North. 
courtesy of footbasket.com

2.) Detroit Lions: For the past two seasons, the Lions have been one of the biggest mysteries in the NFL. After a 10-6 season in 2011 that got them into the playoffs, the past two seasons have showcased the Lions as a team that commits too many penalties and makes too many mistakes at important moments of games. Detroit has missed out on the playoffs the past two seasons, including a 6-2 start that collapsed with a 7-9 overall record. Jim Schwartz was fired as head coach and replaced by former Baltimore offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell. 
     The Lions ranked 3rd in passing last season (280.1 yards per game) and 17th in rushing (112 yards per game). Quarterback Matthew Stafford threw for an impressive 4,650 yards and 29 touchdowns, but also threw 19 interceptions. Star wide receiver Calvin Johnson had another great season in 2013 with 84 catches for 1,492 yards and 12 touchdowns, but the Lions failed to have a consistent second receiving option. Wide receiver Kris Dunham (38 catches, 490 yards, 2TDs) and tight end Brandon Pettigrew (41 catches, 416 yards, 2TDs) tended to be the next best options, at times, for the Lions. 
     Running backs Reggie Bush and Joique Bell stabilized and improved Detroit's running game in 2013. Bush ran for just over 1,000 yards and four touchdowns on 223 carries, while Bell added 650 yards and eight touchdowns on 166 carries. The duo of Bush and Bell were also playmakers in the receiving game as they combined for 1,053 yards on 107 catches. 
     Detroit's defense had mixed results in 2014 as they finished an impressive 6th against the run (99.8 yards per game), but 23rd against the pass (146.9 yards per game). Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh had another strong season with five and a half sacks and 49 tackles. Meanwhile, linebacker DeAndre Levy had a breakout 2013 season with 119 tackles and a team leading six interceptions!

Big Questions: How will Caldwell do in his first season as Lions head coach? And can Stafford limit the turnovers? He's a great passer, at times, and now has a solid running game. Will this be the year that the Lions turn the corner?
courtesy of mlive.com

Bottom Line: Stafford will have even more weapons to throw the ball to in 2014 after the team acquired wide receiver Golden Tate from Seattle and drafting tight end Eric Ebron back in May in the NFL draft. With these new options, the Lions offense should be very effective.    Defensively, look for Suh, defenive end Ezekiel Ansah, Levy, and cornerback Rashean Mathis to be the top playmakers this season. And if defensive tackle Nick Fairley can mature enough emotionally, he's another player that can make an impact. 

Prediction: (9-7). Detroit has the talent to not only make the playoffs, but to even compete with Green Bay and win the NFC North. If Caldwell can inject some discipline into this group, the potential is high with this team. But that'll be a big if. 


courtesy of chicagonow.com
3.) Chicago Bears: For the past few years, the Chicago Bears have started their regular seasons strong, but have ended up fading down the stretch and ultimately missing the playoffs. In fact, it has now been four years since the team has made the postseason. Quarterback Jay Cutler missed several games in 2013 due to injuries and backup quarterback Josh McCown filled in successfully, leading the Bears to five straight wins. However, when Culter returned as the starter, Chicago went 1-2 and finished the season at 8-8. 
     With McCown leaving in free agency, Cutler is the 'de facto' starter. The Bears offense finished an impressive fifth in passing last season (267.6 yards per game) and 16th in rushing (114.3 yards per game). Last season in 11 games, Cutler threw for 2,621 yards and 19 touchdowns, but also 12 interceptions. He was surrounded by numerous playmaking receivers last season, including wide receiver Brandon Marshall (100 catches, 1,295 yards, 12 TDs), wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey (89 catches, 1,421 yards, 7 TDs), tight end Martellus Bennett (65 catches, 759 yards, 5TDs, and running back Matt Forte (74 catches, 594 yards, 3TDs). 
     Forte also had a fantastic season running the ball, rushing for 1,339 yards and nine touchdowns on 289 carries. Running back Michael Bush ran for an additional 197 yards and three touchdowns on 63 carries. The Bears defense struggled in 2013 finishing 15th against the pass (233.1 yards per game), but dead last against the run (161.4 yards per game). Cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings, along with safety Chris Conte combined for 10 interceptions. 

Big Questions: Can Jay Cutler take the next step towards being a top-tier quarterback in the NFL, especially with all of the firepower that he has to his disposal? And have the Chicago Bears become an offensive oriented team where they can win with a mediocre defense?


courtesy of cbssports
Bottom Line: Cutler is a gun-slinger who is prone to throwing interceptions and making mistakes at criticial moments of games. But he can also throw touchdowns and with all of the weapons at wide receiver and running back, this Bears offense should be explosive. 
     The Bears defense lost defensive end Julius Peppers in free agency, but picked up defensive end Jared Allen and defensive tackle Jay Ratliff to help improve the pass rush. But their defense is made up of older veterans and has continued to struggle this preseason. 

Prediction (7-9). Chicago's offense will be great, but it doesn't look like their defense will improve. To win games in the NFL, a team has to have a good defense and that is what I believe will be Chicago's downfall.


courtesy of ktla.com
4.) Minnesota Vikings: 2013 was a rough season for the Vikings. Christian Ponder is no longer the starting quarterback for Minnesota and Leslie Frazier is no longer the head coach of the team. Competing for the starting quarterback spot will be veteran Matt Cassel and rookie Teddy Bridgewater. Meanwhile, former Cincinatti defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is the new head coach. 
     The Vikings offense was 23rd in passing last season (214.2 yards per game) and 8th in rushing (130.1 yards per game). Cassel, the likely starter at this point, threw for 1,807 yards and 11 touchdowns, compared to nine interceptions in limited play last season. Running back Adrian Peterson was once again the offense's catalyst after rushing for 1,266 yards and 10 touchdowns on 279 carries. Wide receivers Greg Jennings (68 catches, 804 yards, 4TDs), Jerome SImpson (48 catches, 726 yards, TD) and Cordarelle Patterson (45 catches, 469 yards, 4TDs) were the top receiving threats last season. 
     The defense ranked 31st against the pass in 2013 (287.2 yards per game) and 16th against the run (110.4 yards per game). Linebacker Chad Greenway led the Vikings in tackles last season with 134 and also led the team in interceptions with three. 

Big Questions: Can the Vikings rely on Peterson to carry the offense again this season, at 29 years old? Will Minnesota have a consistent starter and playmaker emerge at the quarterback position? And who else, besides Greenway, will step up on defense to help the unit improve in 2014?

Bottom Line: The Vikings are a rebuilding project. Rookie left tackle Matt Kalil should be able to anchor the offensive line and Peterson will continue to provide production for the Vikings offense. Bridgewater is the future, but Cassel is the right guy to start at this moment and let Bridgewater watch and develop as a quarterback on the sidelines. The defense should improve too, but it'll be tough in a division where you have to face Rodgers, Cutler and Stafford for six games during your season.

Prediction: (3-13). This should be treated as a rebuilding year for the Vikings. As long as Peterson stays healthy and Kalil and Bridgewater develop, 2014 will be considered somewhat of a success.


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