NFC North Predictions

Posted: 08/26/2014 by levcohen in Football

Now onto my NFC North predictions. Because this division probably has more talent than the NFC East, it will be more fun to watch than the NFC East. It has skill position studs galore, from Eddie Lacy, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb on the Packers to Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery on the Bears to Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush on the Lions to Adrian Peterson on the Vikings. That’s a lot of talent, and I haven’t even started talking about Aaron Rodgers. It seems to be, however, a less wide open division than the NFC Eat. Whereas all four teams have realistic chances to win the NFC East, I think only two (the Packers and Bears) can win the North, although Lions fans could make an argument, which, as you’ll see soon, I’d disagree with. I’m probably not going too far out on a limb here by saying the Packers will win the division, but what comes afterwards may (or may not) surprise you.

1. Green Bay Packers (11-5): Now is when I’ll start talking about Aaron Rodgers. He’s really, really good. In my opinion, he’s in the “best QB in football” conversation with Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. Manning is probably the best right now because of what he did last year, but that could easily change this year, and Rodgers is as good of a bet as any to take over that title. He has it all: he can pass, he’s smart, he’s athletic, and he even has solid running ability for a quarterback. I think that he and Andrew Luck are the future of the quarterback position. The only issue? Health. The Packers’ season hangs in the balance of their quarterback’s health. While he’d missed only two games in first five years as a starter, Rodgers was limited to nine games last year with a broken collarbone. I just have a hunch he’ll stay healthy this year, which means the Packers are likely to win the NFC North. Rodgers has plenty of help, mostly from the aforementioned Lacy, Nelson, and Cobb. Eddie Lacy is a beast. To me, he looks like a much younger version of Marshawn Lynch. That’s quite a nightmare for defenders to deal with, especially when they also have to play against a top-tier passing game featuring Nelson and Cobb, who have been really overlooked in discussions of top-10 receivers. Nelson can do it all. He has speed, he has route-running ability, and he is a great pass catcher. What else can you ask for out of a wide receiver? This is one of the best offenses in football, and with a good defense could be a 13-win team. I’m skeptical, though, about the defense, which finished 31st in defensive DVOA last season. I don’t think they’ll be that bad this year, because they were really ravaged by injuries last season: Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, Brad Jones, Morgan Burnett, and Sam Shields, arguably five of their seven most important defenders (B.J. Raji and A.J. Hawk being the other two). That shouldn’t happen again, although Raji is already injured and out for the season. The secondary is suspect again (addition of first round pick safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix aside), but the run prevention should be at least average and the pass rush should be better with the return of Matthews. I think the Packers will be 20-25 in defensive DVOA this season, which isn’t great but is a sizable improvement. That, along with the explosive offense featuring a top QB, RB, and two top receivers (if they had a decent tight end and a shutdown offensive line, it would be unstoppable, but that would be too good to be true), should be enough to get to 11-5.

2. Chicago Bears (10-6): The Bears were one of the three teams I had as underrated, so I won’t go into too much depth with them. I just think that with their talent (they and the Packers have better offensive weapons than any other team), with an improved defense, and with a better offensive line, they can make the improvement from eight to 10 wins. I think they are a playoff team.

3. Minnesota Vikings (7-9): Most people have the Vikings finishing fourth in this division, and I agree that they have less potential to be a 10-win team than any other NFC North team. But I don’t think this team is going to lose double digit games like they did last season, when they went 5-10-1. Why? Well, let’s start with their schedule, which is not easy but also not too difficult. They play the AFC East and NFC South, both of which are less than stacked divisions (I actually think the NFC South is pretty good, but there’s only one super good team in the Saints). They’ll have winnable games against the Jets, Bills, Dolphins, Buccaneers, Falcons, and Panthers. Because they finished last in the division last season, the Vikings also get to play the Rams and Redskins in their two extra games. Add two games against the Lions and that’s 10 games in which the Vikings have a reasonable claim of being the better team. I don’t think they are better than all those teams, and none of them are really really bad, but still. The beginning of their schedule is tough (weeks 2-5 is brutal: Patriots, @Saints, Falcons, @Packers. That’s a lot of good QBs), but they have a lot of winnable games after that. There’s also the addition of Norv Turner as the offensive coordinator. Turner isn’t a good head coach, but there’s ample evidence that he’s one of the best offensive coordinator’s in football. That should give a below average offense a boost. And remember, the Vikings were 3-3 in games current starter Matt Cassel started last season. I have moderately high hopes for this offense. The running game is the best in football simply because the Vikings have Adrian Peterson, and i think the passing game will take a big step up this year with Cordarelle Patterson set to break out and Kyle Rudolph due to have a bounce back season. The defense was bad last year and should also improve. Top-10 pick Anthony Barr fills a huge void at linebacker, and the Vikings have continued their youth movement by letting longtime starters Jared Allen and Kevin Williams go and replacing them with Everson Griffen, who has a ton of career sacks considering his limited playing time, and Sharrif Floyd, a 2013 first round pick. The secondary is also young and talented, with Harrison Smith and Xavier Rhodes, first round picks in 2012 and 2013, starting alongside big time free agent signing Captain Munnerlyn. So while this team probably isn’t as talented as the Lions, I just have a gut feeling that they finish ahead of them this season. Seven wins isn’t a lot, but it’s a good improvement from last year and is probably a record Vikings fans would accept this season.

4. Detroit Lions (6-10):  Jim Caldwell? Really? The Lions replaced ridiculed coach Jim Schwartz with Caldwell. It was a surprising move, since Caldwell has a suspect resume. He lucked into coaching Peyton Manning and the Colts, but had a 26-63 record at Wake Forest and went 2-14 when Peyton got hurt. He also was the offensive coordinator for the Ravens last year, and the Ravens put up one of their worst offensive seasons in recent history. I don’t see how Caldwell will make a 7-9 team with largely the same core much better. At this point, Matthew Stafford basically is who he is. He’ll put up huge stats, but he also has bad mechanics and makes too many mistakes. He’s 24-37 in his Lions career. It’s hard to know how much of that is his fault, but that’s a worrying record nonetheless. Another worrying thing is the defense, which finished 30th in DVOA last year and frankly probably won’t be much better this year. Ndamukong Suh leads a good defensive line, but the secondary has been bad forever and there’s no reason it won’t be bad again this year. In a division with Aaron Rodgers, that’s not a good thing. When looking at this Lions team, it’s easy to see them winning a lot of games. But you could’ve said the same thing about the Lions every year for the last bunch of years, and they have 12 losing seasons in the last 13 years. Read that again. I’ll bet on the Lions history, and that they’ll underperform thanks to poor defense and costly mistakes. 6-10 is harsh, and the Lions have the talent to make me look foolish, but given that they’ve had so little success in recent history, I’m not that worried that they’ll overcome their bad defense and return to the playoffs.


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