Saturday, August 31, 2013

NFC North Preview

The NFC North is now one of football's most competitive divisions, with 4 teams all thinking they have a good shot at the postseason. Green Bay are the current kings, but with 3 very game challengers nipping at their heels, will they be staying there for long?

Now 3 seasons off their Super Bowl win, the Packers are starting to experience a bit of a slide. 2 straight divisional round exits have pumped the brakes on the dynasty talk, but not so much on Aaron Rodgers being one of the best QB's in the game. When it comes to his weapons, Rodgers still has talented receivers despite losing Greg Jennings to the dreaded Vikings, and the running back situation is an interesting one with both Eddie Lacy and DuJuan Harris looking promising. The biggest worry for Green Bay will be their offensive line, which has taken some blows this offseason due to injuries. If Aaron Rodgers stays upright, the Packers will be just fine. Their defense is the exact opposite of Pittsburgh's; able to force tons of turnovers, but allows gobs of yards. If they could drop the yards allowed average from 30th to 20th, they'll probably be right back in the Super Bowl conversation. Oddly enough, the talk's gone quiet in Green Bay, and that may just be a good thing.

Marc Trestman returns from his Canadian odyssey to take over the Chicago Bears who were a tiebreaker away from the postseason a year ago. If Trestman can work his magic with Jay Cutler and make the Bears a prolific offense, then they have the potential to snatch the division away from Green Bay. The offensive line might still have some problems, but should be better than it was a year ago. On defense, sure the Bears lost Brian Urlacher, and the narrative states that their defense should be worse because of that. It won't make any difference. Jon Bostic is a talented rookie, and James Anderson should help with depth. Their secondary does worry me a little, but not enough to knock them down any pegs. Whether they can win the division is debatable, but the playoffs aren't that far of a stretch.

Adrian Peterson is amazing. He might very well break Eric Dickerson's rushing record. He is the best running back I've seen since Barry Sanders. Oh I was supposed to talk about the rest of the Minnesota Vikings? I thought they were just Adrian Peterson. It's not that far of a stretch to say the Vikings made the playoffs last season on the strength of Adrian Peterson, and the Vikings have attempted to fix that by getting Christian Ponder some new weapons in Greg Jennings and Cordarelle Paterson. Defensively, they still have Jared Allen and other pieces that are pretty good fits, but they are a young unit with 3 1st round picks that need to mature. We hear a lot with advanced statistics about regression to the mean, and the Vikings I think might experience some of that this season, unless Christian Ponder plays much better than he did a year ago.

The Lions broke their playoff duck in 2011, only to watch it all go up in smoke last season with 4 wins. Their offense was certainly not the problem, and they've added Reggie Bush to the mix this season to help fix a moribund running game. They have talent everywhere on offense, and should be able to score tons of points. The problem is will they also allow a ton of points? They added Ziggy Ansah to help rush the passer, as well as Israel Idonije, and they still have Fairley and Suh to stuff the middle. But, everything behind that is a major concern. Their linebacking corps has little depth, and their secondary is very young. They're hesitant to blitz because they know they don't have the talent behind the front 4 to sustain any defense for very long. They're going to improve, but only as much as the defense grows along with it.

To summarize... The Packers have offensive line issues that could derail them, but Aaron Rodgers is still Aaron Rodgers. Marc Trestman should fix some of Jay Cutler's issues on offense, but how much? The Vikings will likely experience some regression because Adrian Peterson can't carry the team again... right? And the Lions will improve as much as their defense allows them to. 

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