2016 NFC North Predictions and Preview
Chicago Bears (2015 record: 6-10): Just when it seemed that inconsistent QB Jay Cutler had found an OC that he connected with in Adam Gase, he lost him to the Dolphins. Despite a nice slew of receiving weapons at his disposal, look for Cutler to continue his roller-coaster career and take a step backwards. Also affecting him this season will be a horrible line in front of him. The only above-average lineman, Matt Slauson, was inexplicably released when the team drafted Cody Whitehair in round two of the draft. Some quality depth would’ve been nice for Cutler, who was already getting hit too often. The line issues won’t help RB Jeremy Langford either, as he assumes the top spot for the departed Matt Forte. Langford was merely OK last season and appears to be more suited to a back-up role. The defense, unlike the offense, made some nice upgrades and should be significantly better.
The LB corps was completely overhauled, adding Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan via free agency and drafting Leonard Floyd in the first round. The line was revamped as well, and the new front seven should be able to put some more pressure on the QB. The beleaguered secondary would welcome any help, as they struggled last year because of the inconsistent pass rush. The defensive improvements alone should mean that the Bears are better, but they may not be enough to overshadow the O-line woes.
Detroit Lions (2015 record: 7-9): The retirement of Calvin Johnson hurts. Badly. The free agent WR class was subpar, and Detroit had pressing needs on both lines that needed to be addressed via the draft. Marvin Jones was brought over from the Bengals to take CJ’s slot and while he’s a good receiver, he’s never been a #1 option before. Working in his favor is the fact that the Lions offense was much better after (say it with me) Jim Bob Cooter was promoted to OC. QB Matthew Stafford looked much more comfortable, even though his running game and offensive line continued to struggle. Second-year RB Ameer Abdullah won’t have Joique Bell around stealing touches this season; he’s got the skillset to improve upon last year’s 4.2 YPC. The line, though, is the key; it’s been reworked but not necessarily for the better. Riley Reiff and Laken Tomlinson, two first round picks who have been awful, are still here. Maybe rookie Taylor Decker can be the glue that they need.
The defense lost a couple of solid players again this offseason, but they also saw a nice breakout from Ezekiel Ansah who ‘arrived’ with 14.5 sacks. The interior of the line struggled, though, as viable replacements for Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh have yet to be found. This will, again, put more pressure on the second level of the unit; the LBs played very well last season and will need to again. The secondary is solid and would be better if Ansah could get some help up front. The line play on both sides of the ball will define Detroit’s season. They’re unable to get better play from both units, we could see the bottom fall out rather quickly.
Green Bay Packers (2015 record: 10-6): The biggest addition to the Pack this season was someone who was on the roster last year; WR Jordy Nelson. The offense just wasn’t the same without him. Randall Cobb had a bad shoulder for much of the year and his health should help as well. Adding perennial underachieving TE Jared Cook to the mix could be a great move. He never had a good QB situation with the Rams; he’ll now have one of the best at his disposal in Aaron Rodgers. A not-fat Eddie Lacy will help as well. He was a blimp last season, but has really worked on his conditioning and looks great in camp so far. As for Rodgers, he suffered through an off year. While the loss of Nelson was big, Rodgers still didn’t look like himself. If he was hurt, nobody knew. Either way, expect a monster comeback season. The mediocre line took a big hit when the Pack waived All-Pro Josh Sitton late in camp. He and TJ Lang were the best guard combo in the league. He’ll be sorely missed. They aren’t deep and have had some injury issues lately. Worth watching.
Defensively, the Pack’s strength is in the secondary. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Morgan Burnett for a great safety tandem, and CB Sam Shields is also very good. The LB unit wasn’t as fortunate, but Clay Matthews is moving back ‘home’ to the OLB slot where he should see a return to glory. The ILB spot, however, wasn’t addressed and may be a very sore spot again. DT BJ Raji retired, but he hadn’t been very good in a while. Rookie Kenny Clark will be flanked by the ageless Julius Peppers and a mix of OLB/DE hybrids. If they can keep key personnel healthy, the Pack shouldn’t have much trouble taking the division and making a run at the title.
Minnesota Viking (2015 record: 11-5): While everyone initially thought that the Vikings season was shredded when Teddy Bridgewater’s knee was, one needs to think again. The Vikings success was predicated on two things; Adrian Peterson and defense – and both are back en-force. Bridgewater did his best ‘Trent Dilfer’ impression, managing games just well enough. Now, the onus falls on newly-acquired Sam Bradford. Bradford was able to stay heathy last season, but was underwhelming in Chip Kelly’s offense. This one may be more suited to his skillset. He’s got nice weapons and a solid line in front of him. Rookie WR Laquon Treadwell could be a steal; he has top-ten talent, but performed poorly at the combines. He’ll be a high quality possession guy, partnering up nicely with Stefon Diggs. Peterson is Peterson, though he is now 31 – an age of which RBs tend to begin regressing. But, again, he’s Adrian Peterson.
HC Mike Zimmer is a defensive guru, and the Vikings were very good last season. They had no significant losses from the unit and added some depth at the LB spot, where Chad Greenway just can’t cut it any longer. They possess one of the best safeties in Harrison Smith, one of the best LBs in Anthony Barr, and one of the best pass rushers in Everson Griffen. This is a very balanced, attacking defense that should, once again, have the Vikings in the playoff hunt.
PREDICTED 2016 STANDINGS
Green Bay 12-4