Who can knock off the Pack? (2013 NFC North Preview)

nfc_north

The NFC North has been known as the Black and Blue Division as they have some of the oldest and most traditional teams in the league. There is a lot of history in this division as all four teams have had their own stamp on the NFL. Although these are some of the more traditional team there is a lot of new age in this division. The North is full of some of the best teams in the league and as usual it will be one of the best races in the league. The North is a division that has four teams that could win and four teams that could fall short. There is rarely a definite favorite in the division although two teams seem to take that role more often than not. The Green Bay Packers seem to always be the favorite in the division as they are the most consistent team in the North. With Aaron Rodgers at the helm the Packers seem to be favorites to not only win the division but go to the Super Bowl every year. Right behind them is their longtime rivals the Chicago Bears who seem to be just one step behind the Packers every year. Then there are the Minnesota Vikings and the Detroit Lions who have seen disappointment after disappointment. Both of these teams have looked to be on the upswing only to fall back to the bottom of the division the next year. Then again they could always take the upswing once again and surprise the division to challenge the top two teams. The North will be another tough battle this year as there will be plenty of challengers to the top spot in the division. The old Black and Blue Division is always a tough one as four teams enter the division all with a chance to win. They will all look to get through what promises to be a tough year for all of them as only one team will come out of the season long battle to win the division.

 

Chicago Bears

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The Chicago Bears have been a frustrating team in the last few years as they consistently come up short in the battle for the division. The Bears continue to be a great team but when it comes down to the most important games they fall just short. Most of these games are against their longtime rivals the Green Bay Packers as they can’t get past them to get to the top spot in the division. The Bears have been second place too many times and they are looking to change that this year with a new leader on the sidelines. The Bears would fire Lovie Smith at the end of the season and would go outside the NFL to find their next coach. Marc Trestman comes in with some experience in the NFL acting as an offensive coach for multiple teams from 1985 to 2004 before moving to the CFL. After two Grey Cup championships and creating one of the most dominant teams in the CFL Trestman would get his shot in the NFL. The offensive minded coach and QB guru will enter the Chicago Bears looking to turn Jay Cutler into the QB that the Bears need. Cutler will be hoping that the addition of Trestman will help him to develop into an elite passer. New additions to his offensive line will improve the biggest issue from last year and will give him more time to make a play. There will not be many people to make a play with though as Brandon Marshall represents the only real passing threat while Matt Forte and Michael Bush are good running threats but not amazing ones. The defence will try to be the savior of this team as they look to move on without their leader in Brian Urlacher and continue to be the dominant defence they have been known for. Without Urlacher, Lance Briggs takes over the leadership role as he will lead a good linebacking corps with James Anderson and D.J. Williams at the second level. Julius Peppers will be back to provide pressure on the line while Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman sit in the defensive backfield. The Bears defence is a good one but not great as they will not win games by themselves. The Bears will once again be a good team but winning the division is not easy as they will fight for the top spot and a wild card spot all year.

 

Strength:
New Sideline Leader
– Marc Trestman turned Anthony Calvillo into the all-time leading passer in pro football while in the CFL and now he looks to do the same to Jay Cutler as a new offensive minded coach might be what the Bears need to get the top spot

Weakness:
Lack of Weapons
– In the passing game Jay Cutler can be good but the problem is he has nobody to throw to as Brandon Marshall is the only real weapon in this passing game allowing teams to focus on the one weapon and try to shut down the offence

Biggest Addition:
Jermon Bushrod, T (Free Agent, NO)
– The Bears had a terrible line last year as Jay Cutler had no time to make plays and the Bears would begin to fix the problem adding Drew Brees’ left tackle in Bushrod who will provide great blindside protection for Cutler

Biggest Loss:
Brian Urlacher, LB (Retirement)
– Urlacher may have lost a step last year and may not have been the same player but he was the leader of the Bears and was a presence on the defence that nobody could ignore as that will be gone for the Bears this year leaving a big hole in the locker room and on the field

 

Detroit Lions

detroit_lions

The Detroit Lions seemed to be a team ready to take the NFL by storm and become a power that could challenge for the division every year. The Lions would have their worst season ever in 2008 going 0-16 in the lowest point for the franchise. The no-win season would begin a new era for the Lions as they would begin a rebuild. Adding Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, Ndamukong Suh, and Nick Fairly to the team would begin to turn the team around until they became a playoff team in 2011. Detroit seemed to be on their way to making the playoffs every year as the team looked to be improving and on their way to an eventual division title. Then 2012 hit and they would completely fall apart losing all of their momentum from seasons before. Finishing 4-12 the Lions would miss the playoffs and would be left wondering how to fix a team that didn’t seem to be broken. They go into the 2013 with plenty of changes as they will move on from their 2012 year and begin another run at the division title. The defence will see the most change as the defensive line will see some new faces. Gone are Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril as Jason Jones and rookie Ezekiel Ansah take over. It will be a test for both and especially Ansah who has only been playing football for a few years after coming to BYU from Ghana. The linebacking corps and defensive backfield are not a lot to look at either with few playmakers on the team. On offence the team will be led once again by the pairing of Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson to create a great passing game. The running game will see some improvement this year as Reggie Bush is added to the offence. Bush can be a great back if he is the featured back and that is exactly what he will be in Detroit. With versatility to come out of the back field and catch passes along with the ability to carry the ball Bush makes a great option for this offence that will only add to their firepower. The Lions are looking t oget back to their winning ways but with so many changes to their defence they may find it hard to stand up to the better team as they will likely miss the playoffs again.

 

Strength:
They Know how to Win
– This team has been good before and they have the ability to win again as wining is a habit and the young players on the team know how to do it and should be able to help the team win again this year

Weakness:
Changes
– The defence has gone through some major changes this year and they will suffer for that as they will need to rely on unproven and inexperienced talent to do what they do best as an adjustment period will likely be seen this year

Biggest Addition:
Reggie Bush, RB (Free Agent, Mia)
– Bush has shown that he can be a feature back and that he is better as a feature back as the addition of a running back that can carry and catch the ball provides an extra asset to this offence

Biggest Loss:
Kyle Vanden Bosch, DE (Free Agent)
– A veteran pass rusher Vanden Bosch was a key part to what was the best defensive line in the NFL but without him the line has become much less a force this year as he will be replaced by a very inexperience rookie

 

Green Bay Packers

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The Green Bay Packers have been the class of this division as one of the most stable teams in the league. They have found a QB, a coach, a GM, and a defensive coordinator that all have been able to help them to division title after division title. Yet there is still something concerning about the team as they have seemingly fallen into a pattern that many good teams fall into. The Packers have become that team that is constantly a favorite and yet they cannot seem to make it back to a Super Bowl. The Packers have problems most people would want but they are still problems as they seem to be stuck in a rut. The Packers have been a team that has relied heavily on the pass and with good reason as Aaron Rodgers has led one of the best receiving corps in the NFL. This year Rodgers will not have the same receiving corps with Donald Driver and Greg Jennings both gone leaving young talent to take over. Jordy Nelson will be the star of the receiving corps that will include 3rd year receiver Randall Cobb and tight end Jermichael Finley, who has had the best training camp of his career. The weakness has always been the running game though as the Packers have gone through multiple backs and have yet to find one that can stay healthy and produce consistently. This year that job will be up to a trio of backs as James Starks takes over the starters role but will not keep rookies Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin off of the field. On defence the Packers are hoping to improve after multiple years of failing to return to their Super Bowl form. The pressure has been lacking for the Packers as offensive key on Clay Matthews who was all alone providing pressure last year. The Packers would draft Datone Jones to help at defensive end and will hope that Nick Perry can stay healthy in his second year and be the pressure they need on the opposite side of Matthews. The Packers have made changes this year as they would allow many veterans to walk instead going with a younger team to try to breathe new life into the team. The Packers are still a very good team and will be the team to beat in the division although a young team could mean a few stumbles along the way.

 

Strength:
Passing Game
– Aaron Rodgers is one of the best QBs in the league and he seems to be able to make receivers better as he will lose two veterans but will find ways to get the ball to Cobb, Nelson, Finley, and James Jones

Weakness:
The Rut
– It is a weakness most teams wish they had as the Packers seem to always be one of the top teams and yet they continue to make a habit of coming up short in the playoffs which is a bad habit to get into

Biggest Addition:
Eddie Lacy, RB (Draft)
– The Packers have been looking for a running back for years and they have regularly tried to go with north-south veterans who have some miles on them and get injured but Lacy provides the type of back they love without the miles on his body

Biggest Loss:
Greg Jennings, WR (Free Agent, Min)
– The passing game is still good for the Packers but there is no doubt that Rodgers will feel the absence of his best pass catcher in the past few years and the fact that they will see him twice this year makes this loss even worse

 

Minnesota Vikings

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The Minnesota Vikings were one of the surprising teams last year as they went from 3-13 to a 10-6 record and second place in the division. The Vikings would do this on the back of one of the greatest performances in NFL history. Adrian Peterson would come off of an offseason ACL surgery only a year after injuring himself. Peterson would run for 2,097 yards, only 8 shy of the single season record, and would carry the Vikings to second place. The Vikings would not be able to carry this momentum into the playoffs though as they would lose to the Packers in the wild card playoffs. This year the Vikings are hoping that the upswing will last and that they will head to the playoffs once again. The team is led by Adrian Peterson and there is no question that the Vikings will go as he goes. The offence is a rarity in this era as they are not a passing team instead electing to run the ball more often than pass. They can do this because Adrian Peterson is a player that can change a game by himself. The Vikings are hoping that the addition of Greg Jennings will help their passing offence and give Christian Ponder a veteran target to pass to. Jennings replaces Percy Harvin and is an upgrade as he will not cause issues off of the field and will be more consistent on the field. The defence will be relatively intact as veterans who have lost a step are gone but there is not a great amount of talent on the field. The defensive line will be the strength once again as Jared Allen leads the way for a group that continues to put pressure on opposing offences. The rest of the team tends to get worse as you move back as Chad Greenway is the only real playmaker at the second level. In the defensive backfield there is not a lot to speak of as they have multiple holes that have not been filled. The Vikings had a surprising season last year as Adrian Peterson carried the team to the playoffs. Don’t expect that to happen again though as Adrian Peterson may break the record or get close again this year but he will not be able to carry the team back to the playoffs.

 

Strengths:
Increased Balance
– The addition of a veteran receiver in the passing game was a clear sign that the Vikings will try not to rely on Peterson as much which means teams will have to worry about more than just the Viking running game

Weakness:
Defence
– The defence has a lot of holes as an aging defensive line and a lack of big talent in the linebacking corps the defence is the weak spot of this team and they could be the reason why the Vikings will not make the playoffs

Biggest Addition:
Greg Jennings, WR (Free Agent, GB)
– Jennings replaces Percy Harvin on the offence but will be an upgrade as he will not have the off-field issues that came with Harvin and will be a more consistent player as he instantly becomes the top target for Christian Ponder

Biggest Loss:
Nobody
– Percy Harvin would be the biggest loss if he was not replaced and he did not cause so many problems but besides him the Vikings would only lose aging players or players that had no impact and will have no impact this year

 

Prediction:
1. Green Bay Packers
2. Chicago Bears
3. Detroit Lions
4. Minnesota Vikings

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