2015 NFL Preview: NFC North

nfc-north.fw

It is one of the oldest divisions in the NFL with teams that have been around since the start of the league.

These teams have been fighting it out to be the best team in the league for years and are all too familiar with each other.

The Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears make two of the oldest teams in the NFL regardless of division.

Meanwhile the Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions have been here a lot longer than other teams in the league and have been around for plenty.

That history has made this division one full of rivalries as all four teams have been playing each other for a long time.

The Packers and the Bears make-up the oldest rivalry in the NFL as they have been competing since the Packers entered the NFL in 1921.

That rivalry has highlighted the division for years but they are not the only teams with plenty of bad blood between them.

Every team has been fighting at least since 1961 when the Vikings entered the league.

In 1967 they joined together in the NFC Central division and since then they have fought it out for division titles.

This division has plenty of history and bad memories and there isn’t one divisional game that any team wants to drop simply for pride’s sake.

That type of attitude creates plenty of competition in the league as games are that much more important for every team.

Still with the motivation from every team to take home the division title and take it away from their rivals there has been a pattern forming over the last few years.

It wasn’t so long ago that the North was considered one of the best divisions in football as it seemed like every year another team emerged as a contender.football-sidebar

When one team won the division the next was usually a good shot to take one of the NFC wild card spots to give them their own shot.

That hasn’t been the case most recently though as the Packers have emerged as the dominant team in the division.

In 2009 the Minnesota Vikings took home the division title and move all the way to the Conference championship.

That same year the Packers took the wild card spot and began a run of four straight years where the conference put two teams into the playoffs.

That included a Super Bowl winning Packers team in 2010 who took the wild card all the way to the Super Bowl.

The division has changed in recent years though as the power has shifted from every team to one team that has taken the division title for four straight years.

The Packers have become one of the most consistently good teams in the division and in the league.

It seems like every year they enter the season as Super Bowl favourites while the rest of the division tries to keep up.

That doesn’t mean they haven’t seen challenges as the Bears will never give them an easy fight to the end of the year and the Detroit Lions are usually right behind them in the standings.

This year seems no different as the Packers once again entered training camp as the favourite to win the division and potentially the Super Bowl.

Meanwhile everyone other than them seems to have taken a step backwards this year with changes on almost every team.

It was an interesting off-season and an even more interesting training camp for the NFC North as the division is still somewhat of a question.

Injuries in pre-season have put the Super Bowl hopes of the Packers in jeopardy while the changes to the other team have many wondering how quickly they can improve.

The Bears are working with a new system while the Lions try to adjust from losses in the offs-season and the Vikings try to continue a rebuilding phase.

Among all of the changes the Packers remain the steadiest and could once again win the division and make a run into the playoffs.

Then again this is the North and with so many rivals any surprises can be on the way leaving the division with some mystery as the 2015 season begins.

chicago_bears

The Chicago Bears have seen this story before as every few years it seems like there is a new sense of hope in the city. It came when they seemed to finally find their quarterback in Jay Cutler and then it came when they hired an offensive specialist in Marc Trestman from the CFL. Part of this new hope is John Fox who will take over on the sidelines from Trestman and hopes to finally bring the Bears back to winning. One of the biggest issues that Fox will need to deal with is the defence a group that has been the pride of Chicago for years but has fallen short recently. Fox and new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, previously with the 49ers, look to change that as they hope to install a new 3-4 defence. The line will see some changes to make the adjustment easier but already it has taken a blow. The addition of Jarvis Jenkins would provide a good end in the new system. The biggest move will be from Jared Allen who will move to outside linebacker and will be joined by new addition Pernell McPhee who was good as a backup in Baltimore and should take another step as the starter. In the secondary Antrel Rolle provides a big upgrade at safety while Alan Ball should help soften the blow of losing a veteran in Charles Tillman. The defence is a work in progress as they adjust to the new system and try to find the players they need to be successful in the new system. On offence the focus will be on Cutler who has disappointed since becoming the starting quarterback of the Bears. He has not been terrible but he has yet to lead them to where they want to go and for that his leash is becoming a lot shorter. This year he will need to go about it without one of his favourite targets as Brandon Marshall has left for New York. Alshon Jeffery becomes the new focus of the receiving game and there is no doubt that he can handle it as one of the best young receivers in the game. Providing a veteran presence is new addition Eddie Royal who should take some of the pressure off of Jeffery. In the running game the Bears lean on Matt Forte for another year while the addition of Jacquizz Rodgers provides a good change of pace back that can give the veteran a break. The offence has the pieces to be successful but they have not been able to put everything together and so far that has fallen on Cutler. The Bears are a team in transition especially when it comes to their defence and until there is clear evidence that they have figured it out it is hard to say that they will compete as another year missing the playoffs seems probable.

chi-bears.fw

detroit_lions

The Detroit Lions have had a reputation over the last few years and it has worked well for them in the division. When they added Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley to their defensive line they immediately became one of the meanest teams in the league. They had assembled one of the best defensive lines in the league to go with a potent offence and it paid off as they were the only team to compete for the division over the past four years. All that is changed now though as the Loons are no longer looking to be the most hated team in the league with a mean line that plays on the edge of the rules. Suh and Fairley are gone and with them the attitude of the Lions. So they are looking for a new identity and it all starts with their offence who now takes full focus on the team. Matthew Stafford has proven to be one of the best quarterbacks in the league and a lot of that has to do with his top target. Calvin Johnson is one of the best receivers if not the best receiver in the league. The pair of young players has made up a great tandem and the addition of Golden Tate last year provided some much-needed support with Johnson missing games due to injury. If the tight ends in Eric Ebron and Brandon Pettigrew can reach another level the pass game looks very promising again. The run game will have some new faces after they drafted Ameer Abdullah but he may have to sit on the bench for the majority of the year. Joique Bell is the true leader of the group while Theo Riddick should see some time in his second year. The Lions offence remains a very tough group but that is not the cause for concern this year. The defence will need to overcome the loss of two of the best tackles in the game as they look to a different group to lead. The addition of Haloti Ngata will help soften the blow while Tyrunn Walker takes over the other tackle position. Jason Jones and Ezekial Ansah will try to provide the pressure from the edges but the pass rush is just not the same without Suh and Fairley. The linebacking corps will now be the new leaders of this defence and Stephen Tulloch will lead the way after a stupid decision to celebrate ended his season early last year. The secondary individually may not raise eyebrows but together they performed better than expected last year. The fact is that the Lions are going through an identity shift on defence and that could mean an adjustment period. Without their line the defence could struggle while the offence is good and could lead the team to a wild card but not the division.

det-lions.fw

green_bay_packers

Last year the Packers came into the season as Super Bowl favourites and took that prediction in stride. They won their fourth division title and moved to the NFC Championship game where they lost in a tough game where the Seahawks clawed back for the win. It was a tough loss and this year they try to take that tough loss as motivation to make it back to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2010. The off-season marked a period of change for the Packers but more about players leaving than players being brought in. The majority of that change was done on the defence where A.J. Hawk, Tramon Williams, Davon House, Jarrett Bush, and Jamari Lattimore all left the team. The Packers have always been confident in their strategy though as they love to draft and develop rather than to sign free agents. They will test that theory this year as a number of their home-grown talent will have to take more of a responsibility. The defensive line remains relatively unchanged as Mike Daniels and B.J. Raji take on their roles while Letroy Guion is on a short leash after his off-season arrest. At linebacker the Packers will return Clay Matthews to the outside after moving him inside at the end of last year and Julius Peppers remains his rush partner on the other side. Nate Palmer and Sam Barrington will now lead the inside as the replacements for Lattimore and Hawk. In the secondary the changes will be overcome by their depth with Sam Shields back at corner and Casey Hayward taking over for Williams while rookie Damarious Randall may see some time as well. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Morgan Burnett fill out the backfield in a good group that should overcome the losses in the off-season. The offence will not see as many changes and that is a good thing as they are one of the best groups in the league. Led by NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers the passing game is very dangerous but they will be without their biggest weapon after Jordy Nelson tore his ACL in pre-season. Randall Cobb will take on a bigger role as long as his shoulder injury suffered in pre-season is truly not serious. Meanwhile Devante Adams, Jeff Janis, and Ty Montgomery will have to take on bigger roles without on in the mix. The running game is in good hands with Eddie Lacy back again as one of the best backs in the league. The Packers will test their depth this year but they have done it before and come out on top as they remain the most consistent team in the division. For that reason they will win the division for another year but a Super Bowl might not be in the cards for this year’s team.

gb-packers.fw

minnesota_vikings

The Vikings went through some major changes last year and in one of the few success stories of massive changes they improved. With a new coach and a promising young quarterback the Vikings were not terrible but like any team going through changes it was not enough to compete. They enter another year under their head coach Mike Zimmer while Teddy Bridgewater continues to develop. The biggest improvement for this team in 2015 though, is the fact that their superstar is returning to the team. It was a tumultuous year for Adrian Peterson who was in court most of last year dealing with child abuse allegations. After a plea deal and admitting he was guilty Peterson avoided jail and served his season suspension and he now returns to the football field. Peterson hopes to get back to where he left off as the best running back in the league. For once he actually has some support in the passing game as Bridgewater put in a good performance last year as the starter. He returns as the starter but without his favourite target in Greg Jennings. He does get a new weapon in Mike Wallace though who could be a real deep threat if he stays focused. Along with Wallace will be the safety net in tight end Kyle Rudolph and some young targets in Charles Johnson and Cordarelle Patterson. The defence was the biggest change last year as Zimmer brought his knowledge of the defence from Cincinnati to the Vikings. Despite having lost Jared Allen the line improved in Zimmer’s first year with Everson Griffin leading the way in replacing Allen. Along with Griffin Shariff Floyd had a great year showing what the Vikings saw in him when they drafted him in 2013. The linebacking group also lacks any major stars but they still performed well last year with second year backer Anthony Barr leading the way as he continues to develop. Rookie Eric Kendricks may get some time in the middle as they hope he will be the future anchor of the defence. In the secondary Zimmer’s influence was seen the most as he made rookie Xavier Rhodes a true NFL star and he hopes to do the same with rookie Trae Wayans this year. Rhodes enters his second year and will have plenty of experience across the field after the Vikings brought Terence Newman as Rhodes’ corner partner. Robert Blanton and Harrison Smith fill in the rest of the group one that Zimmer is particularly interested in as a former secondary coach. The influence of Zimmer has already been seen and the Vikings are just hoping that influence can help them compete for the playoffs. With the offence getting better and the defence playing above their level the Vikings might compete for the playoffs but will likely fall short.

min-vikings.fw

Prediction:
The NFC North is getting better but the fact is that this division still have only one dominant team. The Packers are once again the class of the division despite their changes and their injuries as they will take the division again. Whether they can make a real push at the Super Bowl is the big question. The Lions are going through some changes in the identity of the team as the defence still needs some work. The Vikings are in the midst of a rebuild and are already showing signs of improvement that they hope will help them into the playoffs. Both will fight it out for second with the winner likely taking a wild card spot. The Bears might surprise some but their defence needs to be rebuilt and built towards their new system before they compete as they stay buried in the basement for this year.

nfc-north.fw

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

  • Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 167 other followers

%d bloggers like this: