Quarterback health is a big issue for the Bears and Packers who are in contention to win this division, while the bottom half both feature teams in a transition phase.
The Bears offense was great last year, even after Jay Cutler got hurt, but Chicago needs Cutler healthy to maintain their offense performance this year as backup Josh McCown is gone.
On defense, I’m looking for an improved performance (in particular Jared Allen should have a good year as NFC North transplants seem to come up big), although the Bears defense was so bad last season they almost can’t help but be better.
On paper, the Green Bay Packers are probably the best team in this division but there are several red flags for Green Bay that have me putting the second. Aaron Rodgers is one of the four elite QBs in football, and the Packers have the best skill position talent in the division, but the line is suspect – it’s what got Rodgers hurt last year, which could hold the offense back, in particular RB Eddie Lacy, a breakout star.
On defense, I don’t like Green Bay’s personnel OR their coaching – the Packers are inept at making adjustments. Losing BJ Raji for the season really hurts Green Bay, who were already very susceptible to the run.
It wouldn’t shock me if the Detroit Lions completely turn themselves around this season, even though I have them missing the cut.
Detroit is hoping that a talented but badly mistake prone offense can be cured with a coaching change. I’m not so sure, but I do know that Calvin Johnson alone is worth the price of admission.
On defense, the change is likely to be more pronounced, as the Lions will scrap the idiotic wide 9 in favor of a 3-4/4-3 hybrid scheme. Detroit has a great front 7, but the secondary remains a major weakness and that’s something that scheme alone won’t fix.
You have to wonder how long Adrian Peterson can continue to be an elite back or, more specifically, whether he can do it long enough for Teddy Bridgewater to take over as Minnesota’s starting quarterback. That figures to happen sometime during this season, as Matt Cassel is just a plug-in starter and the Vikings will not be competitive this year or probably next year either.
Can AP still dominate three years from now? You have to wonder, but that’s how long it will take Minnesota to develop Bridgewater, replenish the skill positions and rebuild the defense. Sadly, the Vikings are a candidate for worst team in the league – only Peterson elevates them above that.
Chicago Bears (10-6) (3rd seed; NFC Divisional Round)
Green Bay Packers (9-7)
Detroit Lions (7-9)
Minnesota Vikings (4-12)
Games to Watch:
Week 1 – NY Giants @Detroit: If this is indeed a new-look Detroit Lions team, then winning the opener, at home, against a Giants team looking to find itself, would seem to be a must.
Week 10- Chicago @Green Bay: The Bears come off their bye week to showdown with the Pack. After this, 5 of their last 7 are at home, so winning this one could be a clincher.
Week 11 – Philadelphia @Green Bay: The Packers playoff chances will depend on their two games with Chicago and a handful of NFC showdowns like this one with fellow bubble team the Eagles.
Week 11 – Minnesota @Chicago: If I were looking for a spot to break in my rookie QB, it would be probably be here, after the bye week, on the road, against a subpar defense.