The NFC North looked like it would house two of the best teams in the NFC before the season ending injury to Teddy Bridgewater in Minnesota. Green Bay now looks like the class of the division, and conference, while Chicago and Detroit are still mired in mediocrity. Minnesota has a strong enough roster with the recent addition of Sam Bradford to still compete for a playoff spot. The North is fickle, however, and both Detroit and Chicago are known for playing Green Bay tough as well as Minnesota. It’s not a stretch to imagine the injury to Bridgewater setting Minnesota back even further than expected.
Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers is coming off of the worst season as a starter in his career. Rodgers will be happy to have Jordy Nelson back in the fold and Eddie Lacey seems to have gotten the message that fat guys don’t keep their starting jobs in the NFL no matter their history. With Randall Cobb sliding back into being the second option for the team and the reported emergence of Jared Cook all signs are pointing to an historic year for the Packers offense. Clay Matthews jr. and Julius Peppers anchor the perimeter in Green Bay while the safety tandem of Morgan Burnett and Ha-ha Clinton-Dix are as good a safety tandem as the NFL has. RIght now, Green Bay looks like the best team in the league to me and I would imagine they will have no trouble winning the North. 13-3 is my prediction.
Bradford will be an adequate replacement for Teddy Bridgewater in time. Unfortunately for the Vikings their schedule, as a playoff team, is much harder than it was last year. Adrian Peterson has shown no signs of slowing down but he’ll need to carry more of the load early in the season which might hamper his effectiveness late, at a time when the weather allows him to be even more effective. Laquon Treadwell is a nice fit opposite Stefon Diggs and takes the pressure off of Cordarrelle Patterson, which might help him to a resurgence. The Vikings defensive line is ferocious and should set the tone for the rest of the unit. Despite spending multiple first round picks in recent years the Vikings have really only hit on Harrison Smith, an underrated free safety. First round cornerbacks from recent years, Trae Waynes and Xavier Rhodes need to play well this year with second round selection Mackenzie Alexander now in the fold. Ultimately Minnesota's schedule is going to catch up to them and I think they’ll falter early finishing 9-7 and just out of the playoffs.
The Bears seem stuck in a perpetual Jay Cutler like state of underachieving. Fitting for a team quarterbacked by Jay Cutler. Jeremy Langford and Thomas Howard offer some hope that the running game will be OK after the unnecessary departure of Matt Forte in the off season. Alshon Jeffery is among the best in the game when he’s healthy and Kevin White also shows some promise after missing his rookie season to injury. But Cutler is Cutler and the revamped offensive line, which last year was horrible at guard and now suddenly has two Pro-Bowl players and a promising second round pick at the position won’t be enough to salvage the unit. The defense should be a lot better under Vic Fangio. Leonard Floyd and Jonathan Bullard are two talented front seven players that appear to be excellent fits for Fangio’s system. If Kyle Fuller can rebound to his 2014 form then the Bears have a real chance at having a top 10 defensive system. I’m still not sold on them though. 7-9 seems about right.
The post Calvin Johnson era begins this season and for the life of me I can’t figure out why people are understating his importance to this team. For years Johnson was the only offensive weapon that Detroit had and it’s difficult to believe that they will be better without him. Matt Stafford will be forced to distribute the ball more evenly between Marvin Jones, Golden Tate, and Eric Ebron, so that might be a good thing but at some point someone will have to make some plays and no one on Detroit’s roster has shown any ability to do that at the level of Calvin Johnson. Detroit’s defense is very forgettable. Although they added some good developmental talent it’s tough to find anyone other than Ziggy Ansah that will consistently make plays. That, coupled with a transitioning offense makes me think six wins would be generous for this team. They won’t get there. 4-12 is my prediction.