2013-2014 Green Bay Packers Preview

By: Prad

 

Projected Record: 10-6

NFC North Rank: 1st

The Packers have won the NFC North the last two seasons behind one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Last year, Green Bay had a 5-1 NFC North record en route to finishing the season off 11-5, but they eventually succumbed to the 49ers in the Divisional Round in a high scoring bout, 45-31. Their record will take a small hit as a result of some losses of veteran players, but they ended up doing very well in April’s draft, which gives them a bright future. They’ll most probably clinch a playoff berth sometime in Week 16 or even Week 17, but only that late because of their difficult schedule. 10 of the 16 games their slated to play this season, have teams that owned a winning record a season ago.

James Jones Courtesy of Telegraph Herald
James Jones
Courtesy of The Telegraph Herald

Aaron Rodgers has been among the league’s best quarterbacks for the last three years and has the accolades to back it up. He won the 2011 MVP award, the Lombardi Trophy the same year and snagged the Super Bowl MVP too. Essentially, the triple crown for football. Although he hasn’t lost any luster, his receiving corps suffered a blow following the departure of WR Greg Jennings to the Minnesota Vikings. Jennings was injured for a large part of last season, but when healthy was a dominant presence. He has topped the 1,000 yard receiving mark three of the last five seasons and has hauled in 12 TD receptions two times in his career. WR James Jones and WR Jordy Nelson will have to make up for the significant loss of production, which they have proven they can do. Jones filled in very nicely for Jennings last year grabbing 14 touchdown passes.

OT Bryan Bulaga has left a void at offensive tackle Courtesy of SB Nation
OT Bryan Bulaga has left a void at offensive tackle
Courtesy of SB Nation

Rodgers has been known for getting sacked frequently throughout his career. In fact, last year, the Packers offensive line gave up 51 sacks, which is the second highest total in the NFL, behind the Cardinals. To make matters worse, they lost their best offensive lineman in Bryan Bulaga, who is out for the season with a torn ACL and lost C Jeff Saturday, who decided to retire. Although Rodgers is an above-averager scrambler when under pressure, he’ll have to do much better this upcoming year to make up for the key losses. Bulaga was a left tackle, which means Rodgers is going to be vulnerable on his blind side. As a result, he has to be cognizant about his numbers in the fumble department throughout the season. However, it’s a good thing GM Ted Thompson selected two offensive lineman, OL David Bakhtiari and OL JC Tretter in this year’s draft. They’ll prove to be helpful in providing good blocking for the rushing attack but I can’t say with certainty whether they’ll aid in providing Rodgers more time in the pocket. Only time will tell their immediate impact.

Former Alabama RB Eddie Lacy Courtesy of ESPN
Former Alabama RB Eddie Lacy
Courtesy of ESPN

This April, Green Bay drafted two halfbacks, RB Eddie Lacy and RB Johnathan Franklin, who can bolster a previously mediocre rushing attack. Even though this has the potential to be a dynamic combo in the backfield, the more talented and athletic Lacy will take most of the rushes this year. Hopefully, with some young legs, Rodgers and the aerial attack don’t need to take on a massive chunk of the offensive burden this year, something they’ve gotten accustomed to in the past few seasons. Last year, the rushing game had 1,702 yards throughout the season, while the passing game was responsible for 4,049 yards. Although it is common for a team’s passing attack to outperform its rushing game in terms of yards, the disparity between the two with Green Bay is one of the greatest in the NFL. If the rushing game has good production in the first few weeks, that bodes well for the team and Rodgers for the rest of the season, since he’ll be more of a threat with a degree of uncertainty.

Packers Defense Courtesy of Bleacher Report
Packers Defense
Courtesy of Bleacher Report

The Packers defensive unit has been one of the league’s best in recent times. They sacked an opposing quarterback 47 times last season, which ranked them 4th in the NFL. Their secondary was tremendous as well, ranking inside the top 10 for both yards allowed and points allowed. Charles Woodson was a pivotal element on the Packers for seven seasons, attaining 38 interceptions during that time. He got elected to the Pro Bowl four times as a Packer and was considered amongst the league’s best safeties just a couple seasons ago. Although his departure to the Oakland Raiders is disappointing, the aging Woodson, 36 was injured for half of last season and probably would’ve become more injury prone in future years. The team’s D still remains excellent with linebacker Clay Matthews as the centerpiece. To round out their linebacker crew is rookie first round selection Nick Perry, LILB AJ Hawk, and MLB Brad Jones. This four man group is set to be a top 5 linebacker unit in the NFL next season. Their defensive line has also excelled, which is led by DT BJ Raji and DT Ryan Pickett, both Pro Bowl caliber players. The only concern on this defensive unit seems to be the secondary. They haven’t done enough to replace Woodson and his production. The Pack didn’t acquire a safety during this offseason. Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers seems to simply be starting MD Jennings at strong safety and Morgan Burnett at free safety, both of whom lack starting experience. Yet, nobody can argue against the potent cornerback duo of Tramon Williams and Sam Shields. So, this defensive will NOT inevitably fail without the veteran Charles Woodson leading the secondary.

Clearly, GM Ted Thompson has addressed many concerns on the offensive end with this year’s draft and much of the defense remains intact despite a few alterations. The Green Bay Packers, a fixture in the postseason, are a formidable threat to any opposing team on their schedule, but will not be able to advance past the Divisional Round again this season due to a highly competitive NFC.  However, Green Bay will remain NFC North Champions, because nobody in their division has enough versatility on both sides of the ball to dethrone them.

2013-2014 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Preview

By: Evan

Projected Record: 6-10

NFC South Rank: 4th

This is a make or break year for Josh Freeman Courtesy of ESPN

Josh Freeman is in a contract year and the coaches do not have confidence in him. Not exactly a recipe for success for a team that spent a boatload of money to improve their squad. This spending included star cornerback Darrelle Revis, stud safety Dashon Goldson as well as drafting Johnathan Banks. These three will be in charge of improving a Bucs defense that ranked dead last in passing defense in 2012. The Bucs already have a stout rush defense that only allowed 82.5 rushing yards per game last year. And despite all of these improvements, I still don’t see the Bucs making it past the .500 mark this season.

Strengths:

Skill Position Players and Defense:

Doug Martin looks to improve on his impressive rookie season Courtesy of SI.NFL.com

Doug Martin set the NFL world on fire last year rushing for 1,454 yards and 11 TDs and reminded fans of a younger Ray Rice. Martin is also a passing threat out of the backfield, catching for 472 yards and one touchdown. Martin will be a key part of the future for whoever plays quarterback. The Buccaneers also have Vincent Jackson, who thrived in his first year in Tampa, accumulating 1,384 yards while averaging over 19.2 yards per catch which was best in NFL. Mike Williams proved to be a viable #2 receiver catching 63 balls for 996 yards and nine scores. He too, signed a big money deal this offseason worth 42.5 million dollars over 6 years. The two combined for one of the most potent duos in the NFL but the performance of a receiver always relies on the dependability of his quarterback and Freeman has had some consistency issues. The Bucs defense will probably finish the year in the top 10 in both passing and rushing. The defensive line is young and swallows up running backs and make offenses one dimensional. Revis, recovering from a torn ACL will immediately be put to the fire dealing with the likes of Julio Jones, Roddy White, Marques Colston and Steve Smith. But Revis is one of the best in the NFL and will be up to the challenge. The Bucs are talented but they have significant weaknesses that will hold them back.

Weaknesses:

QB and Pass Rush:

The Bucs seem high on rookie Mike Glennon, but will he get a shot? Courtesy of SBNation

The Buccaneers stripped Josh Freeman of his captaincy this year and Greg Schiano didn’t exactly give Freeman a vote of confidence when asked why. Former teammate Ronde Barber was quoted as saying Freeman is “prone to mistakes”. I personally don’t see why the Buccaneers are giving up so quickly on Freeman, who has great size and arm strength. But when there is doubt about a starting quarterback, the team cannot focus and often leads to bad seasons. If Glennon ends up playing this season, Josh Freeman better start looking for a new home. The most baffling part of the Buccaneers evaluation of Freeman is his age as he is only 25 years old with plenty of room to grow. The other major weakness for Tampa Bay is the pass rush, ranking 29th in sacks last year. In a division with Matt Ryan, Drew Brees and Cam Newton pass rush is crucial to the overall success of a defense.

Schedule Analysis:

@New York Jets-W: Geno Smith is starting for the Jets and Revis returns to NYC. A match-up made in heaven for the motivated Revis. Welcome to Revis Island, Geno Smith

vs New Orleans-L: The Bucs can’t get to Drew Brees and eventually Brees figures Revis out and the Saints win

@ New England-L: Josh Freeman can’t keep up with Tom Brady and the Bucs struggle to deal with all of the Patriot weapons

vs Arizona-W: Put Larry Fitzgerald on Revis island and who else do the Cardinals have? Not much. Tampa has more weapons to throw to.

Bye Week

vs Philadelphia-W: The read option won’t fool Greg Schiano and the Eagles will have trouble stopping Vincent Jackson and Doug Martin.

@ Atlanta-L: Matt Ryan just has too many options to throw to and should spread the Bucs out and win the game.

vs Carolina-W: The Buccaneers rebound as Cam struggles to score against the pass defense. The Panthers can’t get the ball to Steve Smith or Greg Olsen, making it hard for any receivers to get open.

@ Seattle- L: And this is where the streak ends as Seattle puts a hurting on Josh Freeman, holding him to a mere 100 yards passing. Vincent Jackson is also checked by All-pro Richard Sherman and cannot help Freeman at all.

vs Miami- L: In a rare turn of events, Darrelle Revis gets burned by the speedy Mike Wallace for a touchdown and the potent Miami pass rush sacks Josh Freeman at least seven times.

vs Atlanta- L:  Josh Freeman’s up and down season continues and Greg Schiano decides to put Mike Glennon in the game. He doesn’t help much and the Falcons blow out Tampa.

@ Detroit-L: Glennon gets his first NFL start against a nasty Detroit pass rush and Glennon struggles to adjust to the constant pressure, throwing for 3 INTs. In an epic matchup of Megatron vs Revis Island, Megatron wins, scoring 2TDs.

@ Carolina-L: The Bucs flip-flop again and revert back to Freeman, after Glennon’s less than impressive start and the Bucs still lose. The horrible season continues.

vs Buffalo-W: Tampa finally gets a win over EJ Manuel and the Bills as Revis locks down Stevie Johnson for only 3 catches.

vs San Francisco-L: Colin Kaepernick spreads out the secondary for over 250 yards and then adds another 100 on the ground as Freeman again struggles against a tough San Fran D.

@ St. Louis- W: Besides Tavon Austin, the Rams don’t have too many weapons to fear and Sam Bradford is just not good, so the Bucs pull this one out.

@ New Orleans- L: Brees outplays Freeman and despite the Muscle Hamster’s big game, the Saints beat Tampa to close out a tumultuous season for the Buccaneers

Conclusion:

The Bucs have lots of individual talent, but they are missing crucial pieces from being a true threat in the NFC South.

2013-2014 New Orleans Saints Preview

By: Evan

Projected Record: 10-6

NFC South Rank: 2nd

Sean Payton is back at the helm, hoping to lead the Saints back to the playoffs    Courtesy of ESPN

The Saints struggled last year going 8-8 and starting 0-4, showing how valuable coaches really are.  This year is different because  Payton is back to lead the Saints and Brees can go back to playing quarterback rather than QB/coach/team leader. The Saints should play the role of sleeper this year as many other analysts don’t think the Saints can compete well in an extremely tough NFC.   A key acquisition was the hiring of Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan, a defensive guru with the ability to improve sub-par defenses.  The Saints’ draft was extremely impressive as safety Kenny Vaccaro, offensive lineman Terron Armstead and wide receiver Kenny Stills will significantly improve the Saints’ squad in both the short and long term.  The Saints should march into the playoffs as a wild card team.

Strengths:

QB and Skill Position players

Drew Brees needs to a have a big year for the Big Easy                                                                                                               Courtesy of ESPN

Drew Brees is an elite quarterback in the game, but at 34, time is fleeting and Brees needs to capitalize on his remaining prime years.   Brees ranked first in passing yards with 5,117 as well as touchdowns with 43.  Similar to the Falcons, the Saints have tons of weapons including the elusive Darren Sproles, star receiver Marques Colston and the best tight end in Jimmy Graham. Sproles is a threat in both the rushing and passing game, rushing for over five yards per carry and catching 75 balls with seven touchdowns in only 13 games. Although Marques Colston is now 30, he has put up very good numbers ranking 13th in receiving yards with 1,154 and tied for 7th with ten touchdowns. Obviously the most the deadly weapon is star TE Jimmy Graham who led all TEs in plays in 20 yard + plays while also scoring 9 touchdowns with 982 yards receiving. These Saints skill players are very talented and will be the keys to a playoff run.

Weaknesses:

Defense (Rushing and Passing)

Kenny Vaccaro will have to step up as the last man in the Saints’ secondary                                                   Courtesy of ESPN

The Saints defense is weak, ranked last in rushing defense (147 yards/game), 31st in passing defense (297 yards/game), and you guessed it, last in total defense.  Rob Ryan should boost these rankings but ultimately it comes down to the players and their performance. The Saints improved their secondary by adding the best safety from college in Kenny Vaccaro, but he won’t solve all of the woes.  In a pass happy NFC South, coupled with tough runners like Steven Jackson, Doug Martin and Cam Newton, opposing teams will look to pick apart the Saints’ D.  Although some players such as Cameron Jordan, Curtis Lofton and rookie John Jenkins have potential, there are too many holes to fill and the spotty defense will be exploited.  When the Saints play, look out for high scoring games with the team with last possession often winning.

Schedule Analysis:

Brees will come visit New England to play Brady and the Pats Courtesy of Bleacher Report

vs Atlanta- W: The Saints will be fired up and the Mercedes-Benz Superdome will be rocking as the Saints will beat the dirty birds in a preseason shootout

@ Tampa Bay-W: This should be an epic matchup between Brees and Revis with Brees eventually winning out with a game winner to Jimmy Graham

vs Arizona-L: After playing a new and improved Bucs D, Brees will have to play another tough secondary with rising star Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu. This game has upset potential and I believe it will happen.

vs Miami-W: This game also reeks of upset potential because of the offensive weapons the Dolphins have in Lamar Miller and Mike Wallace but the disparity in talent between Brees and Tannehill is large, the Saints will pull it out.

@ Chicago-W: The Bears D is tough and they do have weapons in Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall and Martellus Bennet, I trust Brees more than Cutler. Another game won by the talent of Brees.

@ New England-L: Two top-5 QBs with explosive offenses and two terrible passing defenses=lots of points. The game could go either way but since the Pats are at home, I’ll pick them.

Bye Week

vs Buffalo-W: The Bills aren’t great but they are not bad but again Brees>Manuel so… New Orleans it is.

@ Jets-W: I think we all know what will happen here

vs Dallas-L: After playing two below average teams, the Saints better be ready as Dallas can put up points as well. I think Dez Bryant will have a great game with over 150 yards and two TDs.

vs San Francisco-L: For the first time this season the Saints will have to play a mobile quarterback in Colin Kaepernick as well as a  terrific San Francisco defense. That defense should be able to stop Brees and allow CK7 to torch the decrepit Saints’ D.

@ Atlanta-L: The Falcons will want to exact revenge for their opening game loss and will be ready and prepared. They lost 23-13 in Atlanta last year and I expect a similar result.

@Seattle-W: As tough as Seattle is at home, Brees and Co. will come in and put up points and Russell Wilson won’t be able to respond. They are also coming off a three game losing streak and will need to start winning to maintain their playoff hopes.

vs Carolina-W: Cam Newton will rack up the yards both passing and rushing but the Panthers will come up short. Eventually the Panthers will overcome the Saints but not in 2013.

@ St. Louis-W: The Rams play in a tough division but the Saints are just better on offense.

@ Carolina-L: Cam strikes back as the Panthers try to spoil the Saints’ playoff chances.

vs Tampa Bay-W: Doug Martin has a superb game but Josh Freeman can’t keep up with Brees and the Saints clinch a playoff berth.

Conclusion:

The Saints will have to compete and win at least 10 games to make the playoffs and if they get there, they will struggle on defense and will fall in the wild card round.

Stats from ESPN