Tag Archives: NFC North

2013-2014 Detroit Lions Preview

By: Prad

 

Projected Record: 8-8

NFC North Rank: 4th

It’s hard to believe that the last team in a division will be .500, but that might very well be the case in the NFC North. It’s not a division that’s filled with any overwhelming Super Bowl favorites, but many above-average teams. The Lions finished at 4-12 last year, but held a mediocre 0-6 record in their division. If they want any shot at a postseason berth, that NFC North record needs to improve drastically. Last year, 11 of their 16 matchups were against teams with winning records and 9 of those 11 times were against teams that qualified for the playoffs. This year isn’t that different. They have 10 matchups this season, whose teams had records above .500 last year. In a highly competitive NFC and an even more competitive NFC North, the Detroit Lions don’t stand a chance at making the postseason.

QB Matt Stafford and WR Calvin Johnson have probably the best rapport in the league Courtesy of Zimbio
QB Matt Stafford and WR Calvin Johnson have probably the best rapport in the league
Courtesy of Zimbio

QB Matthew Stafford has been excellent the last couple seasons. Two seasons ago, at the age of 23, Stafford threw for more than 5,000 yards and a whopping 41 touchdowns. Last season was not as great, but he still torched opposing defenses for 4,967 yards, 23 yards shy of 5,000. Part of the reason for his outstanding statistics is that Detroit gives Stafford more passing attempts than any other team gives their respective quarterback. Stafford attempted 727 passes last season, besting QB Drew Brees by 57, who attempted the second most in the league. This west coast offense is attributed to the lack of skill on the rushing end, but primarily because of their superb receiver, WR Calvin Johnson. Last year, Johnson etched his name into the record books when he broke Jerry Rice’s single season receiving yards record (1964). “Megatron” led the NFL last year in both receiving yards and receptions (122), but only caught 5 touchdown passes from Stafford. Two years ago when Stafford tossed 41 touchdown passes, Johnson was responsible for 16 of those receptions. I see last season’s TD stats as a fluke and Johnson’s touchdown numbers will rebound tremendously this upcoming season to approximately 12-14. As a result, look to Stafford to bounce back in that department as well. A season ago, he only passed for 20 TDs, but he’ll get about 35 next year.  The passing game cannot possibly be solely responsible for a team’s winning culture though.

RB Reggie Bush is an exciting addition to the previously mediocre running attack Courtesy of Sports Illustrated
RB Reggie Bush is an exciting addition to the previously mediocre running attack
Courtesy of Sports Illustrated

The aforementioned deficiency in running ability in this organization is a major reason for the aerial attack’s prevalence in the offense. The running game has been a major concern for Detroit for the last few seasons. Last year, the Lions ranked 23rd in the league in total rushing yards. But, the Lions made an imperative acquisition this offseason that will hopefully put an end to these concerns. RB Reggie Bush, inked a 4 year-$16 million deal with Detroit in March. The agile Bush rushed for 2,072 yards in his last two seasons with the Miami Dolphins. If Bush can average another 1,000-1,200 yards on 4.7 yards per carry this upcoming season, it would prove immensely beneficial to this offensive unit. The heavy dependence on the aerial game can’t possibly sustain a winning record. So, the signing of RB Bush will definitely improve this offense because it adds an element of surprise. Obviously, the Stafford-Johnson tandem is the best QB-WR duo in the league. And they’ll remain a ubiquitous part of the offense, but look for offensive coordinator Scott Linehan to attempt to more evenly distribute rushing plays and passing plays in the game plan. This productive rushing game will prove advantageous to Stafford as he won’t have to take on the entire offensive burden each week and opposing defenses won’t be able to predict plays prior to each snap since the Lions will have the ability to mix running plays and passing plays effectively.

DT Nick Fairley and DT Ndamukong Suh are a dynamic combination Courtesy of The Sporting News
DT Nick Fairley and DT Ndamukong Suh are a dynamic combination
Courtesy of The Sporting News

Detroit fans have a reason to worry about their defense, since it gave up the 6th most amount of points (437) last season. Their defensive line has a fantastic duo in DT Nick Fairley and DT Ndamukong Suh. Although last season Fairley registered under 6 sacks, he showed some of his capabilities and bright spots throughout the course of the schedule, especially during the latter part. Plus, we have to take into account that last year was only his sophomore year. He has much potential and has a ton of room to improve alongside DT Suh. On the other hand, Suh sacked opposing quarterbacks 22 times in the last three season. That in addition to his rushing defense prowess makes this defensive tackle combo a formidable threat in the league, perhaps even the best DT duo in the league. This unit owned the 15th best rushing defense in terms of rushing yards allowed and 6th worst in yards allowed per carry in the league last year. These statistics should allude to a rush defense unit that is at best run-of-the-mill. To make matters worse, they suffered key losses to their line including DE Cliff Avril and DE Kyle Vanden Bosch, who had 9.5 and 3.5 sacks respectively. GM Martin Mayhew drafted DE Ziggy Ansah in the first round of this year’s draft to address the void that was left after the departure of the two defensive ends. The Lions also acquired DE Jason Jones and DE Israel Idonije this offseason to help the line.

Rookie DE Ziggy Ansah will have to make an immediate impact Courtesy of
Rookie DE Ziggy Ansah will have to make an immediate impact
Courtesy of ESPN

Moreover, the linebacker corp lost their best linebacker this offseason in free agency, LB Justin Durant who was second on the team last year in tackles at 103. GM Mayhew failed to acquire any linebacker this offseason who could potentially match Durant’s production. Their secondary for this season consists of CB Chris Houston, CB Darius Slay, SS Glover Quin, and FS Louis Delma, none of whom are noteworthy or All-Pro caliber. Last season, they picked off the 8th fewest number of balls from opposing quarterbacks. Their most impressive interceptors, Chris Houston and Don Carey each tallied two interceptions during the entire season, which is good enough for 52nd in the league.

It’s hard to believe that Detroit managed a 10-6 record and made the postseason back in 2011 with an inconsistent running game and average defense. They won’t be as fortunate until many defensive issues are resolved. This offseason, the Lions lost some crucial components on the defensive unit, but GM Martin Mayhew failed to address these concerns with the exception of drafting DE Ziggy Ansah who has much unrefined talent. Their secondary and linebacker crew are messes and will underperform severely this year. The only bright spot on the defense seems to be the line, which is talent laded with the aforementioned DT duo and the dynamic rookie, Ziggy Ansah. The only reason Detroit will be able to win even half of their games is because the majority of their match ups will turn into shootouts. With an upgraded and more skilled offense, comes a heap of red zone opportunities and consequently, touchdowns and higher scoring games.

2013-2014 Chicago Bears Preview

By: Prad

 

Projected Record: 9-7

NFC North Rank: Tied with Vikings for 2nd

The Bears have an air of uncertainty that surrounds the franchise. They went 10-6 last season, but failed to make the postseason because of their division foes, the Minnesota Vikings who clinched a playoff berth with the same record. Half of their losses came to teams within the NFC North, a mark that must improve in order for them to stand a chance at finishing above .500 this season. This offseason, they made some questionable decisions including the firing of former Head coach Lovie Smith. It won’t be an easy adjustment for the players to transition to new Head Coach Marc Trestman, who’s never held a head coaching job in the league. On top of that, comes new OC Aaron Kromer and DC Mel Tucker, clearly a major overhaul on the coaching staff. In terms of schedule difficulty, last season saw them matchup eight times against teams that qualified for the postseason.  This season is very similar. With a new head coach, the Bears will be an average NFL team this season, but on the lower side of the spectrum in their competitive NFC.

HC Marc Trestman Courtesy of Toronto Sun
HC Marc Trestman
Courtesy of Toronto Sun

The aforementioned HC Marc Trestman will be making a huge leap from head coaching in the CFL to the NFL. He has coached in the NFL before though, as an offensive coordinator and QB coach. During his tenure with the Oakland Raiders (2001-2003), Trestman was the QB coach for 2002 NFL MVP Rich Gannon and offensive coordinator of the Raider’s unit. He has been labeled as a big reason for the success of the 2003 Raiders, which went on to lose Super Bowl XXXVII. As the head coach in Chicago, a big task for Trestman will be monitoring the development of QB Jay Cutler. With his expertise as a quarterback coach, he’ll be instrumental in Jay Cutler’s immense improvement in the next couple seasons. Cutler has had the talent ever since he entered the league in 2006, a rocket for an arm and good pocket presence, but he lacks good decision making skills and converting in the red zone. Trestman has proven that he can help quarterbacks who’ve suffered with the same issues as Cutler, such as Gannon. If Cutler can reduce his turnover numbers (8 fumbles and 14 interceptions), the Bears offense will thrive off of his productivity.

WR Brandon Marshall and QB Jay Cutler will make a potent duo for years to come Courtesy of Chicago Now
WR Brandon Marshall and QB Jay Cutler will make a potent duo for years to come
Courtesy of Chicago Now

The Bears will finally be able to distribute more plays to Cutler in the opposing team’s part of the field and that will hopefully bolster his TD numbers and reduce the turnovers that have battered the team for the last few seasons. With the acquisition of TE Martellus Bennett this offseason, comes a big red zone threat who had 5 touchdowns and 55 receptions last year with QB Eli Manning. This adds to the receiving corp that has top tier WR Brandon Marshall who caught an amazing 118 reception last season for over 1,500 yards. Marshall accounted for half of Cutler’s yards last season and almost half of his completions (255). Cutler also has halfback Matt Forte, who is widely considered a good receiving running back. Forte caught 44 passes from Cutler last season, good enough for second on the team. Jay Cutler has no excuses to turn out a lackluster performance this year, something that Chicago fans are getting tired of watching.

RB Matt Forte is set to have a career season Courtesy of Bleacher Report
RB Matt Forte is set to have a career year
Courtesy of Bleacher Report

RB Matt Forte will have a career year this upcoming season. In previous years, his offense line was very shaky and inconsistent, but he still managed to rush for 1,094 yards on 248 carries. The Bears acquired OT Jermon Bushrod this offseason and drafted OL Kyle Long in the first round to bolster a group that was decimated by injuries last season. Offensive line concerns last season were responsible for Jay Cutler getting sacked 38 times, 5th most in the NFL. More importantly though, RB Matt Forte has room for growth and can come close to surpassing the 1,500 yard mark this upcoming season. If this offensive line can be proficient in blocking for the rushing attack and hold the pocket long enough for the quarterback, then Matt Forte and Jay Cutler will transition into a much better RB-QB tandem from a season ago.

The Chicago Bears defensive unit is a force to be reckoned with Courtesy of ESPN
The Chicago Bears defensive unit is a force to be reckoned with
Courtesy of ESPN

A big reason, nay, a monumental reason the Bears finished last season off 10-6 was because of them owning a top five defense, which had the most takeaways in the league. They might have lost their defensive captain and emotional leader, LB Brian Urlacher, but the rest of the defense remains relatively intact and unaltered. To replace him, they acquired LB James Anderson and LB D.J. Williams, neither of whom has even the potential to produce like Urlacher did even as an aged veteran last season. The Bears still have All-Pro caliber player Lance Briggs who now leads the linebacker crew. Briggs led the team last year in tackles with 103. Their run defense ranked 7th in the league last year in total rushing yards and yards per carry allowed. The defensive line is anchored by eight time Pro Bowler and former NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Julius Peppers. Chicago’s secondary is also the best in the NFC North with the dynamic cornerback duo of CB Tim Jennings and CB Charles Tillman. Together, they intercepted 12 passes from opposing quarterbacks throughout last year.

The Bears started out on a rampage last season, a 7-1 mark in the first half of the season. However, from weeks 10-15, they held a 1-5 record. The organization attributed their epic second half collapse on former head coach Lovie Smith and he was consequently fired after nine seasons in Chicago with one Super Bowl appearance. They can surprise a few teams on their schedule this upcoming season if Jay Cutler’s aerial attack thrives under new coach Marc Trestman. The defense is undoubtedly a playoff caliber unit and Chicago will be a playoff threat until very late in the regular season. Once the passing game matures and it can complement RB Matt Forte, the Bears will become an elite team in their conference. Yet, for any of that to happen, we’ll have to wait for an enhanced Jay Cutler.

2013-2014 Minnesota Vikings Preview

By: Prad

 

Projected Record: 9-7

NFC North Rank: Tied with Bears for 2nd

The Vikings made the playoffs last season in Week 17 after a win against their division rivals. Although Minnesota ruined the undefeated mark that the Green Bay Packers held in the NFC North, that wasn’t the biggest story line. The story line of note that every NFL fan followed in the final week of last season was RB Adrian Peterson’s attempt at breaking Eric Dickerson’s single season rushing record. Even though, Peterson fell eight yards shy of tying Dickerson’s mark, the Vikings clinched a playoff berth, something they hadn’t done since 2009. Ultimately though, they were futile in their efforts of advancing to the Division Round, a wild card loss coming at the hands of coincidentally, the Packers. This year, the Vikings will finish the season above .500, but will fail to reach the postseason because of a deep NFC.

The Minnesota Vikings will become better contenders when QB Christian Ponder refines his talent Courtesy of Sports Illustrated
The Minnesota Vikings will become better contenders when QB Christian Ponder becomes more refined
Courtesy of Sports Illustrated

In order for the Vikings to compete at a high level in one of the most difficult divisions in the league, their quarterback needs to develop into a more complete one. QB Christian Ponder isn’t required to be responsible for the majority of the offensive burden, which is a nice feeling for a QB. The position has become relied on heavier in the NFL during recent times and the majority of team’s are going with the aerial attack far more frequently than the rushing game. Ponder finished 24th in quarterback rating (81.2) last season among starting quarterbacks. Obviously, not every quarterback has a rusher that attains 2,000 yards, but for Ponder not to even surpass the 3,000 yard mark in passing is embarrassing. It’s rare in the NFL that the disparity in yardage between the passing game and rushing game is less than a 1,000 yards. The Vikings secured a viable backup when they got QB Matt Cassel this offseason. Perhaps, Cassel could even spark some competition for the role and Ponder could potentially use this as motivation to keep his starting job and increase his production immensely.

WR Greg Jennings will be the #1 receiver Courtesy of Zimbio
WR Greg Jennings will be the #1 receiver this upcoming season
Courtesy of Zimbio

Unfortunately for him, his leading receiver from a season ago, WR Percy Harvin was traded this offseason to the Seattle Seahawks. But, the Vikings did a decent job replacing him by acquiring WR Greg Jennings this offseason, who inked a 5 year-$47.5 million deal. In seven seasons with Green Bay, Jennings caught 425 passes for 6,537 yards and 53 touchdowns. He is a proven deep threat, who can boost Christian Ponder’s TD numbers from last season, which stood at a mediocre 18. This attests to his general underachieving nature, since the average starting QB threw for 27 last year. Peterson didn’t even take a drastic amount away from Ponder, getting only 12 TDs all of last season. If Ponder can develop a better pocket presence in the redzone, it would tremendously improve the versatility of this offense.

RB Adrian Peterson will go for the 2,000 yard club again Courtesy of ESPN
RB Adrian Peterson will attempt to go for the 2,000 yard club again
Courtesy of ESPN

AP is the best running back the game has seen in a while, some even say the best since Barry Sanders, which would effectively make him the best since the turn of the century. To prove people wrong who say that last season’s numbers was a fluke, Peterson’s goal is for 2,500 yards this season. While I don’t believe that 2,500 is attainable, 2,000 yards is plausible. This will make NFL history as nobody in the game has ever reached the 2,000 yard rushing mark more than once. That would prove the people who aren’t already believers in Peterson, which is a tiny minority. In his six year career, Peterson has averaged 1,475 yards a season, which makes his career total 8,849 yards. In that time period, Peterson has rushed for more yards than any other halfback in the league. These statistics should prove his naysayers wrong and secure him an entrance to the Hall of Fame in Canton by the age of 28.

The Vikings' defensive prowess will have to be on full display this season Courtesy of Associated Press
The Vikings’ defensive prowess will have to be on full display this season
Courtesy of Associated Press

A major reason for the Vikings going 10-6 last season despite a lack of touchdowns through the passing game and a rushing attack that wasn’t top tier in regards to rushing touchdowns, was their lock-down defense. All-Pro DE Jared Allen highlights this defensive unit, which ranked in the top 10 in rushing defense and 5th in sacks. They allowed only 105.8 rushing yards per game and sacked opposing quarterbacks 44 times throughout last season. Their defensive line is a proven presence that can poke holes in opposing offensive lines and make them look inferior. Although this is probably the best part of the defense, their linebacker group is impressive as well, which is led by LB Chad Greenway. Greenway led the team in tackles last year with a whopping 148, which stands at a tie for second in the league with San Francisco’s LB NaVorro Bowman and behind only Carolina’s LB Luke Kuechly (164).

Former FSU CB Xavier Rhodes Courtesy of SB Nation
Former FSU CB Xavier Rhodes
Courtesy of SB Nation

An issue with this defense seems to be the secondary. They didn’t force enough takeaways last year through the air, only intercepting 10 passes all of last season. To make matters worse, the Vikings released, CB Antoine Winfield, who signed with the Seahawks and was released by them too and subsequently retired. Winfield amassed 101 tackles last season, leading the cornerback group, but three tackles behind FS Harrison Smith. The Vikings have not taken adequate measures to fill the void left by Antoine Winfield. GM Rick Spielman drafted CB Xavier Rhodes, who could not possibly match Winfield’s production because of a lack of experience despite much potential. Rhodes is set to be #3 or #4 on the depth chart, but has a lot of room to improve in this secondary. Overall though, this defense needs to be as effective as it was last year for the Vikings to stay in postseason contention until late in the season.

Last year, the Vikings held a 4-2 mark in the NFC North. Look for them to repeat that record this year with one loss coming to the Chicago Bears and another at the hands of Green Bay. Adrian Peterson is the best player in the NFL, but he can’t single-handily will his team to the postseason again without support from QB Ponder. This defense can maintain the proficiency they were known for last season, in spite of the departure of a leading cornerback in the secondary. The Vikings are capable of dethroning the Packers and surprising the NFC North, but much of their success is contingent upon the competency of QB Christian Ponder.