2013 NFL Projections: The NFC NorthBREAKING NEWS, News, NFL Friday, August 23rd, 2013
The NFC North is the home for a lot of the NFL’s most explosive stars. From Adrian Peterson in Minnesota, to Calvin Johnson in Detroit, to Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, the North can claim to have the best running back, wide receiver, and quarterback all playing within its division.
The Vikings shocked a lot of people in 2012 with a 10-6 record and a playoff appearance.
Adrian Peterson is the engine for this team. Peterson bounced back from a serious injury to win the league MVP while rushing for over 2,000 yards and 12 touchdowns to carry his team to their surprising post season birth. As great as he is, a performance of that magnitude is unlikely to be repeated, meaning that if the Vikings are to return to the playoffs they’re going to need quarterback Christian Ponder to step up.
Ponder was inconsistent throughout last season. He had some bright moments, but he turned the ball over at critical times (including a two interception performance that cost the team a win against Green Bay). It’s make-or-break time for Ponder. If he struggles, he’s going to get the hook in favor of veteran Matt Cassel who was signed during free agency.
Ponder has a new number-one receiver to work with, after the team traded Percy Harvin to Seattle and signed Greg Jennings away from the division rival Packers. Jennings has some miles on him, and struggled with injury issues after appearing in just eight games last year. The good news for Minnesota is that he’ll be motivated to perform well to prove to his old team that they were wrong for letting him go.
The Vikings added talent to their defensive through the draft, spending first-round picks on defensive tackle Shariff Floyd and cornerback Xavier Rhodes.
Floyd injects some youth on to an excellent, but aging defensive line. Jared Allen is still an effective pass rusher, notching 12 sacks in 2012. Kevin Williams is also still a reliable run stuffer and a strong leader.
Rhodes should be an instant starter in the secondary, joining last year’s first-round pick Harrison Barnes. Barnes gave the Vikings some toughness, and displayed some quality ball skills. The defensive backfield did lose a starter and reliable veteran when Antoine Winfield wasn’t res-signed.
The Vikings aren’t going to sneak up on anyone this year. Given the talent at the quarterback position and the questions on defense, its incredible that this team won 10 games last season. I don’t believe in Christian Ponder, and I don’t believe that the Vikings are going to come anywhere close to the playoffs in 2013.
Projected Finish: 6-10, 4th Place
After a successful 10-win campaign in 2011, the Lions stumbled back to their losing ways with an ugly 4-12 season.
Its not even as though Detroit played poorly; they were in the majority of their games, playing in 12 games that were decided by eight points or less. The Lions were a team that just didn’t know how to win.
Matt Stafford threw for nearly 5,000 yards, but only produced 20 touchdowns to go with 17 interceptions. Stafford must become more successful at finishing drives, and cut down on his mistakes.
Stafford has the benefit of playing with the best receiver in the NFL, Calvin Johnson, who caught 122 balls for 1,964 yards last season. Johnson was only able to find the endzone five times, but if Stafford can increase his efficiency in the redzone, it should generate more scoring opportunities for the dominant receiver.
The Lions will try to support Stafford with a stronger running game this year. Detroit had a weak rushing attack in 2012, with explosive Jahvid Best unavailable because of concussion problems. The team signed Reggie Bush in free agency, hoping that the former top draft pick will provide them with that missing dimension that can complete their offensive attack.
The Detroit defense is pretty unremarkable. The defensive line is the only real strength that they’ve got with top defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairly causing all kinds of disruption at the point of attack. The linebackers and secondary are real issues though. Middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch had down year last season, and he’s playing with a bad knee. No member of the Lions’ secondary had more than two interceptions, and the best they could do to improve it was sign former Houston safety Glover Quinn. Quinn is an upgrade over what they had, but he’s not a difference maker.
The Lions have the offensive talent to hang around in any game. The pressure is going to be on head coach Jim Schwartz to help this team figure out how to win close games. Playing in a division as deep as the NFC North is going to make things difficult for the Lions to be involved in the playoff picture.
Projected Finish: 7-9, 3rd Place
The Bears have undergone some major changes in the off-season. Gone are head coach Lovie Smith and linebacker Brian Urlacher, two of the faces of Chicago football from the last decade. In is new coach Marc Trestman, an offensive-minded coach who is next in line to try and solve the enigma that is Jay Cutler.
Cutler enters the final year of his deal with the Bears having never lived up to the lofty expectations that surrounded him when the team traded for him.
Last season, Cutler was clearly uncomfortable behind his offensive line and zeroed in exclusively on his go-to receiver Brandon Marshall. Marshall caught 118 passes for 1,508 yards and 11 touchdowns from Cutler. No other wide receiver on the roster had more than 29 catches or 375 yards. Trestman has got to get Cutler to trust his other targets, and become more efficient at spreading the ball around. Defenses know that Cutler wants to target Marshall, and his predictability takes away from his effectiveness and creates a greater chance for turnovers.
The fact that Marshall was still able to produce such incredible statistics is a credit to himself and the elite receiver that he is.
Matt Forte must become more of a focal point in this offense. Forte was underutilized last year, gaining just 1094 yards on the ground and 340 through the air and a combined six touchdowns. He runs and catches the ball so well, he could be for the Bears what Ray Rice is for the Ravens if he was used properly.
The Chicago defense is still effective, but they’ve got a great deal of age working against them. Julius Peppers, Lance Briggs, and Charles Tillman have all been in the league for at least 11 seasons and sooner or later these guys are going to decline. The team determined in the off-season that Brian Urlacher had nothing left to give, and they’ll try to replace him with former Denver Bronco D.J. Williams. Safety Tim Jennings is coming off of a year in which he recorded nine interceptions.
The Bears have a chance to get back to the playoffs as a Wild Card, but Jay Cutler is just so incredibly unpredictable. He could be anything from a top-10 quarterback, an average starter, or backbreaking turnover machine. I do believe Trestman will have a positive impact on how the offense is run; if nothing else he’s going to make sure Matt Forte is much more involved.
Projected Finish: 9-7, 2nd Place
Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers has spent the last few years cementing himself as one of the elite quarterbacks in the league. Rodgers has been incredible, and he’s become the quarterback who overcomes adversity and makes the teammates around him better. The former first-round pick played with missing starters on the offensive line and an ineffective running game and still had a strong season, throwing for over 4,000 yards with 39 touchdowns. Even more impressive was that Rodgers kept his mistakes to an absolute minimum, turning the ball over just eight times.
Rodgers does a great job spreading the ball around to his various weapons. Randall Cobb, James Jones, Jermichael Finley, and Jordy Nelson all caught 49 passes or more. Cobb led the team with 954 yards while Jones led the club with 14 touchdown receptions. Its a deep and dynamic group that actually lost a couple of talented guys in Greg Jennings and Donald Driver in the off-season. The two veterans simply weren’t needed any longer; these young wideouts are in a league of their own now.
Green Bay hopes to improve their anemic running game from 2012 with the drafting of Eddie Lacy in the second round. Lacy is a power running back who should be able to help make a difference on a team whose leading rusher gained just 464 yards a year ago.
The Packers have an up-and-coming defense that should continue to improve.
The team used their first-round pick on defensive end Datone Jones, who they expect to come in and start right away. Last year’s first-rounder Nick Perry only appeared in six games before breaking his wrist, and the team hopes that he’ll emerge as a quality pass-rushing partner for Clay Matthews.
Sam Shields and Tramon Williams both bounced back from disappointing performances in 2011 to earn their starting jobs back in 2012. Last year’s second-round pick, cornerback Casey Hayward played exceptionally well in place of an injured Charles Woodson and has earned a role as the slot corner.
Green Bay is a clear cut above the rest in this division. Rodgers and his aerial attack make them poised to win this division once again.
Projected Finish: 12-4, 1st Place
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