The Packers were a little disappointing last season, seeing their offensive figures drop into the bottom half of the league in nearly all categories.
Aaron Rodgers threw for just over 3,800 yards and 31 touchdowns, and was clearly impacted by the loss of star wide receiver Jordy Nelson. Nelson is back from his torn ACL, and the hope is that his return will bring explosiveness back to Mike McCarthy’s offense.
Eddie Lacy was a problem last season, playing overweight and turning in many mediocre efforts throughout the campaign. Lacy has reportedly slimmed down, but the reality with him is that he’s only had one strong season, which was the year that Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone and Green Bay was forced to turn to a run-first approach.
Green Bay lost star lose tackle B.J. Raji to retirement in the offseason, leaving their front seven without one of its most important presences. Julius Peppers turned another double-digit sack effort last year, and the team thinks the 15-year veteran has at least one more good season in him. Clay Matthews only notched 6.5, but the team plans to move him back to the outside.
The Packers have the makings of a very good secondary. Veterans Morgan Burnett and Sam Shields have performed very well in big games, and the team’s first-round picks from the last two years, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Damarious Randall are on the rise.
The Packers are still clearly a cut above the rest of the teams in this division. With the offense returning to health, they have a chance to reestablish themselves as a Super Bowl contender in the NFC.
Projected Finish: 12-4, 1st Place
Year after year, the Minnesota Vikings continue to put the fate of their organization in the hands of Adrian Peterson.
Peterson has only had one or two years in his career where the team has had a viable passing attack in place to help support him. But he’s responded to the challenge, and comes off of another strong year in which he turned in 1,400 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Teddy Bridgewater was barely serviceable as the team’s starting quarterback, offering a paltry 3,200 yards and just 14 touchdowns. The team tried to boost their passing attack by drafting wide receiver Laquon Treadwell in the first round. Treadwell brings size, and should help in the redzone, but Bridgewater has got to develop into a better quarterback for this team to really take a step forward.
Head coach Mike Zimmer has done a fine job molding the Viking defense into a stout group. Everson Griffin is capable of producing double-digit sacks. 2014 first-rounder Anthony Barr is on his way to becoming an All-Pro. Last year’s top pick Trae Waynes has had the luxury of being brought alone slowly, and should soon replace veteran Terrance Newman.
The Vikings may still be good enough to be in the Wild Card mix, but unless Teddy Bridgewater finally begins to take some big steps forward, Minnesota remains a team with a fairly limited ceiling.
Projected Finish: 9-7, 2nd Place
The Lions are optimistic about their chances for the 2016 season, thanks to a strong second half performance from quarterback Matt Stafford.
Unfortunately, I would put about as much stock into Stafford’s magical second half as I do Sam Bradford’s legendary seven-game stretch. It’s not something to be taken seriously.
Stafford has been a streaky, up-and-down player throughout his career, and for the first time he’ll have to adjust to life without his elite weapon, Calvin Johnson, who retired at the end of the season. The wide receivers aren’t in terrible shape, thanks to the presence of Golden Tate and Marvin Jones, but neither strikes the same fear into a defense that Megatron could.
The Lions defense is an improving group. Ezekial Ansah had 14.5 sacks, and is establishing himself more and more as a premier pass rusher in the game. Getting De’Andre Levy back at the linebacker position returns a playmaking presence that they desperately need. Glover Quin and Darius Slay anchor an improving secondary.
The Lions ultimately are going to go as far as Stafford will take them, and if his past is any indication, there’s a 7-9 ceiling on that.
Projected Finish: 7-9, 3rd Place
The Bears remain trapped in the eternal purgatory that is the Jay Cutler era.
Chicago has only had one season with more than eight wins over the last five years, and Cutler isn’t even capable of surpassing 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns in a season. By today’s standards, that’s not good for a starting quarterback.
Matt Forte departed for New York, removing a guy who accounted for more than a quarter of the team’s offense over the last eight years. Jeremy Langford looked good in a couple of starts for Forte last year, and will get the first crack at the starting job.
The Bears have a lot of talent at the wide receiver position between Alshon Jeffrey and Kevin White, but both players had trouble staying healthy a year ago. The club also lost Martellus Bennett at the tight end position, putting Cutler down another weapon.
The Bears need to find a way to create more turnovers on the defensive side of the ball. No one had more than two interceptions last year, and Lamarr Houston was the leading pass rusher with eight sacks.
Sooner or later, the Bears need to face reality that they’re not going anywhere with Jay Cutler at quarterback. Until they do, they’ll be trapped in a mediocre purgatory at the bottom of this division.
Projected Finish: 5-11, 4th Place