It’s almost that time of year. The time friends and family become enemies and foes. Where Sunday’s full of get togethers consisting of grilling, drinking beer and watching football with those you cherish becomes a weekly tradition until February. For most people, football season starts Week 1 of the regular season, but for the die-hards like myself, it starts with the Hall of Fame game. And since the NFL season starts Sunday (for me at least), I feel that it’s time to start predicting how each division will potentially play out this season. And to kick off my “Division Predictions” series, I’ll begin with the division in which my beloved Green Bay Packers reside; the NFC North.
Last year, the division came down to the final weeks of the season. The Vikings marched into Lambeau in Week 16 and beat Green Bay in their house for the first time since Brett Favre’s return to Lambeau in 2009 (the two teams did tie in 2013).
For the Detroit Lions, it was a tail of two seasons. They started the season 1-7 then finished the season strong with a 6-2 record in the 2nd half, to ultimately finish 7-9 overall. The offseason was a heartbreaker for Detroit fans, but I’ll get into that more later.
The Chicago Bears had a very intriguing season. They finished 6-10 under first year head coach John Fox, but 7 of their 10 losses were by a touchdown or less. Fox definitely made them much more competitive last year, and that should give Bears’ fans optimism for the upcoming season.
And, without further ado, here are my predictions for the NFC North in the 2016 season.
1. Minnesota Vikings 13-3
It is in my DNA to hate the Vikings, but I can’t help but admire and applaud the team that they have built. Since hiring head coach Mike Zimmer in 2014, the Vikings have improved every year, specifically on defense. The Vikings have gone from 30th in points allowed to 5th during Zimmer’s tenure. With the talented, young pieces they have (especially on defense) and quite possibly the most complete coaching staff in the NFL, I expect them to improve yet again this season. There may not be a more complete, talented defense in the league, and with one of the best defensive minds in the NFL, head coach Mike Zimmer, running the show, it could very well be the best in the entire NFL next season. The Vikings only had 4 defensive starters that weren’t drafted or signed as an undrafted FA (NT Ninvel Joseph, CB Terrence Newman, DT Tom Johnson, S Andrew Sendejo). Anthony Barr, Everson Griffin, Linval Joseph and Harrison Smith are the headliners on this talented defense and should make a huge impact again next season.
Offensively, the Vikings look to be improved as well. They drafted the best WR prospect in the Draft in Laquan Treadwell to give QB Teddy Bridgewater another weapon on the outside to pair and create a solid tandem with 2nd year WR Stephon Diggs. And then there’s that cyborg in the backfield named Adrian Peterson, who doesn’t seem to age and is still running at an elite level. I do think we will be seeing a transition from Adrian Peterson being the focal point of the offense to Teddy Bridgewater being the man withing the next few season.
2. Green Bay Packers 12-4
The Packers had a very, ummmmm, inconspicuous season last year. They lost their No. 1 WR Jordy Nelson to a torn ACL in the 1st quarter of the first preseason game. Despite that, they came out of the gate hot, starting the year 6-0 before sputtering in the 2nd half of the season and finishing 10-6. Even during the hot start, the offense never seemed right without Jordy. Opposing teams didn’t have to worry about anyone taking the top off of the defense, and the Packers’ offense wasn’t as explosive as we’ve become accustomed to. The Packers brought back a familiar face in James Jones, who started the season off hot but became essentially a non-factor later in the year. Randall Cobb never took over as a go-to receiver. Davante Adams was a disaster for the most part. Ty Montgomery showed some promise, but his season was cut short due to injury as well. Eddie Lacy was the Rosie O’Donnell of RB’s. A lot of this lead to some trust issues between QB Aaron Rodgers and this WR corp.
Defensively, Green Bay showed some much needed improvement, especially in the secondary. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix took another step forward, while two rookies, Demarious Randall and Quentin Rollins, both put together impressive rookie campaigns. Veterans Sam Shields and Morgan Burnett were solid as well. DE Mike Daniels earned himself a $40 million contract extension for his solid play. The big question for the Packers entering this season will be the LB corp. Julius Peppers is going be used in more of a limited role due to his age, which means someone will have to step up at the OLB position. Rookie Blake Martinez will reportedly be the starter at ILB, and Clay Matthews will be back outside. With Nelson back and Lacy 150 lbs lighter, the Packers’ offense should be back to normal. On defense, it’ll be up to the front 7 to bring the heat and give this talented secondary chances to get turnovers.
3. Chicago Bears 9-7
As I stated before, the Bears were competitive last season for the most part. And if you look at John Fox’s two previous coaching tenures, the Panthers and Broncos, his teams made significant leaps in the 2nd year with him at the helm. With the moves the Bears made this offseason, especially on defense, I see that happening again. The Bears addressed their LB corp in free agency. Chicago signed tackling machine Danny Trevethan (for a bargain) from the Super Bowl champion Broncos, reuniting him with Fox. In addition to Trevethan, the Bears signed Colt LB Jerrell Freeman to a team friendly deal. The Bears front 7 looks like it will be very good going into the season, which will help the not-so-good secondary. Outside of CB Kyle Fuller and Adrian Amos, the Bears’ secondary doesn’t have much to write home about.
Offensively, the Bears retained TE Zach Miller, who impressed last season, even with now New England Patriot Martellus Bennett playing as the No. 1 TE. WR Kevin White will be looking to see his first snap as a pro this year after his rookie season ended before it started last year due to injury. Alshon Jeffery also caught the injury bug last year, only appearing in 9 games. But in those 9 games, he showed that he is a legitimate No. 1 option for QB Jay Cutler. Despite all of the criticism Jay gets, he put together a fairly solid season by Jay Cutler standards throwing for 3,600 yards, 21 TDs and 11 INTs. With both of his top receivers healthy and Zach Miller proving to be a solid pass catching TE, Cutler has the weapons to put together an even better campaign this year. RB Jeremy Langford showed flashes in place of Matt Forte last year but didn’t show enough to be a premier back. However, he should get a majority of the touches at RB given the lack of other options at the position. The Bears definitely improved this offseason, and given John Fox’s track record and defensive smarts, I see the Bears being in the hunt for a WC spot at the end of the season.
4. Detroit Lions 5-11
Like I said before, it was a tale of two seasons for the Lions last year. They finished the year hot, and that’s the last good thing that happened to them. Lions’ fans experienced de ja vu of Barry Sanders’ early retirement when WR Calvin Johnson hung up the cleats this offseason. Now, quarterback Matthew Stafford will have to adjust to life without the guy who’s been his No. 1 target for his whole career. The Lions signed Marvin Jones to pair with Golden Tate, but outside those two, there isn’t anything that will make defensive coordinators cringe. The Lions’ offensive line isn’t formidable at all. Detroit was extremely high on RB Ameer Abdullah going into last season, but he didn’t live up to the hype.
With the return of LB DeAndre Levy, Detroit’s strength appears to be their front 7. Fellow linebackers Tahir Whitehead and Bynes both put together very impressive 2015 seasons. Ezekiel Ansah, who will be the cornerstone on the defensive line for years, and Haloi Ngata will provide some solid pressure up front. Much like the Bears, the Lions are fortunate to have a good front 7 because their secondary, outside of Darius Slay, isn’t very good. While Detroit has some very good playmakers on defense, they don’t have the depth on that side of the ball. Their offense without Megatron is going to be their Achilles heal this season. I don’t trust Stafford at all without Megatron, and there isn’t enough quality caliber playmakers to make his life any easier.
Next up, the AFC North.
Huge Bucks, Packer, Brewer, Predator and Badger fan. But above all, just a lover of sports in general. Can’t wait to bring you some sports articles from a serious, yet humorous, perspective.