NFC North Preview

Posted: September 10, 2011 by Kodi in NFL

Is it true, does Jay Cutler not have a backbone?

Are the Lions the 2nd best team in the NFC North?

Titletown, U.S.A. ’nuff said

Does Adrian Peterson have the weight of the world on his shoulders?

Chicago Bears

The Chicago Bears shocked a lot of people last season on the way to posting an 11-5 record and receiving one of the two bye weeks during the Playoffs. Chicago just kept winning after entering their regular season bye with a 4-3 record. Chicago came out of that to win 5 straight games and finish the season 7-2 with big wins over the Eagles and the Jets. They were sent a gift in the Playoffs when the Seahawks beat the Saints and came to Chicago for an uneventful Divisional game that the Bears won 35-24. Chicago had a chance to get back to the Super Bowl but all they had to do was beat the Green Bay Packers, although a Cutler controversy left them sitting on the banks of Lake Michigan while the Packers sailed off into the sunset.

The Bears offense was like a roller coaster, scoring 14 points or less 4 times while scoring 31+ points 3 times but averaged 22 points per game in their other 9 games. Their total points ranked them 21st in the NFL and their total offensive yardage was good enough for 30th in the league, better than just 2 teams yet they had secured Playoff bye. Although Jay Cutler’s performance in the Playoffs can be forgotten he had a decent season finishing with a completion percentage above 60, threw for over 3200 yards, 23 TDs and 16 INTs. The Bears ranked dead last in pass attempts, 28th in passing yards, 20th in passing TDs and 25th in INTs but Chicago knew they needed to improve their passing game so GM Jerry Angelo made some moves. These moves included trading one of Cutler’s most targeted players, TE Greg Olsen, to the Panthers and bringing in ex-Cowboys WRs Roy Williams and Sam Hurd. The Bears did make some moves to improve their running game brining in another ex-Cowboy when they signed Marion Barber, but they also spent their first round Draft pick on Wisconsin OL Gabe Carimi and signed C Chris Spencer to replace long-time Bear Olin Kreutz. The Bears ranked 21st in rush attempts, 22nd in rush yards and 21st in rushing TDs but hope that the backfield of Forte/Barber is much more productive than Forte/Taylor.

The Bears were completely reliant upon their defense to keep the game close and make it as easy as possible on their offense to win games. The Bears did just ranking 4th in points allowed and 9th in total yards allowed, trying to keep the games manageable and get their offense back on the field. The Bears allowed more than 21 points just 4 times the entire regular season, but during both Playoff games they allowed 21+. The Bears were a mediocre pass defense that was absolutely phenomenal against the run. Chicago was ranked 27th in pass attempts allowed, ranking 20th in passing yards allowed but they ranked 2nd in passing TDs allowed and had the 5th most INTs in the NFL. The Bears rush defense had just 3 teams allow more attempts than they did but still ranked 2nd in rushing yards allowed and were able to cause 14 Fumbles Lost, the 5th most in the league. Chicago’s defense is getting old but people said the same thing last season and this year they have some new parts, like DT Amobi Okoye and the recently released Patriot S Brandon Meriweather.

Chicago is a team that has always been competing for the Division title but there is nothing about the Bears that stand out this season which is why many people have forgotten about them. There are some great talents at certain positions but I think this is the year that the Bears age catches up to them. They have a boring offense that relies on the run against a division full of great rush defenses and there isn’t one player in the Bears passing attack that scares me. The Bears aren’t going to be terrible and will still compete but I don’t think they will have nearly as much success as they did last year and will finish the season 8-8 good enough for 3rd place in the NFC North.

Key Arrivals: SS Brandon Meriweather, C Chris Spencer, DT Amobi Okoye, RB Marion Barber, DL Vernon Gholston, WR Roy Williams, WR Sam Hurd, TE Matt Spaeth, P Adam Podlesh.

Key Re-Signings: TE Desmond Clark, LB Brian Iwuh, CB Corey Graham, QB Caleb Hanie, OLB Nick Roach, DT Anthony Adams.

Key Departures: TE Desmond Clark, RB Chester Taylor, C Olin Kreutz, OG Herman Johnson, WR Rashied Davis, WR Devin Aromashodu, TE Greg Olsen, S Danieal Manning, P Brad Maynard.

Detroit Lions

Something is starting to go right in the city of Detroit and it’s not the economy. The Lions looked to be the same old pathetic team with some solid young talent going into the last quarter of the season with a 2-10 record but beat the Packers, Bucs, Dolphins and Vikes to finish the year 6-10. The Lions actually ended up finishing just points ahead of the Vikings to no longer be the basement dwellers in the NFC North, just 2 seasons after not winning a single game. Detroit has a good corps group of players that are very young and extremely talented but could have performed much better last year had certain players stayed healthy.

The Lions spent a few years constantly Drafting WRs in the first round but luckily for them one of the three turned out to be the star they were looking for. Calvin Johnson is one of the most dangerous players in the league and he racked up over 1100 yards and 12 TDs last season, with QBs like Shaun Hill and Drew Stanton. QB Matt Stafford had a shoulder injury occur in the 3rd week that sidelined him for the entire season. The Lions were still able to finish 12th in passing yards and 11th in passing TDs by throwing the ball more than all but two teams. The rushing game took a hit because RB Jahvid Best was battling some foot issues and relied on Maurice Morris for most of the year. Best is talented but the Lions spent a 2nd round pick on Illinois RB Mikel Leshoure  as a safety blanket but he’s been lost for the year after sustaining an injury during pre-season. The Lions brought in ex-Browns RB Jerome Harrison for the season to hope that somebody can stay healthy. They ranked 23rd in rushing yards and 18th in rushing TDs but they only ran the ball more than 8 teams.

The Lions defense was surprisingly solid for a team that won just 2 games through 12 weeks allowing 369 points in the 2010 season and ranking 19th in points allowed. Detroit had a pretty solid pass defense but were a team that was trailing a lot through the season, meaning teams are more likely to run against them. That is why the Lions ranked 23rd in rush defense but there is no excuse for allowing 18 rushing TDs and Detroit knew they needed some improvement on the defensive line. DT Ndamukong Suh was a force to be reckoned with last season and the Lions thought what better combination than Suh and Auburn stand-out DT Nick Fairley, so they drafted the 6’4” 291 pound beast with their 13th overall pick. They also signed the Titans leading tackler LB Stephen Tulloch in the off-season hoping to boost their squad. Other players like ex-Steelers CB Anthony Madison as well as CBs Eric Wright and Maurice Leggett are hoping to improve a pass defense that was already ranked 16th in yards allowed and 13th in passing TDs allowed.

The Lions are a young team that is raw in certain positions but Detroit has the talent available to outperform teams week in and week out. Detroit’s biggest enemy has been the injury bug and it seems to keep biting the Lions with major injuries to Leshoure and minor ones like Fairley’s. If Stafford can stay healthy the Lions passing game could be top 8 but they need their young QB to stay in games. The defense is an up and coming bunch that has a lot to prove and will punish offensive lines when Suh and Fairley are healthy not to mention Kyle Vanden Bosch at RDE. Detroit may surprise some people and will definitely take steps forward this year and I have them finishing 9-7 good enough for 2nd in the division but on the outside looking in when it comes to the Playoffs.

Key Arrivals: CB Anthony Madison, OT Kirk Chambers, C Rudy Niswanger, S Michael Johnson, RB Jerome Harrison, RB Mike Bell, DE Keyunta Dawson, WR Nate Hughes, WR Maurice Stovall, LB Stephen Tulloch, CB Eric Wright, WR Rashied Davis, OLB Justin Durant, CB Maurice Leggett.

Key Re-Signings: DE Cliff Avril, OLB Bobby Carpenter, CB Chris Houston, CB Brandon McDonald, C Dylan Gandy, K Dave Rayner, QB Drew Stanton, S John Wendling, FB Jerome Felton, DT Andre Fluellen.

Key Departures: LB Zack Follett, DE Turk McBride, LB Jordon Dizon, WR Bryant Johnson.

Green Bay Packers

There is a full Packers 2010 review and 2011 preview here:

Key arrivals: None.

Key Re-Signings: WR James Jones, FB John Kuhn, K Mason Crosby .

Key Departures: S Anthony Smith, DE Cullen Jenkins, FB Korey Hall, OT Mark Tauscher, LB Brandon Chillar, OG Daryn Colledge, LB Nick Barnett, RB Brandon Jackson, OL Jason Spitz.

Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings were one of the most disappointing teams in the NFL last year, they had been so close to reaching the Super Bowl in ’09 until the ‘ol gunslinger did what he does and Minnesota fans felt a pain they have been used to. They were so close but came just short again and hope that in 2010 Brett Favre would be able to make the throw to propel them to the same greatness he had achieved in Green Bay oh so many years ago. Sadly, the Vikings season imploded as did their stadium’s roof and the season was full of devastating moments. Favre ended his starts streak, , Randy Moss came back just to criticize a caterer and have Chilly attempt one last time to puff his chest out and “make the right call” deciding to release the soon to be HoF WR, Brad Childress got fired, the Packers swept the Vikes and won the Super Bowl. Things couldn’t have gotten much worse for Vikings fans in 2010 but they are hoping that the new regime under HC Leslie Frazier won’t be full of disappointment.

Minnesota went from being the 2nd highest scoring offense in 2009 with the 5th most yards to ranking 29th in points scored and 23rd in total yards in 2010. The Vikings completely fell off the earth but Brett Favre did have his best season in 2009 and followed that up with his worst, one filled with injuries and INTs. The Vikings ranked 8th in passing yards, 1st in passing TDs and threw the least amount of INTs in 2009 to ranking 26th in yards, 28th in TDs and throwin the most INTs in the league. Favre was able to get through 13 games before Minnesota had to rely on QBs Tarvaris Jackson and Joe Webb. The Vikings do have one of the best RB if not the best RB in the league in Adrian Peterson but even he had his worst season since entering the NFL. AP had almost 1300 yards rushing and 12 TDs and because of him the Vikings ranked 12th in rushing attempts, 10th in yards and 7th in TDs not to mention AP only fumbled once in 2010 after he had dropped the rock 20 times in his three other seasons. The Vikings still have AP so they still have a chance but WR Sidney Rice ran straight to the bank after signing with Seattle and Minnesota brought in QB Donovan McNabb act as a mentor for their first round Draft pick Florida State QB Christian Ponder. They replaced Rice with ex-Falcons WR Michael Jenkins and hope that Bernard Berrian may eventually live up to expectations.

Minnesota’s defense has been one of the best in the league for the past decade and they were solid in 2010 but their offense turned the ball over more than 28 other teams and put their squad in bad spots consistently. The Vikings were ranked 8th in total yards allowed but because of the TOs ranked 18th in points allowed. They faced some big injuries in the defensive backfield and didn’t have enough depth to get through it. Minnesota was 9th in pass defense but 21st in passing TDs allowed and were in the middle of the pack when it came to INTs ranking 17th. The Vikes have had one of the best rush defenses in years past and they took a step backwards but were still top 10. Minnesota was 9th in rushing yards allowed and 10th in rushing TDs but they will be without DT Pat Williams in 2010 and the Star Caps suspension will keep Pro-Bowl DT Kevin Williams out for the first two games. They also lost OLB Ben Lieber but were able to resign Chad Greenway but hope that MLB E.J. Henderson’s little brother Erin can step up. The pass defense is going to have a new starting Safety in Jamarca Sanford and rely on CBs Antoine Winfield who is 34, Cedric Griffin who is coming off of surgery and Asher Allen/Chris Cook who can’t seem to cover anyone.

The Minnesota Vikings are a difficult team to gauge because they are extremely talented in certain areas but also overwhelmingly thin in others. The Vikings haven’t had a big rebuilding overhaul since the Green/Tice transition and I think the Minnesotan’s should prepare for a below average season. McNabb and AP could propel the Vikings offense but it isn’t something that will be great or unstoppable so the defense needs to have a presence to help them win. I just don’t see the moons and starts aligning to have this aging Purple defense continuing their dominance from yesteryear. The Vikings are going to take the backseat in the NFC North and will finish the season 6-10 and find themselves basement dwelling for the second straight year. This team could however surprise some people and have the chance, keyword = chance, to win 9 games but no more.

Key Arrivals: Ex-Texans LB Xavier Adibi, Sept. 4; Ex-Buccaneers DE DE Stylez G. White, Aug. 22; Ex-Patriots CB Tony Carter, Aug. 11; Ex-Colts UFA OT Charlie Johnson, Aug. 1; Ex-Falcons WR Michael Jenkins, July 30 (three years); Ex-Bears UFA WR Devin Aromashodu.

Key Re-Signings: OLB Chad Greenway, OT Ryan Cook, DT Fred Evans, S Eric Frampton, OLB Erin Henderson, S Husain Abdullah, K Ryan Longwell.

Key Departures: DE Stylez G. White, OL Ryan Cook, LB Heath Farwell, CB Lito Sheppard, RB Albert Young, OLB Ben Leber, OLT Bryant McKinnie, S Madieu Williams, DE Ray Edwards, WR Sidney Rice, QB Tarvaris Jackson, DT Jimmy Kennedy.



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