Taking a Closer Look at the NFC North

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Who will win the NFC North in 2013?

After publishing my article on the NFC West, my friend took a look and immediately disapprove. Why? his exact words were: “C’mon Arteen, the NFC West is the best? The NFC North is stacked beyond belief and the NFC North is way more competitive.” I still believe the NFC West is the best, but the NFC North may very well be second. After all, it did have two playoff teams last year. Let’s start off by taking a look at last year’s division champs.

Green Bay Packers

Key Additions:

Eddie Lacy, RB (via Draft)

Datone Jones, DT (via Draft)

David Bakhtiari, OT (Draft)

Matthew Mulligan, TE (via FA)

Vince Young, QB (via FA)

Key Losses:

Charles Woodson, DB (via FA)

Bryan Bulaga, LT (Injury)

Desmond Bishop, ILB (Released)

Greg Jennings, WR (via FA)

Donald Driver, WR (retired)

Jeff Saturday, C (retired)

Tom Crabtree, TE (via FA)

Erik Walden, LB (via FA)
Cedric Benson, RB (did not re-sign)

Let’s start things off by looking at Green Bay’s free agent signings. With Tom Crabtree (3 TDs last season) going to Tampa Bay, the Packers needed another reserve end zone TE target and they got that in Matthew Mulligan, formerly of the Rams. Mulligan and Crabtree are practically the exact same height and weight/size so it’s basically a complete replacement. Both had 8 receptions last year but Crabtree had more yards (203 compared to just 84) and 2 more TDs. Still, Mulligan started 9 games last year and actually specializes in run blocking, plus he can help out on special teams. In fact, he is a strong run blocker and although he may not bring the same receiving ability Crabtree did but they didn’t want to have to use their tender. Next, they brought in veteran Vince Young to man the clipboard duties. This was smart because VY is very talented and has something to prove, plus he is miles better than the guys behind Rodgers beforehand. Here are his highlights in his last NFL season:

He was cut last season by the Bills before the season starting. But for what it’s worth here are his pre season highlights:

Moving on, the Packers didn’t sign any big name free agents, but instead re-signed their current key players and built through the draft. Aaron Rodgers was re-signed, as was Clay Matthews. The Packers didn’t miss a beat in the passing game when Jennings left because they now have a solid trio of James Jones, Jordy Nelson, and Randall Cobb. Jennings departure will lead to the development to these players. Most notably, Randall Cobb who is a dynamic slot receiver. Plus he has a reliable, big TE in Jermichael Finley. Now let’s look at their OL. They took a massive hit when LT Bryan Bulaga went down with injury. Rodgers is a great QB with a quick release but now he has suspect tackles. Trying to fill in at LT with the absence of Bulaga, is Iranian-American David Bakthiari. He is a fourth round selection (109 overall) of this year’s draft. Protecting Aaron Rodger’s blindside is a lot to ask from a rookie, but the Packers are putting their faith in him. So far, he has impressed in camp. At the other tackle position, it’s a battle between Marshall Newhouse and I expect Derek Sherrod to be in the mix when he comes back from injury. Sherrod is a 24 year old first round pick from 2011. Originally brought in to be the franchise OT, he has only played 5 games due to injuries. In the interior is Pro Bowler Josh Sitton who moved to the left side. At center, is Evan Dietrich-Smith (EDS) , who is attempting to replace the duties of pro bowler Jeff Saturday (arguably the worst pro bowler ever, he had no right to be in the 2012 pro bowl game despite his great career). Yes EDS is the one who was stopped on by Ndamukong Suh. With that being said, the Packers are high on him: “Like last year, the steps he’s made from a professional standpoint are coming to the front for him: leadership, energy, very smart, understands everything,” OL coach James Campen said. Dietrich-Smith took over for a fading Jeff Saturday last season, starting the Packers’ final four games at center. The 2010 undrafted free agent also made four starts at left guard. He started four games last season. At RG is TJ Lang, who is transitioning from RT. These Packers line has it;s questions, but it could be worse. It helps that at RB they have the power back Eddie Lacy who has looked great thus far. Lacy, was once considered a first round pick, but fell due to a poor pro day allowing GB to snatch him up at the very end of the second round. After him they have a solid core of Johnathan Franklin, Alex Green, DuJuan Harris, and James Starks. GB can’t afford to keep all of them but whoever gets cut will most likely find a job somewhere else. I expect Franklin, who is a fourth round rookie, to make the team due to his potential and elusiveness. Looking at the defense, let’s take a quick look at their depth chart:

3-4 Defense

DE: Datone Jones (first round rookie, has a lot of potential and has impressed in camp. Can rush the passer and stuff run, will replace the role of Cullen Jenkins)

NT: BJ Raji (Elite run stuffer, brings penetration on every play)

DE: Ryan Pickett (great run stuffer with no pass rushing ability)

OLB: Nick Perry (first round rookie in 2012, suffered wrist injury his rookie year causing him to miss a lot of time, looks great so far, pass rusher)

Mike: AJ Hawk (took major pay cut, solid against run liability in pass coverage)

WIll: Brad Jones (re-signed as offseason priority, PFF graded out as top 10 ILB in NFL)

OLB: Clay Matthews (re-signed to mega contract, excellent pass rusher)

CB: Tramon Williams (was once one of the better CBs in the NFL, trying to revive his career after injury set backs)

CB: Sam Shields (great young CB)

NB: Casey Hayward (ditto)

FS: Morgan Burnett (Again re-signed as priority, 16th best safety in NFL via PFF)

SS: MD Jennings (trying to keep his job away from Jerron McMillan)

The defense that was massacred by Colin Kaepernick in the playoffs does’t look so bad anymore with the additions of Datone Jones and a returning Nick Perry. Not to mention Brad Jones, and the two young CBs are only going to get better. Outside of the SS spot this team is set. Even with the suspect OL this team will be great next season unless injuries or melt downs occur. I expect them to win the division and be contenders.

Record Prediction: 11-5, Division Champions

Now let’s look at their biggest competitors in my eye’s, a team that did everything in their power to get better this offseason.

Minnesota Vikings

Key Additions

Greg Jennings, WR (via FA)

Xavier Rhodes, CB (via Draft)*

Desmond Bishop, LB (via FA)

Matt Cassell, QB (via FA)

Sharrif Floyd, DT (via Draft)*

Jeff Locke, P (via Draft)

Cordarrelle Patterson, WR (via Draft)*

Seth Olsen, OG (via FA)

Lawrence Jackson, DE (via FA)

Key Losses

Percy Harvin, WR (Trade)

Jasper Brinkley, ILB (Via FA)

Antoine Winfield, CB (released)

Chris Kluwe, P (released)

*=First Rounder

Three players who have played in Minny all their careers are gone. It’s time to say goodbye to Percy Harvin, Antoine Winfield, and Chris Kulwe; and say hell to Cordarrelle Patterson, Xavier Rhodes, and Jeff Locke. Add that to the additions of 2x Pro Bowler Greg Jennings and first round pick Sharrif Floyd and this team look pretty good. Their biggest weakness last year was the QB position but Christian Ponder has progressed and they brought in former pro bowler Matt Cassell to provide competition, although I think Ponder will maintain. Their OL is very solid as they have a great young LT in Matt Kalil, one of the best centers in the NFL in John Sullivan, and a great RT in Phil Loadholt. Their guards are the young Brandon Fusco (16 game starter last year) and the veteran Charlie Johnson who’s been an every game starter for a while. Taking a look at the defense, it isn’t easy seeing Antoine leave. Still, even though Harrison Smith will only get better and Xavier Rhodes looks promising, the secondary got worse. Jamarca Sanford is not ideal and neither is Chris Cook. On the DL you got all kinds of depth. Sharrif Floyd, Kevin Williams, Brian Robison, Everson Griffen, Lawrence Jackson, Fred Evans and Letroy Guion are the notables. Their LB core is great with All Pro Chad Greenway, Erin Henderson, and Marvin Mitchell. Former GB anchor Desmond Bishop was brought in to man the middle but he has been a flop thus far still dealing with injuries. This team has Adrian Peterson, the best RB in the NFL and the MVP, but that’s not all. They brought in Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Kyle Rudolph will only get better. That plus a stud OL should mean Ponder will have no reason to fail. He has never had weapons like these before, as Harvin was always injured. Their front 7 is stout and makes up for their mediocre secondary.  This team has talent everywhere but more importantly young talent.

Record Prediction: 10-6, Wild Card

I gave the Vikings the wild card but what about this team?

Chicago Bears

Key Additions

Martellus Bennett, TE (via FA)

Jermon Bushrod, OT (via FA)

Steve Maneri, TE (via FA)

Tom Zbikowski, S (via FA)

Matt Slauson, OG (via FA)

DJ WIlliams, LB (via FA)
Jon Bostic, LB (via Draft)

Jordan Mills, OT (via Draft)

Kyle Long, OL (via Draft)

Khaseem Greene, LB (via Draft)

James Anderson, LB (via FA)

Jordan Palmer, QB (via FA)

Klye Moore, DE (via FA)

Eben Britton, OL (via FA)

Tony Fiammetta, FB (via FA)

Key Losses:

Nick Roach, LB (via FA)

Sedrick Ellis, DT (retirement)

Brian Urlacher, LB(retired)

Johnny Knox, WR (Injury/retired)

Israel Idonije, DT (via FA)

Chilo Rachal, OG (via FA)

Gabe Carimi, OL (Trade)

Kellen Davis, TE (via FA)

Matt Spaeth, TE (via FA)

Chris Spencer, C (via FA)

Geno Hayes, LB (via FA)

Jason Campbell, QB (via FA)

Turk McBride, DL (injury/waived)

DJ Moore, CB (via FA)

Evan Rodriguez, FB (via FA)

Lance Louis, OG (via FA)

Just by looking at the additions/losses chart you can already tell the Bears had a busy offseason. It started when they controversially fired HC Lovie Smith after missing the playoffs despite a 10-6 season. They replaced him with CFL head coach Marc Trestman. This was a move I was against for many reasons. So the Bears are transitioning from being a defensive minded team to an offensive minded team (Trestman is an offensive coach, while Smith was defensive). Long time pro bowl LB and face of the Bears Brian Urlacher is leaving and the Bears have some nice offensive players to utilize with Brandon Marshall, Matt Forte, and Jay Cutler. I can respect their logic there but I still don’t agree with it. Even with Urlacher gone this is still a defensive team. Urlacher’s replacement was planned to be Nick Roach but he went to Oakland so the Bears brought in Jon Bostic through the draft and signed veteran DJ Williams. This is an obvious downgrade leadership wise, but actually an upgrade in terms of play making. Urlacher was pretty bad his last year, he simply had no gas left in the tank. Bostic on the other hand has looked great and layed this monster hit in his last night:

still not impressed? see what he did to Teddy Bridgewater:

DJ Williams has been limited thus far due to injury but solidified himself as an above average LB in Denver.

Back to the topic, the Bears are still a defensive team. They have a top 5 CB in Charles Tillman and a top 10 CB in Tim Jennings. In the LB core, they have Lance Briggs, who was ranked very highly by PFF last season and is a 3x All Pro and 7x Pro Bowler, they have Bostic manning the middle and James Anderson as the SLB. Anderson was a good player for the panthers before getting signed by Chicago this offseason. On the DL, you have one of the best DT duos in Henry Melton and Stephen Paea. At DE you have the elite Julius Peppers and Corey Wooton (the man who ended Brett Favre’s career). They also have Shea McClellin who was the 19th overall pick in 2012. He’s trying to redeem himself after a disappointing rookie season. At safety they have Major Wright who is a good player. Their only hole is at FS where they currently have Chris Conte. This is clearly a defensive team and Trestman will take away some of that identity. Pointing out the obvious, Trestman has no NFL head coaching experience and he has only had success in the Canadian Football League. Several teams gave him an offer as an OC and that would be his best position on the coaching staff. You can’t convince me he’s an upgrade over Lovie Smith. Let’s take a look at offense. Their biggest weakness is the OL. The front office recognized they needed a LT considering Jamarcus Webb was putrid, so they gave Jermon Bushrod a 5 year $36M contract. This deal made no sense. Cutler needs a great pass blocker and Bushrod is poor in that area. He’s a great run blocker but offers zilch in pass protection. The only reason Drew Brees wasn’t killed every play last year was due to his lightening quick release, a trait Cutler does not have. Still Matt Forte will benefit, so there is a plus. The Bears replaced Kyle Long and Gabe Carimi with Kyle Long (first round rookie) and Matt Slauson (veteran OG formerly of Jets). This were both wise moves. Long has looked great thus far and has a ton of potential. Slauson is a vet who can provide solid pass protection. Dumping Carmimi and Rachal needed to be done as both were terrible. Unfortunately, the Bears couldn’t get rid of Jamarcus Webb and instead moved him to RT. He’s looked terrible so far. I wouldn’t be surprised if fifth round rookie Jordan Mills wins the RT job. This OL improved but Cutler won’t have much time to throw as his tackles are horrible in pass protection. Lucky for Matt Forte (a great RB) he has a great new run blocker in Jermon Bushrod as well as Kyle Long. He should have a big year. Cutler was sacked twice vs the Chargers last game even though they have a bad pass rush. He also fumbled once. He was only sacked once vs Panthers the game before. The Bears made a smart move by signing Steve Maneri to a two year deal. He is one of the best blocking TEs in the NFL. He’ll open up lanes for Matt Forte. Helping out Jay Cutler, the Bears brought in Martellus Bennett who is a massive upgrade over Kellen Davis. For some reason Cutler has not been building chemistry with him this offseason in pre season games. He’s yet to have a target despite having a great season with the Giants last year. Brandon Marshall is a top 5 WR and a complete beast he’s shown that so far. Alshon Jeffery is a guy who I expect to get better, he was a pleasant surprise for the Bears last season as a second round pick. He will start opposite of Marshall. The Bears don’t have much depth and they lost a lot of leadership with Urlacher, Roach, and Lovie Smith all leaving. Still if Cutler can buy some time their offense will be deadly. Trestman is an offensive genius but I’m not sold on him as a HC.

Record Prediction: 8-8

Finally, we make our way to the Lions

Detroit Lions

Key Additions

Reggie Bush, RB (via FA)

Ezekiel Ansah, DE (via Draft)

Glover Quinn, S (via FA)

Israel Idonije, DL (via FA)

Rashean Mathis, CB (via FA)

Rocky McIntosh, LB (via FA)

David Akers, K (via FA)

Havard Rugland, K (via FA)

Jason Jones, DL (via FA)
CJ Mosley, DT (via FA)

Jake Scott, OG (via FA)

Larry Warford, OG (via FA)

Leroy Harris, OG (via FA)

Michael Spurlock, KR (via FA)

Darius Slay, CB (via Draft)

Key Losses

Cliff Avril, DE (via FA)

Corey WIlliams, DT (not re-signed)

Gosder Cherilus, OT (via FA)

Titus Young, WR (released)

Justin Durant, LB (via FA)

Jason Hanson, K (retired)

Jeff Backus, OT (retired)

Kyle Vanden Bosch, DE (not re-signed)

Lawrence Jackson, DE (via FA)

Jacob Lacey, CB (via FA)

Stephen Peterman, OG (via FA)

Sammie Lee Hill, DT (via FA)

Drayton Florence, CB (via FA)

Jahvid Best, RB (injury/retired)

This Lions team had to say goodbye to a great player in Jahvid Best. But life is more important than football and the Lions made the right choice. They replaced him with Reggie Bush who is a good running back and will be a weapon for Matt Stafford coming out of the backfield. Looking at their roster it starts at the QB. Matt Stafford is generally considered a good young quarterback by most, but I disagree and think he’s very overrated. Fans look at the high amount of yardage he throws but he throws more pass attempts than any other player in the NFL and plays recklessly. He is the quintessential “Lob” QB as his signature move is throwing a jump ball to Calvin Johnson. Johnson is one of the post dominant players in the NFL and he makes that offense. Stafford is also known for poor ball security (interceptions/turnovers) and that cost them some games last year. The Lions have another great weapon in Brandon Pettigrew. If Brandon was more focused he’d easily be one of the best TEs in the NFL even though he’s already pretty good. The Lions still lack a WR #2 but they are getting Nate Burleson (old) and Ryan Broyles (injury prone) back. The worst part of this offense is the OL. LT Jeff Backus retired and RT Gosder Cherilus signed a mega contract with Indy. Now the team is forced to start poor blindside protector Riley Reiff and the injury prone Jason Fox at RT (he’s played 5 career games). SCARY…in the wrong way. On the Defense, they made a great pick bringing in Ziggy Ansah and Darius Slay. Both will start their rookie years and have looked great. In his first game ever in the NFL, Ansah made his mark:

Next to him on the DL, is in my opinion the best DT duo in the NFL, Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. They brought in Jason Jones from Seattle. Jones is extremely versatile,e being able to play any position on the DL. He is a three down DL and will be asked to play in an expanded role this season. This can be a breakout year for him even though he already has the reputation as a good DL. In the LB core they have Stephen Tulloch, the veteran leader. They lost a key piece in Justin Durant but their banking on youngsters DeAndre Levy and Ashlee Palmer to carry the load. In the secondary they have one of the most underrated safety tandems wit Glover Quinn and Louis Delmas. Their CBs are the talented Chris Houston and Darius Slay. Ron Bartell and Bill Bentley will battle it out for slot duties.

This team has a lot of talent but evidently a poor OL and a reckless QB just won’t get the job done.

Record Prediction: 5-11

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6 thoughts on “Taking a Closer Look at the NFC North

    • Thoughts are much appreciated
      What arguments do you have to back up your statement? What is your reasoning?
      The vikings went 10-6 last season
      Do you think they will do worse or better?

  1. Really wrong on detroit. What makes you say rieff is a revolving door at LT? The defense alone (believe it or not) will win them several games. Everybody is sleeping on detroit at their peril. Stafford is MUCH MUCH better than your assessment. A lob QB? Try again. Best arm in the league. I’ll be back after the 5-0 start for your next take…..

    • While I admit Reiff has been looking a lot better so far, that OL is still below average. The DL looks very good and the secondary is much improved, but keep in mind they have to go against Adrian Peterson and Aaron Rodgers. Detroit may very well go out and surprise me but you can’t deny Matt Satfford’s 1-24 record against winning teams. Stafford has a strong arm but he’s not a top 15 QB. He benefits greatly from Calvin Johnson. They have a solid TE duo and hopefully Ryan Broyles can play. He has a great receiving back in Reggie Bush. He’s got some great weapons this season we’ll see how he does but so far in his career he hasn’t shown the ability to take over against good teams.

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