By: Armando Perez
When we think about the history of the NFC North, individual teams have been on top of the division, for decades at a time.
• In the 1960’s the Green Bay Packers dominated. Under Vince Lombardi and Bart Starr the Packers won Super Bowl I and II in 1966 and 1967.
• In the 1970’s the Minnesota Vikings took were the cream of the crop. From 1968 to 1980 The Vikings won the Division 10 times. Led by Fran Tarkenton and the Purple People Eaters, Minnesota appeared in four Super Bowls (1969, 1973,1974 and 1976)
• Under Mike Ditka, Jim McMahon and Walter Payton, the Chicago Bears Won the Super Bowl in 1985. Chicago had one of the most dominating defenses in the history of the NFL that year. Many historians feel that the Bears underachieved, by only winning one Super Bowl ring.
• Since 1995 the Packers have won 11 Division titles including 4 in a row (2011, 2012, 2113 and 2014).
• The only team that has never had long term success in this division has been the Detroit Lions. They have only won 2 division titles, 1991 &1993. They are also the only team from the NFC North to not make a Super Bowl appearance.
The NFC North has a plethora of talented players on each roster. There has been big changes with a lot of teams and subtle changes within the organizations. Below is my NFC North Preview.
Green Bay Packers (Last season 12-4… This year… 12-4) The Green Bay Packers have been one of the premier franchises in the history of the NFL. Even though they are in a small market, the Packers have had constant success. The average NFL team has 16 free agents on their roster, The Packers have averaged 3. This is an amazing stat because it shows that when the Packers draft someone, they stay on their team for most of their career. They rarely replace a player with a free agent. They replace them with the draft. They build the organization the right way, from the bottom up.
Last season, the Packers, with an injured quarterback made it to the NFC Championship game. They were up 16-0 at halftime before their coaching staff went into a conservative shell. They lost to Seattle in overtime, 28-22 and now Mike McCarthy will no longer be calling the plays on offense. I think this is a good move on his part. Let the head coach manage the game and let his coordinators do their jobs.
Green Bay lost their star wide receiver, Jordy Nelson, to a knee injury in pre-season. This is a huge loss for the Packers. In 2014 Nelson was one of the NFL’s best offensive players.
98 receptions (Ranked 7th)
1,519 receiving yards (Ranked 4th)
13 receiving touchdowns (Ranked 2nd)
If you are a Packers fan this injury is a huge negative. On the positive side, if there is one quarterback who can make up for a lost wide receiver, its last year’s reigning MVP, Aaron Rodgers. Running back Eddie Lacy (1,139 rushing yards) and wide receiver Randall Cobb (91 receptions) will be asked to carry even more of a load with Nelson out.
The Packers don’t have an elite defensive but in today’s NFL you just have to be good situationally. Green Bay should be able to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks with LB Clay Mathews and DL Julius Peppers. In the secondary, rookies Quinton Rollins and Demarious Randall figure to see playing time after the Packers lost two starters in Tramon Williams and Davon House to free agency. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix should still be solid as the Packers safety.
This is a team that can contend for a Super Bowl. As long as Rodgers is running the offense they are dangerous. The Packers were 8-0 at home last year and I expect them to win this division by at least two games. Don’t be surprised if Randy Moss or Reggie Wayne, wind up playing for the Packers.
Minnesota Vikings (Last season 7-9… This season 10-6) After losing Adrian Peterson last season, the Vikings should have imploded. They lost the most dominant running back in the league and had an unproven rookie quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater. The Vikings didn’t, the Finished 7-9 and Bridgewater proved to be a great late round draft pick. Bridgewater started 12 times (had a 6-6) record and completed 64.4% of his passes. That 64.4 completion percentage was the third highest for any rookie in the history of the NFL.
The Offensive line had major issues last year, they gave up 41 sacks. The addition of WR Mike Wallace and former Pro Bowl MVP, TE Kyle Anderson, will be a great safety valve for Bridgewater. Tom Brady is going to come back after his suspension and play angry and with a mission. I fully expect Peterson to do the same. He already has a reputation to run with an attitude. Peterson should get at least 1,800 yards this season.
The Vikings got younger on defense. They weren’t great last year, but not terrible. The ranked in the top 15 in almost every category without a legitimate superstar. The Vikings drafted all areas that they needed to improve. They got secondary help with Trae Waynes, LB help with Eric Kendricks and Danielle Hunter should help the defensive line.
I like Bridgewater’s maturity and the additions on offense. Defenses are going to try and test that offensive line early on. I fully expect the Vikings to contend for a wildcard spot. They will play meaningful games in December. This is a franchise this is trending upward.
The Detroit Lions (Last season 11-5… this season 9-7) When the Lions hired Jim Caldwell last season I thought it was a horrible decision. As the head coach of Wake Forrest, Caldwell had a record of 26-63. He went 1-7 in the conference 4 times and his best conference record was 3-5. Caldwell took over a talented Colts team. In his first season, Indianapolis lost to the Saints in the Super Bowl. He was 14-2, 10-6, and 2-14 before he was fired. The Lions were 11-5 last season, and that is the best Caldwell will do. His teams erode over time and he will be exposed game by game year after year.
Quarterback Mathew Stafford and WR Calvin Johnson continue to lead the Lions on offense. I think both are trending downward. Johnson had some injuries last year, he missed 3 games and his production was the lowest since 2009. Stafford continues to be that second tier quarterback. Can you win with him? Yes… But does anyone trust him to win a playoff game if needed?
Ndamukong Suh left via free agency for the Miami Dolphins. Suh, is the best run stopper, pass rusher combo lineman in the league. He demands double teams and makes the job of the other defensive lineman a lot easier because they get one on one match ups. Suh will be replaced by former Raven Haloti Ngata. He should help fill the void but the Lions defense will take a step back. The Lions will be looking for rookie TE Eric Ebron and rookie RB Ameer Abdullah to contribute early and often.
As long as Caldwell is running the sidelines Detroit will never be a legitimate contender. They peaked last season and they will take a step back in 2015.
Chicago Bears (Last season…5-11… This season 5-11) Quarterback Jay Cutler signed a 7 year, $126M contract in 2014. $54M is guaranteed but I would be shocked if Cutler was still in Bears uniform in 2021. The Bears have a lot of problems on both sides of the ball but Cutler’s contract is an albatross that is sinking the Chicago football team. Cutler appears to be ambivalent at times and his nonchalant attitude does not inspire confidence with Bears fans.
Over the past few years the Bears have been one of the worst defensive teams in the NFL. They have been at the bottom of the league in points per game, yards given up and 3rd down conversions. Jared Allen and Antrel Rolle should add a veteran leadership but they are both in their 30’s and are not in the prime of their careers.
Chicago lost WR Brandon Marshall to the Jets. For the Bears to be effective, new offensive coordinator Adam Gase, must utilize versatile RB Matt Forte. In order for Cutler to have success they will need to establish a running game. Forte fits the mold and can be a dual threat out of the backfield.
There are too many holes and not enough talent on this roster. As long as Cutler is under center this team will never have long term success. Bears repeat last year’s record and miss the playoffs again.
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