With the rise of the Lions from laughingstock to “that team no one believes in,” combined with a schizophrenic Vikings squad and a Bears crew struggling to hang on to mediocrity, the NFC North has gotten a little goofy. Besides the Packers no other team is currently considered a viable Super Bowl threat.
But I’m a Lions fan, and the NFC North is my home sweet home, so I’ll be following it much closer than the guys who actually get paid to write about it. Granted, the people who get paid to write about it are professionals as opposed to a disgruntled old crank who talks to his cat.
Enough pretense! The visions are taking substance…
The good folks in Minnesota love Teddy Bridgewater, and I can’t blame a fan base hungry for a franchise quarterback, but I found it a little irksome that the media fawned over this kid from the get go. It happens all the time in a hype-fueled profession, but I wish some of these guys could be held accountable for their big mouths. At least put them in a dunk tank or something with Brett Favre throwing footballs over his shoulder at the target. I saw a lot of potential in Bridgewater, but I also saw a lot of kinks that needed ironing out. He can scramble and hit some good passes on the run, but for all those nifty highlights, there were costly interceptions as well.
The return of Adrian Peterson in purple and gold surprised me. I thought the reconciliation to this uncomfortably troubled marriage was possible, but I wasn’t counting on it. Hey, the crystal ball is cloudy after all. Now that AP is back in the game, I’m fascinated to see what happens. I don’t care how good he is: age and expectations are going to be a factor.
The crystal ball says:
Teddy’s gonna have a decent season, but he’s more of a long term threat than a breakout stud. Talking Heads will continue to praise him to high heaven until the last fourth of the season when they turn on him and ask whether or not he’s any good. He’ll stay the same, continuing to grow and improve unless he proves injury prone. Adrian Peterson will have a solid season, keeping his hyperbolic god-like status, but he’s going to be eclipsed on the stats sheet by some of the hungrier young guys.
Da Bears are hurting right now, and I think there’s an inevitable degree of soul searching going on in the organization regardless of the coaching change. John Fox is certainly going to liven things up as much as he can. Fresh blood will flow, the slate will be cleaned, but there’s no getting around the elephant in the room: Jay Cutler’s competency, commitment, and the club’s decision to stick it out with him. Personally, I’m not as down on Cutler as many people are, but I do feel that his remaining presence in Chicago has metastasized into an untenably toxic relationship. Even if they win a few more games this season with Cutler, the team’s long-term success is going to be in the hands of their next quarterback. And let’s not act like a break with the Bears would be bad for Cutler: he could gracefully transition to a lower-tier team and play with a squad that would actually appreciate him. Not the worst way to play out the rest of your career.
The crystal ball says:
Another abysmal year for Soldier Field’s finest. There’s little hope in restructuring and re-growing without faith in your lynchpin. Chi-town will spend a year taking its losses while John Fox settles in and shows off what he has to offer.
Green Bay Packers:
Green Bay is easily the least fun team to pontificate on in the NFC North. Aaron Rodgers is currently in top form with a rock solid team behind him. I won’t be surprised if this group keeps on clicking and humming along together, giving opposing NFC North fans fits. The crew is well-oiled, well-managed, and has that “cool factor” of playing in an open stadium during the rudest of Midwest winters. You can certainly criticize The Pack when it comes to the league as a whole, particularly that they don’t deal well with unexpected loss, but in the NFC North, this is the team that everybody wants to dethrone.
The only real worry is keeping Rodgers healthy. We’ve seen in the past how this team has collapsed without its sometimes-mustachioed heart on the field. If I were Mike McCarthy, I would be spending an inordinate amount of time working with that O-line on QB protection.
The crystal ball says:
A clear division victory for The Cheeseheads, with Detroit and possibly Minnesota nipping at their heels. However, the entire house of cards collapses if Rodgers misses four or more games.
Like last season, Detroit has a great chance of giving the Packers a run for their money, but it’s not going to be easy. Detroit is currently a team full of potential and unanswered questions. I’d love to see the defense as dominant as it was last season, a tall order considering the loss of Ndamukong Suh. Yet the return of Stephen Tulloch and acquisition of Haloti Ngata are hard to dismiss. Of course I’ll be watching that offensive line closest. It’s the single factor in Stafford having as productive a season he did in his INT-happy, record-breaking slinger days, though he’s likely to have a more disciplined system that actually wins games this time around.
The run game is going to be the x-factor. I love Joique Bell, but he can’t carry the team like a Marshawn Lynch or a Jamaal Charles. He gets you three yards on a 3rd & 2, and punches his way into the end zone in short yardage situations, but he’s not going to break off 15 yard chunks with any regularity. And sure, there’s Theo Riddick and a very “maybe” George Winn. I’m hopeful for Ameer Abdullah, but I also think there’s a lot of bluster and hype for the second round pick.
Crystal ball says:
Detroit has so much talent on the roster, but also has trouble putting it together. I see the defense not being as strong as last year, but staying damn close to that caliber thanks to the prior season’s proof of concept. The offense is going to pop more this year in the passing game, but the running game will remain blue-collar. Green Bay has a good chance of winning both games vs. the Lions, but the really exciting divisional games are going to go down with the Vikings. The division title will most likely go to Green Bay, but the Lions will make the wild card slot and head to the playoffs for the second year in a row.