Having checked out the NFL NFC East lineup, Jon E. Bagg examines the NFL NFC North.
Jay Cutler, owner of the most stupendous arm in NFL history, is going into his first contract year with the Bears. With a brand new coach in Mark Trestman, and an end to Lovie Smith’s ever-predictable tactics, the Bears can realistically win the NFC North division. Of course, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers consider themselves the pre-anointed ones, but their brilliant QB’s protective coverage was often lax throughout the season last year and, collectively, they’re getting old. Can Adrian Peterson do everything for the Vikings? A little help is due from Christian Ponder, who talks a great career, but has produced little thus far. There is little to choose between them and the Detroit Lions, who do the opposite lock and seem to own no running game at all. The addition of Reggie Bush should make them marginally better, but not by much. Bottom line: I predict a tie at the top between the Bears and Packers. As the Packers are a point producing machine when they’re winning, I expect them to edge it. Never fear, however, the Bears may be even better off in the long run for snaring the Wild Card spot.
Green Bay Packers: Without their outstanding offensive tackle, the aptly named Brian Bulaga, QB Aaron Rogers, who took way too many concussion-causing hits last season, will surely be MIA again during crucial parts of the season. The old tossing game that has produced upwards of 600 throws again for around eight seasons is likely to give way to more work for their newly drafted, highly touted running backs Jonathan Franklin and Eddie ‘Zigzag’ Lacey. The Packers defense, so stalwart all season, capitulated in the playoffs to the 49ers. Just how good they really are will be tested early as they’ll face the 49ers and the Skins in their first two games of the season. Bagg predicts 9-7.
Chicago Bears: Minus Lovie Smith, the Bears will no longer be telegraphing their plays in advance to opposition. It’s Jay Cutler’s contract year and, hopefully, there’ll be relief in the shape of Alshon Jeffrey and a new-look offensive line so that he doesn’t have to rely on gunning it to Brandon Marshall play after play. Past masters of the forced fumble, expect more of the same from Peanut Tillman and Tim Jennings. With Brian Urlacher retired, Coach Trestman seems to have kindled a new enthusiasm in a born-again Lance Briggs. Cutler has always been erratic, but Trestman will let him run and improvise in a way no previous coach has ever allowed. I expect them to make a good run of it in the playoffs until they have to face the buzz saw that is the Seahawks. Prediction 9-7.
Minnesota Vikings: Christian Pander truly looked to be headed for the big-time to those who saw him play QB in college at Florida State. Instead he seems to be just the guy who repeatedly hands the ball off to Adrian Peterson. Their latest top draft, Corner Back Xavier Rhodes is under way too much pressure to succeed instantaneously. This may prove to be simply too much of a burden. Their defensive line is as solid as ever, however, and their secondary just as competent. Look for 8-8.
Detroit Lions: Unfortunate to go 4-12 last year, Detroit’s finest only got it together after they had lost all hope of making the playoffs. Now the Lions can count on the enterprise and bravery of Reggie Bush to carry them to the next level. With talent like CB Darius Slay, DE Ziggy Ansah and the awesome tackling of DT Nick Fairley, the Lions have to be improved. It will be interesting to see just how often the ball will go to Bush for him to both run with and receive. You never know! Bagg says 8-8.