Friday, August 12, 2011

2011 NFL Preview -- NFC North

If Stafford ever appeared on the cover of Madden, would he be tragically killed the next day?
Apart from a few inconsequential signings and the impending un-retirement of Brett Favre (and Randy Moss), the frenzied NFL off-season is over and done with. With rosters in place and training camps under way, we now have a slightly clearer picture of what the 2011 NFL season will look like. Of course, no one can actually know what will happen during the season, but it sure is fun to speculate!

Continuing with our 2011 NFL Preview, let's be careful to avoid all pubic bathrooms as we preview the AFC North. In case you missed them, here are the other division's I've previewed.

AFC West
NFC West
AFC South
NFC South
AFC North

NFC North

It just doesn't seem like the old NFC North without Brett Favre, now does it? Oh yeah, I almost forgot, he's still coming back. How about this one...Stafford goes down in the preseason (likely) and the Lions panic-sign Favre for the year. That sounds great! Anyways, this division projects to be a very competitive one, but I think 3 of the 4 teams are going to be disappointments this year. The funny thing about predictions is that everyone seems to think every team is going to win more games than they are projected to win. That's about as dumb as possible. One team must win and one team must lose. If one team is a surprise, one will be a disappointment. It's just the way it is. Apart from Green Bay, I have a feeling this division will be a mess.

1. Green Bay Packers: 13-3

Biggest Addition: Live bodies - According to Football Outsiders, Green Bay was 2nd in the NFL with 83 games missed by starters. That's a lot of games. Heck, they lost a couple guys to weird, out-of-nowhere "sniper" injuries in the Super Bowl! RB Ryan Grant and LB Nick Barnett were especially key injuries for a team that barely limped its way to the playoffs. The fact that they could even field a team, must less WIN the Super Bowl, is a miracle.

Biggest Loss: They lost a few guys, but I'll say G Daryn Colledge. Aaron Rodgers was sacked 50 times in 2009, but that number went down to a respectable 31 times in 2010. The line obviously isn't responsible for every sack, but 19 less is pretty clear proof that things got better. Colledge was a key piece of the interior of that line. The Packers feel like they have some good options to replace him, and who am I to doubt them? They always seem to make good personnel decisions and they do a fantastic job of identifying and developing young talent. Still, it's a bit of a concern given the past problems.

Biggest Question: To give you an idea of where the Packers are at, the one big question that NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert could come up with was, "Where will QB Aaron Rodgers find new motivation?" Is he serious? What a dumb question to ask! Where will Rodgers find motivation? You mean, you think he's just going to quit now that he's got ONE Super Bowl? So stupid. The point is, the Packers are pretty loaded. My one question is about the run game. It was bad last 24th overall bad. Getting Ryan Grant back is huge, but a 29 year old RB with significant mileage and coming off a major injury is no sure thing.

Summary: At gunpoint, I'd pick the Packers to repeat in the NFC. To put it simply, they have Aaron Rodgers, who might be the best QB alive at this point (probably Tom Brady actually...allow me at least some hyperbole!). I don't see any way they have injury problems like last season, and that seems to be the only thing standing in their way. Unless, of course, you buy into the whole Eagles "Super Team" thing...

2. Chicago Bears: 8-8

Biggest Addition: T Gabe Carimi - Some people criticized Chicago for taking him too early (also for screwing over the Ravens...which they should have been punished for), but I thought this was a savvy pick by Jerry Angelo. There are definitely things that Carimi doesn't bring to the table, but he brings more than enough to be a solid starter in the NFL. Throughout his Big Ten career, Carimi held his own against several first round pick talents, including Adrian Clayborn, Ryan Kerrigan, and Cam Heyward. He's versatile, tough, and hard working. Chicago could do a lot worse than add one of those types to their offensive line.

Biggest Loss: C Olin Kreutz - Easiest pick yet! Kreutz isn't even near the player he used to be, but he was still a competent offensive linemen, which makes him a HUGE loss for the Bears. Beyond that, he, along with Brian Urlacher, was the heart and soul of this team. I know that sounds like a 'romantic' thing to say, but it makes a difference in a team sport. You need leaders, you need guys who set examples...Kreutz set the tone with his toughness and leadership. They will definitely miss that.

Biggest Question: How badly will the new kickoff rules hurt the Bears? I didn't realize this until I looked it up, but Chicago finished 30th in the NFL in total offense. Behind the Browns! Barely ahead of the Cardinals! Yet, they finished a more respectable 21st in scoring offense, averaging just over 20 points per game. That doesn't make them the '99 Rams or anything, but it gives them a chance to win. Utilizing a little math, and a lot of common sense, it's not hard to figure out that Devin Hester is pretty darn important to this team. His 17.1 Y/R on punts and 35.6 Y/R on kickoffs helped Chicago dominate the field position battle. For the most part, teams were terrified to kick to him, causing them to essentially cede field position in order to keep the ball out of Hester's hands. Chicago made small improvements to the offense, but it will be interesting to see if Hester can continue to give them the type of initial advantage they are so accustomed to.

Summary: I think a lot of people assume Chicago will role through another 10 or so wins, but there are definite signs of trouble. The offensive line is always a huge concern, and the lack of offensive efficiency is alarming. Beyond that, age and injury have slowly eroded what used to be one of the league's top defenses. They still ranked in the top 10 in total defense, but another slight slip wouldn't be surprising...though it would be tough for them overcome. All in all, Chicago is the type of team that could put it together and make it back to the playoffs, but everything needs to break just right. Hanging over all this is the interesting Jay Cutler situation. After what happened in the NFC Championship Game, it will be interesting to see how he is received and how he reacts. If he's good, and he gets enough protection, and Roy Williams can be a viable target...well, let's just assume those things won't happen. The more I look at this team, the more I see disaster.

3. Minnesota Vikings: 7-9

Biggest Addition: QB Donovan McNabb - The way I see it, this will either turn out absolutely amazing or it will end up being a massive disaster. No middle ground. Clearly, after selecting him 12th overall, the Vikings plan for Christian Ponder to be their guy down the road. McNabb was brought in as a veteran bridge to win this year, and mentor Ponder for the future. The problem is, McNabb hasn't always been known as the best teammate, having garnered a reputation as sensitive and selfish. Perhaps this isn't true, but it's there nonetheless. Personally, I think it was smart to get him. He cost Minnesota next to nothing, and he was probably the 2nd best available QB out there. I'm obviously not predicting the Vikings to win anything, but he actually gives them a fighting chance. And if it starts to head south, you can always cut ties and turn it over to Ponder.

Biggest Loss: WR Sidney Rice - If Bryant McKinnie was anywhere near the same player he was a few years ago, I'd pick him, but that clearly isn't the case. Rice, of course, missed nearly all of last season, so we have a decent idea of what his value to the team is. Two seasons ago, he was arguably the best receiver in football. In that season, Brett Favre had his career year (at 87!) and the Vikings had an explosive offense that finished 2nd in the NFL at 29.4 points per game. Last season, he missed 10 games and wasn't totally healthy when he came back. No surprise then, that Favre had the worst season of his career and Minnesota's offense regressed to a meager 17.6 poinst per game. Rice isn't responsible for the entire difference, but his value is undeniable. It's a tough blow for the team to lose him, especially so soon after bringing in McNabb.

Biggest Question: How much production can they get out of their front lines? The offensive line is a well known question mark that probably didn't improve much in the offseason, even with the signing of Charlie Johnson. McNabb isn't anywhere near as mobile as he used to be, so it will be important to give him some time back there. The defensive line, on the other hand, has long had a reputation of being the class of the NFL. With Jared Allen and the Williams Wall manning the front, the Vikings have had plenty of success against the run and at getting to the QB. Unfortunately, that period of dominance seems to be over. With Pat Williams leaving/retiring(?) and Ray Edwards walking in free agency, the line will undergo some big changes. In addition, it looks like Kevin Williams will finally have to serve his suspension in the StarCaps incident. And if that weren't enough, there is the curious case of Jared Allen. He ended up with 11 sacks last season, but he clearly struggled to get to the QB like he used to. If Allen returns to form and either Brian Robison or Everson Griffen steps up in place of Edwards, then the line will probably be OK. It's still an interesting thing to watch however.

Summary: This is a Vikings team in a bit of a tough situation. They have too many good veteran players to begin rebuilding, but probably not enough to actually compete. Running the ball with Adrian Peterson is obviously the only real way to success, but even a stud season by him might not be enough. With McNabb in place, it wouldn't be a stretch to see them land the final wild card spot, but considering the holes on the offensive line and in the defensive secondary, it does seem to be an uphill battle. Honestly, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Christian Ponder era start by the end of the season. Sorry Prince...

4. Detroit Lions: 5-11

Biggest Addition: QB Matthew Stafford - They have got to keep him on the field if they're going to have any chance at winning. Period.

Biggest Loss: QB Matthew Stafford - I'm assuming Mr. Glass here will get hurt within the first six weeks of the season. End of season. Period.

Biggest Question: Can Matthew Staff...well, you know.

Summary: It seems like everyone is jumping on the Lions bandwagon...which obviously means they're going to have a rough year. Remember when everyone jumped on the 49ers bandwagon? Yeah, that turned out well. The thing is, I can't see a single reason why everyone thinks their going to all of a sudden turn it around. Stafford gets all kinds of hype, but he has yet to play at a high enough level to prove he's really a franchise QB. With major question marks at QB, RB, and all over the defense, it's unreasonable to expect them to make the playoffs. Unless of course you think Ndamukong Suh can notch 50 sacks...and 1000 yards rushing. Honestly, I wouldn't put it past him.


  1. The injury to Leshoure obviously hurts the Lions and Stafford staying healthy is always the question of the year.....but all that is because they do not fix the major weakness that has been their downfall since 2000: Offensive Line. Foolishly believing that Backus is a legitimate starter at LT and drafting WR in the first round for 35 straight years has already destroyed one top 5 QB (Harrington)and is working on their second.
    Once Stafford goes down for the year (again), the Lions will be forced to draft another QB (Landry Jones) and watch him be a sitting duck behind the horrible line.

  2. Wow! So the Lions win less games than last year and they play an easier schedule. They won 6 games with their 2nd and 3rd string QB's. I know there is a big IF that Stafford stays on the field the whole year, but if he does the Lions can compete with the NFC North teams. I am a little dissapointed in your write up of 3 of the 4 teams and a total diss on Detroit. A team that has improved more than the 3 other teams over the last 2 years and you write bandwagon and is Stafford can stay on the field. Poor overall!

  3. Sorry dude, I don't know what else you want me to say. The entire season literally rests on whether or not Stafford can stay on the field. I don't know how many words I can get out of that. Look, I understand where you're coming from with badly wanting your team to climb out of the terrible hole they were in. I just don't think it's happening this year. Personally, I hate Stafford...always have. I thought he was a bad choice at #1 overall and I won't be surprised if he's the next David Carr. I could be wrong, and that's fine. The point is, there's a ton of holes that they didn't fill. As Jeremy said, the offensive line isn't the best, and the running back situation is almost as bad.

    I'm sorry you didn't like the write up. Not sure what was wrong with the other teams. Do you expect both Chicago and Minnesota to compete? I mean, someone has to lose...they can't all be good. Either way, it's just my opinion. You're entitled to yours. I respect that. Sorry you didn't like it...I'll give you a full refund.

  4. How many wins do you have them down for and why?

  5. So, I would really like to see Minnesota win more than 7 games, but right now they really have too many question marks to project any more than that. If McNabb can come in and play well, then this is obviously a much better team than last year, but right now it's just too early to tell. I really worry about their O-Line, and from what I've heard Charlie Johnson has been getting dominated in training camp(of course he is trying to block Jared Allen every snap).

    As for the Lions, they did win 6 games last year...and they ended the season on a 4 game winning streak. One of those games was against GB after Rogers got knocked out, and 2 more were against teams that had nothing to play for(and were most likely going for a better draft pick). I was actually at the Lions/Vikings game week 17, and trust me Minnesota didn't want to win that game. Also, I'll agree that the Lions have improved the most over the last few years...but let's remeber that they are improving from an 0-16 can't really get any worse can you?

  6. No Prince, you actually can't do worse than 0-16. Literally impossible. Look, Detroit is definitely improving their talent base. Things are getting better and I expect them to continue to get better. But really, how am I supposed to believe in a team with major question marks at QB, RB, and OL? Also, Fairley is already hurt! What is there to be excited about in that?

  7. I really hope that the Anonymous is actually Stafford himself, and that he's spending literally all his spare time going around from blog to blog insisting that he's not a China Doll (sorry Prince!).

  8. That would probably be the most amazing thing ever.

  9. The top 3 picks of the Lions are already hurt. Not a good sign for any team, much less a team with as much injury history as Detroit.

    And looking at their schedule, the first 10 weeks should be very favorable with toughest road game at Dallas and home against a potentially overrated Atlanta. But they will have to be 7-3 if they want to get to 10 wins and playoffs because they will lose at least 4 of the last 6.
    An 8-8 season will be a success, anything better will be amazing.

  10. An 8-8 season would be a HUGE success! I would say Detroit has a history of starting off slowly, but they also have a history of closing slowly there's that.

    @Tampa Bay will be tough
    vs. Kansas City will be tough
    @Minnesota won't be a piece of cake
    @Dallas is a probable loss
    vs. Atlanta is another loss
    @Chicago is tough

    Of those games, I could see them pulling out 3 at best. Probably 2.

    Home against San Fran
    Home against Chicago
    Home vs Minnesota

    That's the easy part of the schedule. I'd say 3 wins from that is likely, maybe even 4.

    2 games against Green Bay
    @New Orleans
    Home vs. San Diego

    All losses.

    From that, I'd say the best they do is 7-9. That's if they have a good year. Since this is the Lions, and since they are probably going to lose their QB pretty soon, it's not hard to imagine them going 5-11.