NFC North Preview

We are just weeks from the start of the season!! Can you believe it? I actually can’t. Usually the offseason seems to drag for forever (like how school holidays used to feel but crap) We are counting down the days and if you are like me, salivating at the chance to see some real football sooner rather than later.

In the North……Winter is coming! (sorry, I love Game of Thrones).

Chicago Bears (33/1)

The Bears have an ‘interesting’ offseason. The signing of Mike Glennon for a cool $18 million a year was greeted with, mixed, reviews shall we say? Then the poor guy gets invited to the Bears draft party, gets paraded around at Soldier Field to then watch the Bears trade up and draft his REPLACEMENT Mitch Trubisky. I know the weather is cold in Chicago usually but man, that is icy cold from Bears management. Then chatter about front office and coaching staff not seeing eye to eye starts coming out and you can just tell this is going to be a rocky 2017. Trubisky will be the eventual starter, when that will be remains to be seen but they have a strong offensive line and all 5 starters are coming back providing much needed stability. Pro Bowl guards Kyle Long and Josh Sitton start either side of promising center Cody Whitehair which will hopefully help both their inexperienced QB’s not get beaten to a blue and bloody pulp. They have standout rookie RB Jordan Howard now as their feature back now but there are large calls in fantasy land for a regression of some kind this year. Which makes sense as you can literally use what happened to Todd Gurley last year as an almost like for like situation. Meddling/ineffective offense, decent to potentially good defence and seemingly clueless coaching staff. Granted John Fox is a better coach than Jeff Fisher but the outlook still looks pretty bleak. Their defence, coached by respected DC Vic Fangio, does look really good and is primed for growth in 2017. Their front 7 is led by stud LB Jerrell Freeman and has DE Akiem Hicks, DT Eddie Goldman and LB Leonard Floyd back and hoping to build on their 24th ranked defense. That ranking probably doesn’t fill you with confidence but they were battered and beaten so much last year that not finishing 30th or later was honestly as good as they could hope for. Their wide receiver corp is (impossibly) less inspiring that my 49ers was last year. They have nothing but rejects from other teams in Markus Wheaton, Kendall Wright and Victor Cruz matching up with Cameron Meredith who was their only really bright spot outside of Jordan Howard. There is POTENTIAL that Kevin White might finally play and back up his lofty draft position but I honestly wouldn’t hold my breathe till we see him step on a field and not crumble like a wet cake. At Tight End they drafted 6’6″ Adam Shaheen who smashed his way through lower league high school and college teams to get drafted in the third round and he’s carried on dominating smaller people in the pre-season, one other potential brightspot alongside Jordan Howard. Finally, their secondary had some decent additions in Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper along with safety Quintin Demps but is not considered a strength by any stretch of the imagination.

In conclusion, I don’t see the Bears particularly improving their 28th ranked offense and 24th ranked defence in 2017 so improving on their last placed finish in the NFC North seems all but impossible. Jordan Howard is a good place to start and hopefully Trubisky will get to sit this year and get some experience before being thrown to the wolves (see Jared Goff last year).

Detroit Lions (13/2)

The injury bug got in the Lions way last year having several key contributors get injured during the season. Sadly for Matthew Stafford, left tackle Taylor Decker was lost for the season with a torn labrum leaving a very large and open path to Stafford’s blindside. Replacing Decker will be paramount in any chance of success this year. So they traded for Greg Robinson, the mercurial bust from the Rams, in a hope that he can somehow find some glimpse of talent that made him the number 2 overall pick back in 2014. Speaking of Matthew Stafford, he will continue to put the team on his back and he has some nice weapons coming back from injury such as presumptive starter Ameer Abdullah and third down expert Theo Riddick in the backfield. Those two guys, if healthy should provide some much needed stability and ‘umph’ which they were desperately missing last year (sorry Zach Zenner). Their pass catchers are also fairly respectable with Golden Tate and Marvin Jones returning along with breakout candidate Eric Ebron at TE. They let Anquan Boldin go so they will expect production as soon as possible from third round wide out Kenny Golladay. On the other side of the ball, they invested heavily on first round LB Jarrad Davis and CB Teez Tabor in the first and second rounds respectively. Davis is slated to start in the middle right away and shore up a somewhat shaky defense. Tabor isn’t fast but has good ball skills and hopefully this earns him a job opposite Darius Slay. Promising safety Miles Killebrew will also be hoping to earn a starting job and if he does, it should hopefully help out their poor linebacking corp.

My outlook for the Lions is more of the same as last year. Unless Jarrad Davis proves to become the second coming of Ray Lewis then their lack of a pass rush (tied 30th in sacks) isn’t going to get opposing offenses off the field. There was much said about how perfect Matt Stafford and Jim Bob Cooter were together and I can see that progressing again but they need to score more than their 21.6 points (20th) to pull away from all those close games they had last year. 13 of their 16 games were decided by 7 points or less. They are better than the Bears but I don’t think they get past the Packers or Vikings.

Green Bay Packers (1/2)

The Green Bay Packers are a lucky bunch. Brett Favre for the best part of 2 decades and then future HOFer Aaron Rodgers takes over and literally dominates the position from day one. Breaking down his season by season stats are mind blowing. Of his 9 years as a starter, he has only hit 4000 yards twice. The two times he didn’t he missed 7 games due to injury and the other he ‘only’ recorded 3922 yards. He has scored 30 or more touchdowns 6 times and has a ridiculous 297:72 TD:interception ratio. You are basically saying he throws as many TD’s as Peyton Manning and as many interceptions as Alex Smith. Ultimately, Rodgers will own an even more ridiculous record being the first QB to throw 300 TD’s before throwing 100 interceptions. The next closest person is Tom Brady with 115, a stunning 43 fewer interceptions. Favre (175), Brees (154), Marino (169) Payton Manning (152) and more greats were far beyond 100. Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and Randall Cobb are great players but are made to look even better with Rodgers under center and they added Martellus Bennett to an already flush receiving group. The one question they have on offense is the RB position. Not everyone is sold on Ty Montgomery being the full time back despite his relative success in a short sample size. He will enter camp as the starter but they drafted 2 rookies, Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones to add depth in the position and avoid having to play any more wide receivers as makeshift running backs. Their defense on the other hand, was not so brilliant. Their secondary were torched virtually every week (31st in yards allowed) and forced the Packers to a much heavier pass attack than they would normally like. They addressed their D with the first four rounds of the draft and invested wisely in usual Packers fashion. CB Kevin King and S Josh Jones should provide upgrades or at very least competition at those positions and they have a decent and developing front line being led with worst kept secret Mike Daniels leading the way. Kenny Clark, a 6’3″ 314lb nose tackle and Dean Lowry at 6’6″ and 296lb forms an intimidating front which allowed just 95 yards running on the ground, good for 8th in the league. Although Clay Matthews hasn’t been his usual QB pummeling self, GB did rack up 40 sacks tied for 6th so if their secondary improves, they won’t have to rely on their offense to have to score 40 points a game.

In conclusion, Green Bay should pull away this year instead of fighting till the final weeks. If their D improves then there will be no worry on their position as winner in the North.

Minnesota Vikings (7/2)

For all the laughing and joking about Sam Bradford, who has had a very Alex Smith type start to his career with 100 offensive coordinators in his few years in the league, finally seems to have found a home in Minnesota. Behind one of the worst offensive lines in the league, which could not sustain their run game, Bradford managed to break the single season passing accuracy record set by Drew Brees a few years earlier. Not too shabby for someone that is massively overlooked as a really good QB. He has a great arm and if he finally settles in somewhere and gets some continuity for once, he might start creeping up draft boards a little bit. Don’t draft him for god’s sake but he is definitely one of those guys that you can stream each week if you don’t get the QB of your dreams in your draft. The running game, as I mentioned, was terrible so they upgraded significantly from last season by adding Latavius Murray (boo!) and Dalvin Cook (yay!). Are they instance upgrades from Adrian Peterson? God no but given his luck with injuries it was just not sustainable for them to keep him and his lofty price tag. Word originaly was that Murray would be the starter thanks to his double digit touchdown season in Oakland but don’t be fooled by that stat. His average yards per attempt were bad and the line on Oakland is one of the best in the league. Thankfully, they took Cook in the actual draft and for all intents and purposes, looks like one of the few rookies to get guaranteed looks early on in the season (We’re on him at 20/1 for OROY!). There will be growing pains I’m sure but he is trending that way. For me he is still a bit steep on his current ADP (3.10 as per fantasyfootballcalculator.com) unless you can stash him for a few weeks then the investment might pay some heavy dividends later on in the season. Their pass catching unit, is actually quite intriguing in that they have (a personal favourite in) Stefon Diggs who is a prime candidate to break out this year, Adam Thielen, Michael Floyd and Laquon Treadwell along with Kyle Rudolph at tight end. You might scoff at those last two receivers but those guys have legitimate talent and although both are risky plays, if they are physically on the field, that foursome is legit and would cause problems for any team. Mix in Rudolph as Bradfords safety blanket and you have a sneaky good offense. Won’t take much to propel over and beyond their mediocre offensive production.

Their defence, will be interesting to follow. Now I’ll admit that I haven’t followed them much over the summer but from my knowledge and brief check up now, they haven’t lost any key pieces to free agency or injury and they seem pretty locked in and in the same system as last year. Traditionally, that would mean growth to me so if they build on their 3rd ranked yards allowed per game, 5th ranked sacks per game and 6 ranked points per game then that is pretty frightening. If you can pick this unit up then they are one of the safer plays for me. No change, same scheme. I genuinely don’t see them getting worse barring injury so as safe as you can get.

Their draft was nothing really of note except for Cook and potentially a late round sleeper TE by the name of Bucky Hodges. I won’t even bother going through the other names because there is literally no point but I am sure some of them will make a case for a roster spot over the next 3 weeks.

There is one caveat however, Everson Griffen, Eric Kendricks, Anthony Barr and the seemingly immortal Terrance Newman have to play Green Bay twice a year and I have a feeling it will be a similar ride throughout the season as it was last year with these two teams dueling out till the final weeks of the season. Let’s be honest, the Bears won’t be troubling anyone. The Lions may be a bit pesky but I just don’t think they have the firepower to outscore Green Bay or beat out Minnesota so their luck will depend on the other games they play outside of the division.  The Vikings are pretty much locked in second place and vying for a playoff spot.

@jayhatton49

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