By Raimundo Ortiz (@AroundtheMundo)
This is the NFC North preview. The teams will be ordered according to how I see them finishing. I’ll break down each team’s offense and defense in brief fashion, highlight an underrated player or two, then give a win range. Slapping a win total on a team is silly to me–I’m more interested in ceilings and floors. If a team’s win range is 6-12, that doesn’t mean I’m predicting 12 or 6. Just means I see them as a team that can wildly fluctuate.
Green Bay Packers (Last season: 8-7-1)
Offense: The Packers have their leader Aaron Rodgers, the best quarterback in the NFL, back healthy. That alone could make almost every team in the league a playoff contender. Rodgers has Randall Cobb healthy to start the season, plus Jarrett Boykin begins the season as a legitimate threat out of the slot. This passing game may be the best in the NFC.
The Packers also evolved into a power rushing team out of necessity when Rodgers went down. They now have a legitimate identity as a rushing powerhourse, with one of the biggest bruisers in the league (Eddie Lacy). Protecting Rodgers may still be an issue, but with the run as potent as it is, blitzes should decrease.
The Pack will pour on the points.
Defense: Defensively, I can’t say I think this will be a particularly stout D. There are big-time playmakers all over the place though, so even if they can be gashed, they can also win a game. Don’t be surprised to see them rank very high in the turnover column.
Underrated Asset: Rookie WR Davante Adams could be a breakout player here. In two years with Fresno State he caught 102 and 131 passes respectively, surpassed 1,700 yards receiving last year, and hauled in 24 touchdowns. Even as the No.4 or No. 5 receiver on the roster, he may see opportunities to make an impact.
Floor to Ceiling: 10-13 wins.
Chicago Bears (Last season: 8-8)
Offense: Head coach Marc Trestman lived up to his billing as a master offensive mind, turning Chicago into a lights out offense even after Jay Cutler went down. With Cutler healthy again, throwing to perhaps the NFL’s best receiving tandem (Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery), they may lead the league in points.
Running back Matt Forte is also arguably the league’s best pass-catcher out of the backfield, plus Martellus Bennett commands attention over the middle. These skill players are a defensive coordinator’s nightmare.
Defense: The Bears’ pass rush got a little scary this offseason after adding Lamarr Houston, and the secondary has ballhawks at CB. The health of the linebackers will determine whether this D is good or great.
Underrated Asset: WR Santonio Holmes had a bad rep after failing as the Jets No. 1 WR for several seasons. In Chicago, he’s a No. 3 target and fourth or fifth option–and in that capacity he might be one of the shockers in the entire NFL. A healthy Holmes vs. No. 3 corners or worse is a difference maker.
Floor to Ceiling: 9-12 wins.
Detroit Lions (Last season: 7-9)
Offense: Calvin Johnson is hands-down the best WR in the NFL, but this year he has real help around him. Golden Tate is a true No. 2 wide receiver, unlike the players before him who simply masqueraded as capable. Rookie TE Eric Ebron could be the next Jimmy Graham. And the running backs Reggie Bush and Joique Bell are both capable of toting the rock between the tackles or catching passes.
Even if Matthew Stafford doesn’t play well he will accidentally have the stats of a Top 5 fantasy quarterback. If he plays up to his potential? Maybe the NFL’s best offense. There’s a lot of that in this division huh?
Defense: The defensive line is downright sick–if Ziggy Ansahdevelops it’ll be the sport’s top pass-rushing D-Line. The secondary leaves something to be desired though. Facing elite QBs four times a season, and with promising rookie Teddy Bridgewater looming in Minnesota, a poor secondary can sink the ship. I’m afraid that may be the case in the D.
Underrated Asset: RB Theo Riddick is underrated. I haven’t seen him play. I’ve merely heard his name on several podcasts that I listen to. That, and this video, is enough for me.
Floor to Ceiling: 8 to 10 wins.
Minnesota Vikings (Last season: 5-10-1)
Offense: This offense will be better if Teddy Bridgewater starts right away. Bridgewater was the most NFL-ready QB in this class, and his accuracy could mean big plays for Cordarrelle Patterson, as well as a TD spike for TE Kyle Rudolph.
Bridgewater could also put a little fear into defenses and keep them from throwing the whole lot at RB Adrian Peterson. If they stick with Matt Cassel, though, this season will look a hell of a lot like 2013.
Defense: There’s good young talent on the D-line, and a secondary with some upside. Unfortunately for Minnesota, they’re outgunned in a division featuring three potentially elite offenses. For their sake, they’ll need sacks.
Underrated Asset: LB Anthony Barr has the potential to be a force a la Von Miller, which would then transform the Vikings from an also-ran to a real player in the division. It is a lot to heap on a rookie, but that’s his ceiling–no reason to rule out Barr hitting it quickly.
Floor to Ceiling: 5-7 wins.