2017 NFL Season Preview: NFC North

The Green Bay Packers continue to be dominant…but that doesn’t mean that the Vikings aren’t looking to sink their ship

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The Sideline Reports look ahead to the 2017 NFL season continues today with a preview of the NFC North.

Chicago

Key Additions 

QB Mike Glennon, QB Mitch Trubisky, WR Victor Cruz, WR Markus Wheaton, DE Jaye Howard, CB Prince Amukamara, S Quinten Demps

Key Losses

QB Jay Cutler, WR Alshon Jeffrey, QB Brian Hoyer, CB Tracey Porter

What does a successful season look like?

After a strange offseason that seriously raised some eyebrows, there’s not a lot of optimism surrounding this Bears team in 2017. There will be a mild quarterback competition between big money free agent acquisition Mike Glennon and rookie Mitch Trubisky, whom the Bears traded up from pick 3 to 2 in Aprils draft to Aquire. Regardless of who gets the starting nod (likely Glennon), this isn’t an offense to get excited about. Despite a solid O-line and a gem of a young running back in Jordan Howard, Bears fans will be hoping former first rounder WR Kevin White can finally reach his full potential. There are plenty of options in the passing game, and the starting QB will hope a couple of them can have breakout seasons in an offense not expected to achieve much in terms of passing yards this season. Rookie TE Adam Shaheen is a prospect to get excited about, and fans will be hoping to see a relationship between Trubisky and Shaheen blossom towards the backend of last season. The Bears have built a solid front 7, and second year pass rusher Leonard Floyd  will be looking to build on a strong rookie campaign. With a suspect secondary, the onus will be on Floyd, nose tackle Eddie Goldman and co to evolve into a quality front 7 to help keep the Bears afloat in the division. A good season for the Bears would be to beat the 3-13 record of a season ago. If the Bears could somehow claw their way to 6-10 and Trubisky shows signs he belongs in the big time, Bears fans would feel a little better about themselves heading into season 2018.

What does a disastrous season look like?

If the Bears aren’t able to eclipse their win total of 3 games in 2016, it could make for a restless season in the Windy City. If Glennon shows why Tampa Bay had him pegged as simply a backup, and Mitch Trubisky struggles with the adjustment to the pros, this is a Bears offense that could struggle to even average 10 points a game this season. If receiver Kevin White can’t get on the field for a 3rd successsive season, patience will certainly be wearing thin, not just for White, but also for the Chicago regime that was responsible for selecting him. The defensive front seven has to find pressure from the edge and up the gut consistently in 2017, for this doesn’t look like a secondary that can cope without it. If the offense cant score and the secondary can’t stop opposition teams from scoring, the Bears could be on the wrong end of some ugly score lines this season.

Cold Hard Truth

Its hard to see the Bears finishing anywhere other than the bottom of the division. They may be good enough to win 1 or 2 more games this season, but the most important thing for Chicago in 2017 is to prove to themselves that the Trubisky trade was worth while. If Trubisky’s on field performances prove otherwise, there could be sackings galore come seasons end. A repeat 3-13 campaign would be painful, but also probabl.

Detroit

Key Additions 

OT Ricky Wagner, G TJ Lang, LB Jarrad Davis

Key Losses

LB DeAndre Levy, OT Riley Reiff, G Larry Warford, DT Tyrunn Walker, S Rafael Bush

What does a successful season look like?

After sitting top of the NFC North for majority of last season, the Lions were pipped at the post by the hated rival Packers. QB Matt Stafford had an extraordinary season statistically in 2016, and if he can reproduce similar numbers with help from oft-injured running back Ameer Abdullah on the ground, these Lions could be a true contender in the North once more. Detroit spent big money in Free Agency to help solidify an average offensive line, signing tackle Rickey Wagner from the Ravens and pinching guard TJ Lang from Green Bay. Losing second year left tackle Taylor Decker to a serious labrum injury is a cruel blow, and finding an on par replacement for Stafford’s blind side in 2017 could prove difficult. Lacking genuine play makers on defense, Detroit will be praying edge rusher Ziggy Ansah can find his best form again. If Ansah can produce double digit sacks, and the Lions can get good production from some of their younger players in the back 7 such as rookies Jarrad Davis and Teez Tabor and second year safety Miles Killebrew, this is a Lions defense that can keep pace with the Packers and Vikings in the Division. If CB Darius Slay’s seemingly imminent break out season comes in 2017, this could be a Detroit team that many underestimate at their own peril. The two Packers games will be critical, but 11 wins this season could be enough to win the division for the first time this century.

What does a disastrous season look like?

As mentioned above, the Taylor Decker injury could prove fatal for Matt Stafford and his Lions this season. It will no doubt cause chaotic reshuffling along the line on an offense that could do without such issues. The Lions rushing attack has struggled really since the premature retirement of franchise great Barry Sanders, and without really adding much to the running back depth chart during the offseason, coach Jim Caldwell and the Lions regime are hoping and banking on 3rd year RB Ameer Abdullah to finally repay the faith the organisation has put in him. Stafford has played under duress more than most in this league, but if the O-line turns to mush and Abdullah can’t get on the field, it could be a long season in the Motor City. The defense is one that, on paper, is hard to get excited about (outside of Ansah and Slay), and if the rookies they drafted to help right away fail to do so, Detroit could be looking at a disastrous record. One in the 4-12 territory.

Cold Hard Truth

A franchise which has failed to capture the imagination of fans around the country for years looks destined to be an also ran once more. Stafford is a great QB, and the defense does know how to play greater than the sum of its parts, however it is a group that looks unable to stop most above average offenses, let alone an offense led by the great Aaron Rodgers. A wild card could be their best hope once again, though no team screams “8-8” more than these Motor City Kitties.

Green Bay

Key Additions 

TE Martellus Bennett, TE Lance Kendricks, CB Davon House, G Jahri Evans, CB Kevin King

Key Losses

S Micah Hyde, RB Eddie Lacy, LB Datone Jones, G TJ Lang, LB Julius Peppers, C JC Tretter

What does a successful season look like?

Green Bay found themselves in trouble midway through 2016, but due to the sheer brilliance of QB Aaron Rodgers, WR Jordy Neilson and receiver-turned-running back Ty Montgomery, they were able to  turn things around. With the defection of Eddie Lacey, coach Mike McCarthey realises the Pack can’t rely on Montgomery to carry the load for an entire season, which prompted the Packers to draft 4(!) running backs in Aprils draft, hoping one of them can emerge as the eventual starter (a tactic which seems to almost never work in this league). The Packers have lost a few key contributors along the offensive line over the past two offseasons, so fans will be hoping they don’t see the same injury curse that hit the teams secondary in 2016 deplete their offensive line. Speaking of the secondary, the Packers drafted rangy, ball hawking CB Kevin King and hard hitting safety Josh Jones in an attempt to upgrade a secondary that was picked on severely at times last season. The re-signing of edge rusher Nick Perry was enormous, and if the defense can get one of their young inside linebackers to develop into a true playmaker, this could be a runaway divisional winner. Any thing is possible with A-Rod at the helm, and if the defense improves off the back of a few of the younger players stepping up, and a consistent and reliable ground game emerges, the Packers could be a front runner in the North, and another title game could be on the horizon.

What does a disastrous season look like?

The last 2 seasons in Green Bay have looked to be heading for disaster, before Rodgers called for his annual plea of RELAX. To be perfectly frank, there doesn’t look to be much chance of any time completely collapsing when led by Rodgers. However, if the running game remains scratchy and injuries hit an offensive line group that dearly lacks depth, there could be too much put on the lofty shoulders of the star QB. The defense has really let this Packers team down in recent seasons, and if there’s little to no contribution from the rookies in the secondary or young linebackers, the unit as a whole could get eaten alive by some of the powerful offenses in the NFC come January. No playoffs and any sort of loseing record could make for a very interesting and testing offseason in Green Bay.

Cold Hard Truth

The Packers are the rightful favourites in a division that could surprise, or then again, might not. There’s some really good players on both sides of the ball for the Packers, but it all comes down to the QB, as is normally the case. Capable of 11 or 12 wins in a soft-ish division, and if Rodgers has an MVP type season, the Packers could be on their way to lifting a 5th Lombardi trophy in one of their biggest rivals own back yard.

Minnesota

Key Additions 

OT Riley Reiff, OT Mike Remmers, LB Datone Jones, RB Latavius Murray, RB Dalvin Cook, WR Michael Floyd

Key Losses

RB Adrian Peterson, LB Chad Greenway, OT Matt Kalil, CB Captain Munnerlyn, WR Cordarrelle Patterson

What does a successful season look like?

The Vikings will be keen to regain the division in 2017, having  relinquished it to the Packers last season. After a promising season began 5-0, the wheels fell off towards the end of the season. Minnesota spent big bucks during the offseason to try and fix their offensive line woes, throwing star money at average tackles Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers. If the Vikings are to get back to the playoffs this season, these signings (and the line as a whole) must pan out for the better. The Vikings also lost arguably the franchises greatest ever player in star RB Adrian Peterson. There is plenty of hype around Peterson’s replacement, first round draft pick Dalvin Cook, who will look to pair a formidable 1-2 punch in the backfield this season with free agent pick up Latavius Murray. If WR Laquan Treadwell can put a horrendous rookie season behind him, this has the makings of a playoff calibre offense, led by the polarising QB Sam Bradford. The defense will look to be back to their best, after letting the team down horribly late last season, led by 3rd year defensive end Danielle Hunter, who looks to finally cement himself as a starter in a young and exciting front seven. Hunter looks the part of a double digit sack artist, and if the Vikings can continue to see further improvements from young guys like linebacker Erick Kendricks and CB’s Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes, this could be a sleeping giant in the NFC. Best case scenario would be 11 wins, perhaps enough to keep the Packers at bay, perhaps not.

What does a disastrous season look like?

So much hinges on the new offensive line combination. Tackles Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers were not big losses for their old respective teams, but the Vikings are now paying them like superstar bookends. San Bradford is not the kind of QB who can thrive despite dodgy O-line play, and the performance of the big guys up front could determine weather rookie Dalvin Cook looks like an offensive rookie of the year candidate, or a draft bust. This doesn’t appear to be an offense that will win games on its own in 2017, there for its imperative Head Coach Mike Zimmer can get this defense back to its ballhawking, take away best. If not, the Vikings not only won’t be the first ever team to play in a Super Bowl in their home city, but they can kiss the playoffs goodbye. 5-11 would see the Vikings seriously sell themselves short, as this is a much too talented roster for such an awful record.

Cold Hard Truth

The Vikings have serious questions on the offensive line (like most teams in the conference), and lack star receivers. However, outside of those two deficiencies, this is a good enough team to not just claim a wild card berth, but also trouble some of the big boys in the conference. If the O-line holds up and Bradford excels, it could be a two horse race down the stretch in the NFC North. The guess here is 9-7, which is right on the cusp.

 

 

 

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