2016 NFL Preview: NFC North

The black and blue division in football. Storied franchises like the Bears and Packers. Cold, wintery, meaningful games being played in November and December at historic venues like Lambeau Field and Soldier Field. The NFC North has that certain midwestern, blue-collar, lunch pail type of mentality, doesn’t it?

The division has for the most part been owned by the Green Bay Packers over the past decade plus. But now Minnesota has taken on the personality of their defensive-minded head coach, Mike Zimmer, and appear to be a credible and longterm threat to the Packers’ divisional supremacy — don’t forget the Vikings won the North last year.

While the best defense in the division belongs to Minnesota (and only appears to be getting better), the Packers should be operating with a higher level of offensive efficiency with a healthy Jordy Nelson. So it should be a contentious fight for the North crown in 2016. And, oh yeah, the Bears and Lions are in the division.

 

Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings defense will supplant Seattle’s as the NFL’s stingiest defense.

The Legion of Boom defense has presided over the NFL over the past 4 seasons, as the league’s most frugal defense. vikings-defense2.jpg.af4e403847f4b89ebb6c91f376689274Although, a dip in the Seahawks offensive efficiency and the loss of Marshawn Lynch should make for a more difficult year in 2016 for the defense.

This leaves the door open for a change at the top of the defensive ranks. And the Vikings are right there ready to lead that charge. Head coach Mike Zimmer has had time to put the players in place that he wants; and a solid running game behind All-Pro Adrian Peterson helps keep the offense on the field.

While the questions about Minnesota’s offense are legitimate, there aren’t many when it comes to their defense. If AP stays healthy now that he’s in his 30s and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater progresses (and impresses) in his third year, Minnesota should improve upon what was an already very successful 2015 campaign.

 

Green Bay Packers

Randall Cobb will have receiving numbers that mirror his numbers from 2014 — 90 catches for over 1,200 yards.

Expectations shifted last August to Randall Cobb when the Packers lost Pro Bowl WR Jordy Nelson to a season-ending knee injury. Cobb was used to settling in as a very productive second fiddle to Nelson’s first chair in the Packer passing attack. With Nelson gone, many believed Cobb would seamlessly slide into carrying the pass nfl_a_cobb_b1_576catching load as Aaron Rodgers’s number one go-to guy. However, things don’t always work out as expected.

Albeit, Cobb’s disappointing 2015 year could be chalked up to a number of factors, aside from the simple fact that he was the guy having to face every team’s top cornerback — something he had never experienced in Green Bay. The Packers run game was terrible — Eddie Lacy looked like Shawn Kemp ate Charles Barkley. The Packer defense was not as stout as they had been over the years. And Aaron Rodgers seemed to be constantly trying to get comfortable with his receivers.

As Nelson returns this season, expect Cobb to gladly resume his secondary role. He will face less daunting matchups from week to week. In addition, Lacy looks slimmed down and Green Bay will be committed to running the ball, which will only serve to help the passing game.

 

Detroit Lions

For a second consecutive season, the Lions will rank dead last in the NFL in rushing.

Ameer Abdullah was a questionable drat choice for a franchise that had missed on so many running backs in past few years — Jahvid Best, Kevin Smith come to mind immediately. Abdullah was great at Nebraska, but he had a i-3fumbling problem in college and he put tons on miles on his legs there. Those usually tend to be red flags for NFL teams. Not the Lions. Abdullah has the potential, but his first year was incredibly underwhelming. And a porous offensive line won’t help the 2nd-year back hit his stride.

The Lions went out and signed former Patriot and Jet Stevan Ridley; but Ridley, too, had trouble hanging onto the football — which caused his release from New England. To add, Ridley is not known as a pass-catching RB and admits that’s not his forte. At best, he will serve as a 3rd down, change of pace back. But if the Lions are counting on much more from Ridley, they’re likely expecting too much.

Offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter will try and play to quarterback Matt Stafford’s strengths — as he did in the final 8 games in 2015 when the team went 6-2. But with the loss of Calvin Johnson to retirement, how this offense will look is a big question mark. If the offense turns pass-heavy or finds itself behind in games, this projection is all but a guarantee.

 

Chicago Bears

Jay Cutler will need an MVP-type of season to get the Bears in contention for the playoffs; finishes 5-11.

Is there any one, single player in the NFL who people seem to have such universal distaste for like they do for Jay Cutler? It’s not a hatred for him, just a distaste. I can’t imagine another year of underachieving for the quarterback or for head coach John Fox with either of them surviving for another year in Chicago. Unfortunately for them, chicago-bears-quarterback-jay-cutlerthere’s not a lot of reason for optimism. While WR Alshon Jeffery has established himself nicely as a top pass catcher in the league, the Bears lack much else on the offensive side of the ball. Cutler isn’t exactly surrounded by a ton of weapons; but that excuse is unacceptable at this stage in his career, and the Bears front office and, especially, Bears fans don’t want to hear it.

The defense should be improved and may even find a way to steal a game or two along the way. But in order for the bears to be playoff contenders, Cutler will have to put the team on his back and do what elite QBs do — make others around him better. But that’s just not something Cutler’s ever proven to be able to do.

 

Feedback is always welcome through the website in the comments box or on my Twitter feed — @brian22goodwin.

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Author: Brian Goodwin

An educator for 15 years. I have a passion for sports and a passion for writing about sports. I'm very excited to run this blog and have conversations with people about relevant topics, mostly pertaining to sports but also in all aspects of life.

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