The Vikings have a shiny new stadium and great expectations in 2016.
By: Elias McMillan
NFC North – Written August 30, 2016 (Before Bridgewater injury)
Minnesota Vikings – Last season, the Vikings had a small taste of success. This season, the Vikings are opening up a new stadium and they are hoping to have bigger moments in their new home this season. I think one of the reasons for Minnesota’s success a season ago is that they are one of the league’s youngest teams. They have a lot of young talent but the veteran leadership they have at key positions is valuable as well. QB Teddy Bridgewater is coming off his best season as a pro and I think this year, we’ll see him do little bit more with his passing. Everyone is aware of Bridgewater’s athletic ability outside the pocket but he doesn’t really take many chances down the field. I think we will see this change in 2016. Last season, they found out that their fifth round pick, Stefon Diggs, actually has a future in this offense as Bridgewater’s number one target as a WR. Diggs is a good player and I liked him a lot coming out of Maryland but I think this year’s first round pick will really emerge as a down the field target for Bridgewater. Rookie WR Laquon Treadwell looks the part as a prototypical “#1” receiver and his ability will allow the Vikings passing offense to stretch the field in 2016. As always, the backbone of this offense will be RB Adrian Peterson and the running. Peterson is showing no signs of slowing down as he seems to get better year after year. Minnesota also beefed up their offensive line in the offseason so I feel even better about their ability to run the ball and protecting their future star QB. Looking at the defensive front four on paper and you’ll see a group that underperformed in 2015. DE Everson Griffin seems to be the lone standout as the team’s best pass rusher. Bottom line is that the Vikings need to do better at stopping the run this season. Minnesota has one of the better LB groups in the league with Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, and veteran Chad Greenway. I really like Minnesota’s secondary as well. CB Terrance Newman continues to have a career renaissance in this secondary but the Vikings have plenty of younger guys that can play too. More responsibility will be put on CB’s Trae Waynes and Xavier Rhodes this season. At safety, they get great play out of Harrison Smith and they brought over veteran Michael Griffin who will be trying to prove that he has more left in the tank after a mainly success career as a Titan. I don’t know if this team is ready to become one of the best teams in the conference but I think head coach Mike Zimmer will have this team ready to repeat as division champions. If Teddy Bridgewater improves like many thinks he will, Minnesota will definitely be a tough out in the post season. Prediction: 11-5
Green Bay Packers – The Packers weren’t as sharp as usually in 2015. And there was plenty of blame to go around. Mainly, there were health problems and the defense struggled mightily. I think this team is too dependent of their star QB, Aaron Rodgers. It’s either that or Rodgers just wasn’t that good last season. Either way, optimism is high in Packer land going into 2016. The offense is healthy and ready to go after a tough 2015. Aaron Rodgers is expected to be his regular self this season and it will really help that WR Jordy Nelson is back after missing last season. Many people believed that the Packers passing offense would be ok without Nelson but that wasn’t the case. WR. Devante Adams and even Randall Cobb underperformed last season. But with Nelson back in the fold, maybe the Packers passing attack can be as overwhelming as before. Green Bay also hopes to be a better running team in 2016. RB Eddie Lacy worked extremely hard in the offseason to drop weight and we’ll see soon if that will pay off this season. Green Bay also brought back James Starks who will continue to be a valuable third down option as a receiver coming out from the backfield. On defense, the Packers will be looking to improve a defensive line that ranked near the bottom in the league at defending the run. First round pick Kenny Clark will hopefully help with the youth movement up front defensively. Green Bay will return both of their star pass rushers, Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers. Inside at LB, the Packers are very young and don’t have much depth at the position either. Green Bay’s secondary is decent, as they will return all of their starters from a season ago. CB’s Sam Shields and Damarious Randall do a good job and HaHa Clinton-Dix is one of the better, young safeties in the league. I think this Packers team will be relying on the offense more again this season but I think Rodgers and the passing attack will be up to task on improving from a season ago. Prediction: 10-6 (Wildcard)
Detroit Lions – The Lions had a disastrous start to their season last year but they finished off very strong and they’ll hope to bring over some of that momentum in 2016. Their offseason was headlined by the shocking retirement of WR Calvin Johnson but I actually think that the Lions will be better off after moving on from that situation. I’m not saying that the Lions are going to be able to replace him easily but I think the team will be better as whole as group that is fully motivated on being its best. QB Matt Stafford was probably pleased to see that the Lions spent multiple draft picks on their offensive line. Better play up front will put Stafford and the running game in much better situations. I expect Detroit to have a really good running duo this season with Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick. If those two guys can stay healthy for the season, they’ll help take some of the pressure off the QB. I really like Stafford’s receiving core going into this season. WR Golden Tate proved last season that he can be a number one option in the passing game. Detroit also brought over Marvin Jones from Cincinnati who has plenty of ability. But I really liked the signing of WR Anquan Boldin. Boldin is an absolute gamer and he’ll fill the veteran role in the WR room left by the retirement of Johnson. During Detroit’s run near the end of last season, their defense really began to improve. Upfront, they have a beastly pass rusher in DE Ziggy Ansah and DT Haloti Ngata was brought back to prove that he is still one of the best run stoppers in the league. At LB, the Lions are very thin on depth but DeAndre Levy is one of the best tacklers in the league. I’m not sure how good the Lions’ secondary can be as they were pretty average a season ago. Darius Slay is the lone standout from the group of corners on this team. Safety Glover Quin will continue to be a veteran leader in the secondary. He is coming off his second Pro-Bowl season. The Lions have plenty of holes on defense but they are an overachieving group that will compete in every ball game. I think the Lions are a sleeper team in 2016. I don’t have them making the playoffs but they may make a push at the end of the season. Prediction: 9-7
Chicago Bears – The Bears didn’t really improve during the offseason and they’ll have plenty of question marks going into 2016. Last season, I think QB Jay Cutler earned my respect. I say this because he had every excuse to mail it in but you could tell that Cutler really made the most of his time on the field. Cutler has a great connection with WR Alshon Jeffery and he will hope to build the same relationship with WR Kevin White. White was the team’s first round pick a season ago but he missed his entire rookie season due to injury. If White can be the player that he was at West Virginia, he’ll form a great 1-2 punch in the passing game with Jeffery. TE Zach Miller had a very successful 2015 and he’ll enter this season as the starter at the position. The Bears will greatly miss Matt Forte at starting RB but they have been grooming Jeremy Langford for that position. Langford has showed promise last season and he’ll receiver plenty of more opportunities in 2016. The Bears have seen better days defensively but they are on the road to getting better. Chicago has struggled for years at stopping the run and they will need some of the young guys they drafted to step up this season. Outside at the pass rushing positions, they have veterans Lamarr Houston and Willie Young but look out for first round pick Leonard Floyd. Floyd looks like a wideout playing defensive end but his great speed will be a positive factor for this defense eventually. At inside LB, they brought in Danny Trevathan who is coming off a pretty success campaign with the Super Bowl champion Broncos. LB Jerrell Freeman racked up a lot of tackles last season for the Colts and he’ll help form a great tackling duo inside with Trevathan. The LB core on this defense will definitely be a strength this season. In the secondary, the Bears have two decent corners in the veteran Tracy Porter and the younger Kyle Fuller. The Bears will be relying on some unknowns at safety this season so, I view that position as a question mark going into 2016. Prediction: 6-10