Tag Archives: NFC North

NFL 2017: NFC Preview (Condensed)

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Dak Prescott has the keys to the castle in Dallas. What will he do with it? And can Matt Ryan get over what happened in the Super Bowl?

By: Elias McMillan

 

NFC East

New York Giants – I think the Giants have the best defense in the NFC East. They are strong up front with two passing rushing vets (JPP & Vernon) and a big run stuffer (Damon Harrison). I think they are weak at the LB position but they are loaded with talent in the secondary. New York should also have a sound passing attack on offense. Eli Manning will have a wide array of weapons to choose from this season with Beckham Jr, Brandon Marshall, Sterling Shepard, and rookie TE Evan Engram. The Giants do have question marks with their running game and offensive line. But I think they can outlast the competition in a tight NFC East race. Prediction: 10-6 (NFC East Champs)

Dallas Cowboys –For whatever reason, the Cowboys haven’t been able to string together back-to-back successful seasons too many times since the 90’s. And after blowing a great opportunity the change the narrative last season, they return this season with little or no improvements. I think the offense will be okay. I think Dak Prescott will not fall into a sophomore slump. There are some changes on the offensive line and Ezekiel Elliott might miss the start of the season but I think the run game will still be strong. And the Cowboys do return many weapons in the passing game led by Dez Bryant and the leadership of Jason Witten. On defense, all eyes will be on LB Jaylon Smith who missed all of last season due to injury but the Cowboys are expect big things out of. Outside of that, the Cowboys return a defense that cant create pressure and are featuring wholesale changes in the secondary. At this point, I feel bad for Jason Witten. I feel good about Dallas in 2018 though. Prediction: 8-8

Washington – I like what Washington has on defense. If they could just find some consistency on offense they could be a sleeper team in the NFC East. QB Kirk Cousins is a mixed bag but I like his gunslinger mentality. Many are expecting a big year from free agent signee WR Terrelle Pryor. Washington also had a nice big target for Cousins in TE Jordan Reed if he can stay healthy. Much like New York, offensive line and running back are where the question marks lie. Like I said earlier, I like many of the pieces on this Washington defense. They have already suffered some injuries on the defensive line and at LB but they wisely prepared for this in the draft. I’m interested in seeing how rookies DE Jonathan Allen and LB Ryan Anderson develop in their first years. Washington may have some weak spots in the secondary but they at least still have CB Josh Norman. Because of what they have defensively, Washington might surprise a bit this year. Prediction: 7-9

Philadelphia Eagles – Some have Philadelphia as a sleeper team in this division. I just don’t see it. Is Carson Wentz going to turn out to be a baller in his 2nd year? Maybe. He’ll have pretty weapons this year at WR with Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith. The Eagles are still reeling at the RB position from the LeSean McCoy trade. Do they really expect LeGarrette Blount to be their #1 back? Philly’s defense will be pretty much the same from a season ago: decent front seven, trash secondary. I like DT Fletcher Cox and rookie DE Derek Barnett. In a best-case scenario for this team, I don’t even see them making it past 8 wins. Prediction: 6-10

 

NFC North

Green Bay Packers – I really don’t see how this Packers team got better in the off-season. A lot of familiar faces from the last couple seasons are gone. The Packers are in the transition of getting younger on defense with OLB Clay Matthews the lone veteran holdover. They let Eddie Lacy go in free agency. Ty Montgomery is talented but can he really be an every down back? But as last year proved, because they really weren’t that good either, as long as they have Aaron Rodgers behind center, they’ll be okay. Prediction: 10-6 (NFC North Champs)

Minnesota Vikings – I like this Minnesota team because Mike Zimmer has himself a tough defense on this squad. It was the defense that led them to a hot start to begin 2016. Eventually, they fell apart down the stretch but as long as that same defense returns, they’ll be in a lot of games this year. Obviously, there are plenty of questions on offense especially at the QB position. QB Teddy Bridgewater may not be ready until the middle of the season so they will have to ride it out with Sam Bradford for now. Minnesota will also be dealing with a couple of new starters on the offensive line. But I think they will have a better run offense this season even with the departure of Adrian Peterson. I’m expecting big things from rookie RB Dalvin Cook. Prediction: 8-8

Detroit Lions – I don’t even remember that the Lions made the playoffs last year. They really didn’t make any dramatic changes in the offseason. QB Matthew Stafford will give them a chance to win every week. The Lions are still missing consistency in the run game. Stafford has pretty good targets to go to in the passing game. This has to be the season where TE Eric Ebron proves himself as a legit TE in the league and not just an athlete. Detroit will be solid defensively, at least up front. First round pick LB Jarrad Davis will be counted on early in his career. And you could say the same about second round pick CB Teez Tabor. I think the Lions are a running game away from challenging Green Bay in the division. Prediction: 7-9

Chicago Bears – The Bears are still rebuilding but with a veteran head coach. Weird. I’m wondering if John Fox will be around to see the final product. After spending money on QB Mike Glennon for some reason, the Bears went ahead and traded for QB Mitch Trubisky. Trubisky has shown promise in the pre-season and Chicago might as well stop wasting everyone’s time and insert him into the lineup. RB Jordan Howard is returning after an impressive rookie season. The Bears have question marks at WR. Kevin White is healthy and he will receive plenty of opportunities this year. Chicago’s defense is a mess. They need to build that side of the ball up as soon as possible if they want to climb out of the basement in this division. Prediction: 5-11

 

NFC South

Atlanta Falcons – There’s a lot of talk about the blown lead in the Super Bowl and the hangover from that. I know that Super Bowl losers, especially in this fashion, usually have a hard time getting back but I think Atlanta may have something going. I think this way because I liked what I saw from their defense last season and I like the additions they made in the offseason. Atlanta has a legit pass rush with Vic Beasley and I think rookie Takkarist McKinley could make an impact up front as well. I’m a big fan of the young LB’s they have especially Deion Jones who had a great rookie season. Atlanta will also see reinforcements in the secondary with the return of Desmond Trufant who missed most of last season. Everyone knows about what Atlanta has on offense with Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman, etc. But I think the improvements on this young defense will really make this team dangerous in the NFC again this season. Prediction: 13-3 (NFC South Champs)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – For the first time in a while, the Bucs enter a football season with some momentum. This team will be led by QB Jameis Winston who has really taken on a leadership role in that locker room and the team has brought in. Winston will be surrounded by probably the most talented he’s been around in his career. Tampa is loaded at WR with Mike Evans and newcomer DeSean Jackson who can really stretch the field. TE Cameron Brate impressed last season but the team decided to really maximize the TE position with the first round selection of TE O.J. Howard. I’m worried about the suspension of RB Doug Martin but this Tampa offense will be about what Winston can do in the passing game. Tampa returns a solid defense led by DT Gerald McCoy. I really like their LB core. They are missing playmakers in the secondary though. I think Tampa should be good enough to make that jump in the post season in 2017. Prediction: 9-7 (Wild-card)

Carolina Panthers – The Super Bowl hangover was real in Carolina in 2016. I think Carolina is in a position to rebound and maybe return to the playoffs but they need to do two things. First and more importantly, they need to ensure that the defense can stay at the level they were in during 2015. And secondly, they need to get Cam Newton better protection and younger players at the skill positions on offense. They did the latter in this offseason and I’m afraid that wasn’t the direction that this team needed to go. I think Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel will do good things in their rookie seasons but I prioritize the line scrimmage over the flashy skill players. I think Newton will be able to use those young guys effectively but I’m worried about his protection especially that he is coming off off-season surgery. On defense, Carolina is starting to look old. They gave up on Kony Ealy and brought back an ancient Julius Peppers. I really like Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly but they both have injury concerns. Carolina may slightly improve from 2016 but they need to do a better job at protecting their franchise QB and getting younger talent on defense. Prediction: 8-8

New Orleans Saints – There isn’t much buzz surrounding the Saints going into 2017. We know they will pass the ball well with QB Drew Brees. Its too bad that they couldn’t make it work with Brandin Cooks but they did bring in Ted Ginn Jr. to take his role as the speedster at WR. RB Mark Ingram is the established back in this offense so, I don’t understand why they brought in an aging Adrian Peterson. Defense remains the main issues on this team. DE Cameron Jordan can only do so much. The Saints did make an effort on improving their secondary through the draft this offseason. I think the Saints will compete. But they wont be on the same level as the three other teams in this division. Prediction: 6-10

 

NFC West

Seattle Seahawks – The Seahawks are still in the mist of a decent run in the NFC as consistent title contenders. But I get the feeling that their window is starting to get smaller. Which is supposed to happen in the NFL. You can’t resign and keep everyone for only so long. But Seattle should be in pretty good shape in 2017. QB Russell Wilson returns and Seattle continued their efforts in the off-season to improve his offensive line. I think the Eddie Lacy signing could improve the run game if he can stay healthy. And that’s a big “if”. WR Doug Baldwin is massively underrated and TE Jimmy Graham can still take over a game when called upon. This team will continue to be led by the defense though. The front seven is tough and can pretty much do it all. Pass rush, run stuff, etc. The Seahawks also still have the three major cogs in the L.O.B., Sherman, Thomas, and Chancellor. Prediction: 11-5 (NFC West Champs)

Arizona Cardinals – Arizona massively under performed last season and they return in 2017 with a supremely talented roster. On offense, RB David Johnson established himself last season as one of the top RB’s in the league. Arizona’s passing game is still dependent on QB Carson Palmer’s health. Head coach Bruce Arians doesn’t think much of the WR’s on the roster but WR Larry Fitzgerald is still as good as they come. Arizona has recognizable names on defense but they need to become an elite unit if Arizona hopes to make the postseason. They will miss Calais Campbell up front but Chandler Jones is still a pretty good pass rusher and first round pick Haason Reddick could develop into a difference maker. I feel that Arizona secondary under performed last season but that should change as long as Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu can stay healthy. I think the Cardinals have too much talent to miss the playoffs for a second straight season. Prediction: 10-6 (Wild-card)

Los Angeles Rams – The Rams hired a 30-year-old coach to lead the team in 2017. Maybe that youth can energize a team that hasn’t done anything note worthy in a while. Can second year QB Jared Goff show that he is worth his top selection in the draft a year ago? Can RB Todd Gurley return to form? Can the Rams finally get some consistency out from their recievers? Will the newly acquired Sammy Watkins keep the number 2 as his jersey number? Has the only player worth a damn on this roster (DT Aaron Donald) ended his holdout yet? Too many questions. Prediction: 5-11

San Francisco 49ers – Nothing quite says “we’re rebuilding” like saying “we’re rolling with Brian Hoyer as our QB this year”. San Francisco should be a complete disaster offensively this season. Its fitting that the offensive coordinator that blew it for Atlanta in the Super Bowl is now the head coach. On the bright side, San Fran is building a defense that might become a problem real soon. They basically have an all-Pac-10 defensive line and I liked the late addition of veteran pass rusher Elvis Dumervil. LB NaVorro Bowman returns and he’ll get a chance to groom rookie Reuben Foster who dropped right into the 49ers lap in the draft this pass April. Foster should have been a top 15 pick. The secondary leaves much to be desired but that front seven might end up being one of the best in the league. But with Brian Hoyer at QB, that tells me that this team must be tanking for one of the top signal callers in college. Prediction: 3-13

 

NFC Playoff Picture Prediction

  1. Atlanta Falcons – 13-3 (NFC South)
  2. Seattle Seahawks – 11-5 (NFC West)
  3. New York Giants – 10-6 (NFC East)
  4. Green Bay Packers – 10-6 (NFC North)
  5. Arizona Cardinals – 10-6 (Wild-card)
  6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 9-7 (Wild-card)
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2016 NFL Draft Grades: NFC

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Is Ezekiel Elliott really worth a top 5 pick?

By: Elias McMillan

 

NFC EAST

1. Washington: (Team Needs: DE (3-4), CB, S, RB, OLB (3-4), C, NT) – WR wasn’t a need position for Washington entering this draft but they took Josh Doctson with their first selection. Doctson might prove to be a smart selection as the team might be preparing for life without DeSean Jackson or Pierre Garcon. Love the selection of Su’a Cravens who will play that “tweener” position of Safety/Linebacker. CB Kendall Fuller is a steal in the third round. Fuller has a great NFL pedigree and he probably should have been drafted sooner if there weren’t questions about his health. I feel like Washington missed out on opportunities to address the positions on the line of scrimmage. They needed offensive and defensive line help. Plus, I think they should have drafted someone to help with the pass rush. But their top three selections are pretty strong. Grade: B

2. New York Giants: (Team Needs: CB, LB (4-3), OT, WR, S) – CB Eli Apple will help this secondary that was the worst in football a season ago. But the Apple pick at 10th overall is a bit of a reach. I had Apple going closer to the second round. I absolutely love the second round pick of WR Sterling Shepard. Shepard is a speedster and a playmaker in the slot. He’ll do big things in this offense and he might help push Victor Cruz completely off the roster eventually. Safety Darian Thompson was another smart pick for the Giants. They need all the help they can find in the secondary. The fifth round selection of RB Paul Perkins was strange to me because the Giants backfield is already kinda loaded. The Giants didn’t draft for any offensive line help but they still did a decent job. Grade: B-

3. Philadelphia Eagles: (Team Needs: CB, RB, OG, LB) – Wow. I don’t have much positive things to say about this draft for the Eagles. You don’t trade up to the top of the draft for a QB especially when you already have money invested in your veteran starter and when you signed one of the top backups in free agency. I also have to mention that this was not a great draft for QBs. Carson Wentz will have the chance to prove that he is the QB for the future but coming out of a FCS school and with the QB situation in Philadelphia, he’ll have a long climb to the top. I like that they addressed the interior of their offensive line in the third round. But they should have taken a RB earlier. I think Jalen Mills in the seventh round could be a steal that will help out in the secondary. Grade: C-

4. Dallas Cowboys: (Team Needs: DE, DT, OLB (4-3), CB, S, QB, WR, RB) – Ezekiel Elliott might eventually be one the best RB’s in the league but in today’s NFL, you don’t take RB’s in the top five of the draft. Ever. If the Cowboys wanted to build towards being a contender, they needed to address their god-awful pass rush situation in the first or second round. They did neither. The Elliott will prove to be very important. The Cowboys should be able to unleash a power running game that will help the offense become very efficient and at the same time take the pressure off of their 36-year-old starting QB. But in terms of contending for championships, a power running game really isn’t that important. Having players at the line of scrimmage on defense is much more important. So in 2016, we could see a great Cowboys offense but we also could see a team that wont contend for a title without the players needed on defense on the line the scrimmage. In the second round, they took LB Jaylon Smith who is one of the best prospects in this draft. The problem with that pick is that Smith is coming off of a massive knee injury and will probably not suit up at all in 2016. I don’t think this Cowboys defense can afford to wait a year to get am impact player on that defense. I like that they thought that a LB was a need position but it would have been better if they took someone who could have helped them this season. DT Maliek Collins might be my favorite pick of the bunch as an inside pass rusher. I absolutely hated the Dak Prescott pick. I’ve seen Prescott play numerous times and I don’t see a future backup QB. I see someone who needs a ton of work as a passer and with a similar skill set as a Tim Tebow. He was the one QB I didn’t want Dallas to take. DE Charles Tapper might become a rotational guy, as a pass rusher but again, this position should have been focused on earlier in the draft. To end the draft, they took a TE who hasn’t played football in years. There are some qualities to this draft class for Dallas but there are just too many things that I don’t like. Grade: D

NFC NORTH

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Georgia’s Leonard Floyd is a pass rusher in a wide receiver’s body.

1. Chicago Bears: (Team Needs: OLB (3-4), ILB, DE (3-4), CB, WR) – The Bears had the most solid of a draft out of anyone. Leonard Floyd could be the future pass rusher that this 3-4 defense needs. Cody Whitehair was one of the top guards in the draft and he’ll help this offensive line right away. I felt that DE Jonathan Bullard could have gone in the first round. The Bears were able to get him in round three. He will be a great interior defender against the run or the pass. LB Nick Kwiatkoski is a tough tackler who will help the middle of the defense. I also liked the selection of a couple of small school products. CB Deiondre’ Hall is a playmaker in the secondary and WR Daniel Braverman could have a future in the league as a slot receiver. The Bears pretty much hit all of their needs and drafted quality players. Grade: A

2. Minnesota Vikings: (Team Needs: WR, DE (4-3), LB, DT) – Minnesota really lucked out and maybe gotten the best receiver in the draft. Laquon Treadwell really legitimizes the WR core in Minnesota and will definitely help the progression of QB Teddy Bridgewater. I thought CB Mackensie Alexander was good enough to be a first rounder but Minnesota stopped his fall in the late second round. I thought that the Vikings needed to address the inside linebacker position and Kentrell Brothers will definitely help that department. There wont be a more interesting rookie than WR Moritz Boehringer from Germany. I think Minnesota missed out on addressing the DE position but they still did a solid job with this draft. Grade: B+

3. Detroit Lions: (Team Needs: WR, DE (4-3), DT, LB, S, CB) – The Lions were very conservative with this draft class. Addressing the offensive line is never a bad thing and Detroit did so with all three positions early in the draft. In the second round, they got a steal out of DT A’Shawn Robinson who will definitely help Detroit stop the run. There is a lot of buzz surrounding safety Miles Killebrew and it’s not just because of his awesome name. Killebrew is a heat-seeking missile as a tackler and he’ll definitely make his mark as a special teamer. Considering Calvin Johnson retired, I’m disappointed that they didn’t address the WR position. Also, Detroit didn’t look to draft an edge rusher to put across from Ziggy Ansah. Grade: B

4. Green Bay Packers: (Team Needs: WR, NT, DE (3-4), ILB, CB) – The Packers needed a B.J. Raji replacement and they made of gotten it in first round pick DT Kenny Clark. I like the second round pick of OT Jason Spriggs. He’ll provide some much needed depth on that offensive line. I don’t know if Blake Martinez is the middle linebacker the Packers need as a starter. I see Martinez more as a special teams contributor. The Packers pretty much hit most of their needs except for in the secondary. Nothing really jumps out about this draft class. I think Kenny Clark will be a good one though. Grade: C

NFC SOUTH

1. New Orleans Saints: (Team Needs: DE (4-3), DT, CB, OG, WR) – DT Sheldon Rankins is a huge disruptor and will be a great fit for the Saints. WR Michael Thomas should serve as an eventual replacement to Marques Colston. Thomas, much like Colston, is a big possession receiver that will be a nice complement to Brandin Cooks. Safety Vonn Bell is a pick that was needed once you consider how bad the Saints secondary has been. The Saints addressed all of their need areas on defense. Which is really their entire defense. I think they should of brought in some offensive line help. Grade: B

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Vernon Hargreaves will be a fan favorite in his hometown of Tampa Bay.

2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: (Team Needs: OT, DE, LB (4-3), CB, S) – The Buccaneers got the kid they wanted all along in the first round in Tampa native, Vernon Hargreaves. Hargreaves might be the best “pure” corner in this draft. Tampa needed DE help but I’m not sure if they’ll get it out from Noah Spence. Spence is a dynamic pass rusher but he needs to get bigger to play in a 4-3. Everyone is criticizing Tampa decision to trade back up into the second round for a kicker. But kickers are not important until you need them. Roberto Aguayo will definitely get the opportunity to prove that he’s worth it. Tampa did a decent job at hitting all of their need areas. Grade: B-

3. Atlanta Falcons: (Team Needs: DE (4-3), WR, LB, TE, S) – Atlanta was dead last in the league again this past season in sacks. So, I can’t understand why they passed on Shaq Lawson for a safety. Keanu Neal is a good player but Atlanta had greater needs and the pick was a reach. I really like LB Deion Jones though. Jones has all the skills that a linebacker needs in a 4-3 defense. Atlanta waited until the seventh round to take a receiver and they released Roddy White earlier this offseason. TE Austin Hooper might prove to be a smart selection as the Falcons are still looking for that big TE target since Tony Gonzalez retired. Nothing too spectacular from this draft class though. Grade: C

4. Carolina Panthers: (Team Needs: WR, OT, RB, DE, CB, S) – It’s hard to criticize Carolina’s draft because they were drafting at the bottom of each round. But they pretty much did their own thing and ignored some of their obvious need areas. Carolina has enough quality defensive tackles but they took another one in the first round. CB Josh Norman was shockingly let go weeks ago so, I understand if Carolina was going to draft a CB. But they drafted three of them when they could have addressed other needs. Just a very strange draft for the reigning NFC Champs. Grade: C-

NFC WEST 

1. Seattle Seahawks: (Team Needs: C, OG, OT, RB, DT, DE (4-3), LB) – I got to pat myself on the back again for correctly predicting Seattle’s first round pick. Germain Ifedi’s versatility will help the Seattle offensive line. DT Jarran Reed probably could have been a first rounder but Seattle was able to get him in the second round. Reed will prove to be a great pick for Seattle who needs some fresh body’s to replace those who they lost in free agency. Seattle loaded up at RB with the selections of C.J. Prosise in the third round and Alex Collins in the fifth. I like Nick Vannett as a TE prospect because of his great size. I’m glad Seattle understood how serious the situation is on their offensive line. They did a good job addressing that area. I think Seattle should have addressed the edge rusher and inside linebacker positions. But overall, they had a productive draft weekend. Grade: B+

2. San Francisco 49ers: (Team Needs: WR, RB, OT, ILB, OLB (3-4), DE (3-4), CB) – San Francisco had a boatload of picks and they made the most out of them. After taking an Oregon defensive tackle last season, they repeated the action this year. DeForest Buckner along with fellow Duck, Arik Armstead, will form a good duo on the 49ers defensive line. Trading back in for an offensive lineman is weird but so is Chip Kelly. Joshua Garnett was one of the top guards in the draft and the 49ers definitely need the help on the offensive line. I’m a fan of CB Rashard Robinson who is one of the most athletic corners in the draft. DE Ronald Blair is a quality pick in the fifth round. Blair is a big body who will fit well inside on the defensive line. I like the 49ers final pick because his name is “Prince Charles”. Grade: B-

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Jared Goff is Hollywood’s newest leading man.

3. Los Angeles Rams: (Team Needs: QB, WR, DE (4-3), LB, CB, S) – Considering what the Rams gave up to get to the top of the draft, they really couldn’t draft anyone of significance in the later rounds. But they still did okay. Jared Goff isn’t the best player in the draft but the Rams needed to take him number one because they have a talented roster and they’ve been a QB away from being contenders for a while now. Goff isn’t the top player in this draft but he is the best passer. TE Tyler Higbee probably would have gone before the fourth round if it wasn’t for some legal issues but he might be a guy that Goff can look to in the passing game early in his career. WR Pharoh Cooper is an underrated prospect that might have a chance at making the roster. The Rams should have done more to address their defense in this draft. Grade: C

4. Arizona Cardinals: (Team Needs: C, DE (3-4), OLB (3-4), OT, CB) – Arizona’s draft was completely underwhelming. Maybe just because I don’t recognize a lot of the names. In the first round, they took a chance on DT Robert Nkemdiche. Nkemdiche isnt a risk because of his on the field work but if he can just stay out of trouble, he’ll be a great player in this league. Nkemdiche probably should have gone in the top half of the draft. Arizona addressed the secondary with three picks in the draft and I believe that was needed. Guard Even Boehm might be a replacement to Jonathan Cooper who was traded away months ago. Grade: C-

NFL 2015: NFC North Preview

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After only playing in one game a season ago, Adrian Peterson is back in 2015 to lead Minnesota to the postseason.

By: Elias McMillan

NFC North

Green Bay Packers – Green Bay solidified themselves as a serious contender for Seattle’s top spot in the NFC last season. It is especially painful for the Packers and their fans once they look back and realize how close they were from making it to the Super Bowl last January. But that should serve for some motivation going into the 2015 season. Green Bay returns with arguably the best QB in the league in Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers fought through injuries a season ago and was still able to win his second MVP award. If Rodgers can get better protection from his offensive line, he will definitely be in line for another MVP type season. Rodgers will need some of the younger WR’s to step up this season as the team has already lost WR Jordy Nelson for the season due to injury. WR Randall Cobb will be ready for the opportunity to be the number one receiving option in this offense as he was the skill set but Cobb is already going to have to shake off a preseason injury. A lot will be expected of second year WR Davante Adams who showed some promise in his rookie season. Adams has great size and underrated speed so, he could have a breakout 2015 season. On the ground, the Packers will have a solid one-two punch at running back with the star Eddie Lacy and the tough running James Starks. On defense, Green Bay has trouble with stopping the run and that might continue in 2015. Green Bay’s secondary is underrated but they’ll need some younger guys to step in and play valuable snaps right away. On the defensive line, they have a big difference maker in DE Mike Daniels who is starting to make a name for himself after a solid 2014 campaign. In terms of pass rushers, the Packers have a pair of great ones in Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers. Peppers is an ageless wonder and still a pretty versatile athlete. You could say that same for Matthews as he is good enough of a player to play multiple linebacker positions on this defense. Matthews might have to move around this season if Green Bay struggles against the run and if they’ve failed to replace A.J. Hawk who left in the offseason.  Green Bay has a couple of nice, young pieces in the secondary but I think they’ll miss CB Tramon Williams who had a knack for creating big plays. The Packers took two CB’s in the first two rounds of this pass draft, Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins. Green Bay does have a decent pair of safeties in HaHa Clinton-Dix and Morgan Burnett. Green Bay will still have its weaknesses on defense but once again we can count on Aaron Rodgers carrying this team into title contention. Prediction: 13-3 (NFC North Champs)

Minnesota Vikings – There are multiple reasons for fans in Minnesota to be optimistic about this upcoming Vikings season. Minnesota has enough young talent to compete and an experienced coaching staff will lead them. But the real reason to be excited for the Vikings this season will be the return of RB Adrian Peterson who should be fresh after missing 15 games last season. Peterson will have a big chip on his shoulder and that will probably mean a huge season for him on the ground. With the return of Minnesota’s running game that should take the pressure off second year QB, Teddy Bridgewater. Bridgewater had a decent rookie season but he left plenty of room to improve going into this season. Having Peterson around will change everything about this offense from a season ago so, I expect Bridgewater to improve from his rookie season. At receiver, Minnesota brought in Mike Wallace who will be looking to prove that he is much more than just a speedster. WR Cordarrelle Patterson suffered through a sophomore slump last year and he’ll be also looking to prove that he can be an effective receiver in this league and not just a great return man. I am concerned about the offensive line and they already lost a starting tackle to injury. Rooke T.J. Clemmings will hope to become the long-term answer at right tackle in this first season. Minnesota’s defense has a lot of young talent mixed with some experience. DE Everson Griffin is the lone proven pass rusher on the defensive line but also look out for DT Sharrif Floyd who is starting to make some strides in his game play. Veteran Chad Greenway leads the linebacker group. LB Anthony Barr had a strong rookie season and he’ll be joined this year by rookie LB Eric Kendricks who should fit perfectly in this 4-3 defense. The youth movement continues in the secondary with CB’s Xavier Rhodes and this year’s first round pick Trae Waynes. They brought in CB Terrance Newman in free agency and he should serve a good mentor for the younger players in this secondary as he has years of experience playing in Mike Zimmer’s defense. The secondary is also rounded out nicely by play making safety Harrison Smith who is truly one of the league’s most underrated players. Minnesota might be a candidate to be a surprise playoff team this season. If the defense can perform up to its expectations and Peterson can continue where he left of in 2013, Minnesota could compete for a playoff spot. Prediction: 9-7 (Wildcard)

Detroit Lions – The Lions made a surprise run at the division last season and lost a nail biter in the playoffs. The main reason for this success last season was the improved defense, I thought. I think this year’s Lions team will find it tougher as they lost some good pieces on both sides of the ball. The Lions could be improved on offense though. I say this because I really like the effort they made in the offseason to improve the offensive line. They signed free agents, traded for veterans, and spent their top draft pick on that unit. That should prove to be great news for QB Matthew Stafford. Stafford will be in a great position for success again this season with all the talent he has around him. Calvin Johnson will be looking to bounce back for an injury filled season and he’ll be looking to prove that he is still one of the league’s best wide outs. WR Golden Tate definitely proved his worth last season, as he is especially tough after the catch as a ball carrier. At TE, Detroit will be counting on Eric Ebron to have a breakout second season, as he was an afterthought in his first year. Detroit might be better at the RB position even with the loss of Reggie Bush. Joique Bell will be the starter and the tough runner between the tackles but there is a lot of hype surrounding rookie RB Ameer Abdullah. Abdullah is a small, shifty back with blazing speed and he’ll definitely get touches this season as an option on third downs. The main reason why I think Detroit will take a step back this season is because of the losses on the defensive side of the ball. They will greatly miss DT’s Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. They swung a trade for DT Haloti Ngata and he can definitely still be a great player on the defensive line. But Hgata is starting to get up there in age and has already started to become a weekly fixture on the injury report. But with Suh and Fairley gone, I think DE Ziggy Ansah will really begin to flourish as a leader and lead playmaker on the defensive line. In the middle of the defense, LB DeAndre Levy is the lone stand out and he is coming off his best season. Also coming of his best year as a pro is safety Glover Quin. Levy and Quin were both great last season but I wonder how well they will be and the defense as a whole will be without those monsters on the defensive line. Uncertainly on the defensive side of the ball will keep Detroit from the playoffs in 2015. Prediction: 7-9

Chicago Bears – The Bears don’t have a lot of buzz surrounding them going into this season. They lost some talent in the offseason and I don’t see how they’ll be able to improve going into this season. It’s hard to think that QB Jay Cutler can provide stability at his position for this team. Cutler has been able to play well when surrounded by great talent. WR Brandon Marshall is gone and he replacement, rookie WR Kevin White, has already been lost for the season due to injury. WR Alshon Jeffery could be on his way towards a breakout season as one of Cutler main returning targets. Cutler also has a great relationship with veteran WR Eddie Royal so he should be a great help to Chicago’s depleted WR core. It will also help to have a proven talent in TE Martellus Bennett who is coming off a pretty productive 2014. The Bears also have one of the league’s best RB in Matt Forte. Forte gets over looked in this division with Peterson and Lacy but he is one of the better runners and receivers at the RB position in the league. Chicago’s run defense was a disgrace last season and this year they’ll have to depend on some unproven players to improve those numbers. Rookie DT Eddie Goldman will be a day one starter on this defense and second year player, Will Sutton, will be looking to make the jump to be a main contributor on the defensive line. At outside linebacker, the Bears have a decent group of veteran pass rushers led by Jared Allen. The Bears also have a nice young nucleus at inside linebacker with Shea McClellin, Jon Bostic, and Christian Jones. Outside of second year player, Kyle Fuller, I don’t like anything about the Bears secondary. That unit is filled with veteran castoffs from around the league. I think the Bears made a great decision hiring John Fox as head coach in the offseason. Unfortunately for Fox, this team will fall into the basement of the division in 2015 and he’ll be tasked with the duty to build up the roster to get them back into contention. Prediction: 6-10

NFL 2014: NFC North Preview

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QB Aaron Rodgers will be hoping to lead the Packers back to the Super Bowl in 2014.

By: Elias McMillan

Green Bay Packers – For the Packers, their offense takes most of the headlines but it is the defense that has kept them from returning the Super Bowl. They made some changes on the defensive side of the ball so hopefully those moves can pay off this year. The face of the franchise now is Aaron Rodgers who is arguably the best QB in football. Rodgers has lost some of his top targets in free agency in the last couple years but he is still as sharp even with new receivers. Last year, WR Jordy Nelson broke out and had a career year and the team is hoping that he can continue to be the leader of this receiving group. WR Randall Cobb is coming off of an injury but he has already proven to a difference maker for this team as a receiver that can stretch the field. The Packers must do a better job at protecting Aaron Rodgers as the offensive line gave up a lot of sacks last year. Not to mention that Rodgers missed time last year because of injury and that almost caused this team to not make the post season. The Packers offense with Aaron Rodgers has not been known for running the football but that might change. RB Eddie Lacy showed great promise as a rookie last season and they are expecting even bigger things for him as the starter in the backfield. The Packers defense gave up a lot of yards on the ground and in the air last season so improving the defense was key in the offseason. Green Bay’s defensive line looks like it will continue to be a weak area for the team as it is a unit filled with untested, unproven players. The Packers LB core is pretty solid and they got a lot better in the offseason. They already had a great pass rusher in Clay Matthews and now they will pair him with Julius Peppers. Peppers isnt as young as he used to be but he can still create pressure and make plays in the backfield with his amazing athletic ability. In the middle of the defense, inside LB’s Brad Jones and A.J. Hawk are coming off a season where they racked up a lot of tackles. The Packers greatly needed upgrades in the secondary so they took safety HaHa Clinton-Dix in the first round of this years draft. I would expect him to be an immediate starter as the Packers hasn’t had a playmaker at safety since Charles Woodson left the team. The one other player who I like in this secondary is CB Sam Shields who is underrated and makes his share amount of plays. I think it could be business at usually for this team in 2014 where the offense will have to bail out the defense in a lot of games. But if the defense can perform better with the new additions, they might be able to make some noise in the playoffs this year. Prediction: 11-5 (NFC North Champs)

Chicago Bears – If you look at this team’s recent history, you would see that the Bears have been playing the same season over and over again much like that Bill Murray movie, “Groundhog Day”. In recent season, the Bears have followed the pattern of starting out the season great and then ending the season derailed because of injuries or poor play. How can the Bear sustain success in 2014? I feel like that’s the question every year with this team. Certainly, the problem isn’t with lack of talent. QB Jay Cutler is still playing at a high level and last season, he received some of the best protection from his offensive line in years. What really helped Cutler raise his game last season was his receiving core. WR Brandon Marshall is playing some of his best football right now and his connection with Cutler is among the league’s best QB-WR combos. WR Alshon Jeffery had some crazy highlights last season and he is still just scratching the surface. Jeffery and Marshall have the potential of being the league best duo at WR. RB Matt Forte is still the leader in the backfield going into 2014. He is now an underrated weapon for Cutler as he has somewhat been overshadowed by the wideouts. Despite that, Forte is still a great player in this league that can get it done between the tackles and as a receiver. The Bears were pretty bad on defense last season and they were able to make some changes by bringing in some new faces. DE Jared Allen comes over from the Vikings and he has no signs of slowing down. Allen still has that high motor and is relentless at his pursuit for the QB. In terms of rookies, I’m a big fan of DT Will Sutton and I think he will be a great fit in this 4-3 defense. The Bears LB core is a great mix of veteran and younger impact players. OLB Lance Biggs is the unquestioned leader of the defense. LB D.J. Williams is another player who brings a lot of experience. LB Jon Bostic showed some flashes in his rookie season and he’s a guy who should be receiving even more playing time this year. The Bears desperately need to get younger in the secondary. CB Charles Tillman is still a playmaker but durability has become an issue. First round pick CB Kyle Fuller could eventually be what this secondary needs in the future. The Bears enter this season with a huge hole at the safety position. Ryan Mundy has no business starting on any NFL defense. Even though the Bears missed a shot at making the post season a year ago, I feel as if they are entering this season with a new type of confidence. The defense will continue to be a question mark but if they can get a full 16 games out of Jay Cutler that could be the difference in making the playoffs or not. Prediction: 9-7 (Wildcard)

Minnesota Vikings – There is some excitement surrounding this Vikings team going into 2014. The team is slowly rebuilding as they are trying to younger at key positions. On offense, they will start the season with QB Matt Cassel as the starter but first round pick Teddy Bridgewater is expected the take over the starting job eventually. Cassel has a big arm and was clearly the best QB that Minnesota had last season. But Bridgewater has big play ability and athleticism that will make him a dangerous offensive weapon in the future. The future is now for WR Cordarrelle Patterson who had a great rookie season. Patterson is one the fastest players in football and can change a game on offense and on special teams. Outside of Patterson and WR Greg Jennings, the WR core on this team isnt very strong. One constant thing is that this offense, team, and franchise is powered by RB Adrian Peterson. This year, the defense might look a lot different without DE Jared Allen. The defensive line is now a group of unproven rookies and vets. I think DT Sharrif Floyd could end up becoming a stand out player. I’m also excited for first round pick Anthony Barr who will be looking to fill the pass-rushing role from Jared Allen. LB Chad Greenway is now the veteran leader of this defense as he makes a lot of plays all over the field. The Vikings secondary isn’t very good but safety Harrison Smith is an underrated player in this league. Minnesota needs a strong second year from CB Xavier Rhodes. This team isn’t ready to compete for this division or even a playoff spot. But it will be interesting to see if the offense can progress once Bridgewater takes over the starting job. The defense is clearly rebuilding and that might be the real key for this team’s future. Prediction: 7-9

Detroit Lions – The Lions really needed to focus on improving defensively going into the offseason. Instead, they tampered more with the offensive side of the ball with their draft picks and coaching changes. This will probably keep them from competing in 2014. New head coach Jim Caldwell did wonders for Joe Flacco in Baltimore so maybe he can do the same for QB Matt Stafford. Stafford can fill the stat sheet on any given day but he really needs to focus on protecting the football. That should have been easy for him as he was among the least sacked QB’s a year ago. Stafford is blessed to have the best WR in football to throw to. It looks like WR Calvin Johnson’s dominance in this league is just going to continue until he retires. The rest of the WR core is full of average guys though. They brought over WR Golden Tate who has some ability but is only a #1 receiver in his own mind. This season might be a wake up for him as he was insulted that Seattle low-balled him during free agency. In the backfield, RB Reggie Bush continues his renaissance, as he has become a proven difference maker when in the lineup. There is a lot of excitement over first round pick TE Eric Ebron. Ebron was clearly the best TE in the draft as he is a big body with WR quality speed. Ebron might prove to be a nice pick but Detroit probably would have been better off trying to improve their defense with that pick. Here’s the story of the Lions defense: they are great at stopping the run upfront with DT’s Ndamukong Suh and Nick Farley. But as good as they are at stopping the run, that’s how bad they are at pressuring QBs. They are really going to be counting on DE Ziggy Ansah to have a huge 2nd season with this defense. I’m a fan of rookie Kyle Van Noy is who listed as an outside LB but he would be better suited as a pass rusher from the defensive line. At LB, the Lions have a couple guys who racked up a lot of tackles last season in DeAndre Levy and Stephen Tulloch. The secondary was awful last season and that looks to continue in 2014. Two younger guys to keep an eye on are CB’s Darius Slay and rookie Nevin Lawson. I’m predicting that Stafford and Calvin Johnson will probably have great years statistically but that wont help the team win a lot of games. The Lions still have too many needs on defense to help get this team back to the playoffs. Prediction: 6-10