The NFC North has been marked by Green Bay domination in recent years. The Packers have won the division four straight years, while earning a playoff berth in six consecutive seasons. So is there any reason to think that recent history will change this year? Let’s try to answer this question by previewing the 2015 NFC North.
4th in Division: Chicago Bears; 5-11 W/L Projection
Strengths: Chicago’s hopes rest with running back Matt Forte this year, who’s coming of a season where he topped 1,800 total years from scrimmage. Forte may be closing in on 30, but with an 8-year career that’s never seen him rush for less than 929 yards in a season, there’s little reason to bet against him in 2015. Alshon Jeffrey will also provide a huge boost to the offense, as he appears destined for stardom coming off an 85-catch, 1,113-yard season. If QB Jay Cutler is going to have a comeback, Jeffrey will play a large role in this.
Weaknesses: Speaking of Cutler, everybody likes to blame him for the Bears’ disappointing 2014 season. However, it was the defense that truly let Chicago down last year. The same problem will persist this time around for first-year head coach John Fox, who, along with new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, will have a tough task ahead of them. Chicago ranked 30th in total defense last year and allowed the second-most points. They didn’t address their defensive needs very well in the draft, so there’s little reason to expect a turnaround.
3rd in Division: Detroit Lions; 8-8 W/L Projection
Strengths: The Lions were somewhat of a surprise last year, finishing 11-5 and losing a very competitive first-round playoff game to the Cowboys. If they’re to replicate last year’s success, or even improve, it will definitely begin with the receiving corp. Calvin Johnson, who’s coming off five straight 1,000-yard receiving seasons, again leads this group. But Golden Tate will be an incredible compliment, if not the top pass catcher, after tallying 1,331 yards last season. If tight end Eric Ebron can flash his true potential, then he can take pressure off the latter two.
Weaknesses: Everything that’s wrong with Detroit begins with the loss of Ndamukong Suh, who is an irreplaceable talent. He’s amazing against the run and pass and was crucial to the Lions’ defensive success. They also lost Nick Fairley, another D-lineman who helped out quite a bit. In all, Detroit lost players who contributed to a third of their 42 sacks last year, meaning the pass rush will be lighter this time around.
2nd in Division: Minnesota Vikings; 10-6 W/L Projection
Strengths: Adrian Peterson is now 30 years old, but he should turn back time after a season in which he only played one game due to suspension. Expect yet another season of at least 1,200-1,300 yards for Peterson, especially since Minnesota even ranked 14th in rushing offense (112.8 YPG) without him. QB Teddy Bridgewater is another year older and looking more than capable of playing up to his potential. This young defense is also shaping up to be one of the best in the NFC, making a postaseson berth very likely.
Weaknesses: While having Peterson back will definitely help take pressure off the passing game, the O-line might still have trouble protecting Bridgewater. Right tackle Phil Loadholt is out for the season with a torn Achilles tendon while left tackle Matt Kahil has not been very good at his position so far. Given this, can Minnesota protect Bridgewater on the edges?
1st in Division: Green Bay Packers; 12-2 W/L Projection
Strengths: Aaron Rodgers has not had a double-digit interception season in four years, and he’s coming off a 2014 where he tossed 38 touchdowns against 5 picks. So it’s an understatement that he’ll be the key to Green Bay’s attack. Expect a huge season from Randall Cobb too, who, in Jordy Nelson’s absence (ACL) should experience a big boost in his 1,287 receiving yards from last year. Throw in running back Eddie Lacy and this is once again a very potent offense.
Weaknesses: The loss of Nelson definitely hurts since he had over 1,500 receiving yards last season. But that’s nothing compared to their weak linebacking corp, who, even with 5-time Pro Bowler Clay Matthews, is highly inexperienced. This is a bad year for Green Bay to be a 3-4 defense, so their offense will be relied on heavily to shore up a below-average overall defense. Even still, the Super Bowl is a definite possibility for this group.