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2013 NFC North Division Preview

Bharath Ravishankar |
September 4, 2013 | 5:46 p.m. PDT

Staff Writer

Jay Cutler is about to embark on a make-or-break season. (Wikimedia Commons)
Jay Cutler is about to embark on a make-or-break season. (Wikimedia Commons)

Chicago Bears

The Bears enter the era of offensive mastermind Marc Trestman hoping to craft a new identity for themselves. For over a decade, the Bears were defined by Brian Urlacher and Lovie Smith’s dominant defenses, and by a complete inability to slap together a competent offense.  The biggest problem for Chicago last year was the horrendous offensive line, which ranked among the worst in the league. They gave up 44 sacks  and were instrumental in Cutler’s unimpressive performance. Under pressure, Cutler posted a quarterback rating of 69.8, compared to a rating of 86.4 when he wasn’t pressured.  The Bears went a long way to shore up their line in the offseason through both free agency and the draft. They started by signing left tackle Jermon Bushrod and guard  Matt Slauson, both of whom are expected to start. Then, to complete the overhaul, they took Kyle Long out of Oregon with the 20th pick in the draft.  These changes should lift the weight of the world off both Cutler and running back Matt Forte. 

Forte has fallen out of the conversation for the top 10 running backs of the league due to  the fact that he barely eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards last season. Look for Forte to emphatically put himself back in the top tier now that he won't have to deal with contact at the line of scrimmage nearly every time he touches the ball. He was one of the most dynamic backs in football two years ago and has elite pass catching ability for a running back. A solid running game will open up the field for Cutler in his contract year, as will having a healthy Brandon Marshall. So, expect a much improved offense. 

Defensively, rookie Jon Bostic replaces Urlacher and looked very good in the preseason. Everyone else is returning on defense, so expect another dominant unit. Unfortunately for the Bears, they have a tough schedule and they’re in one of the toughest divisions in football. Look for them to put up a fight, but ultimately they’ll miss the playoffs.

Division Record: 3-3

Overall Record: 9-7

Detroit Lions

Oh, the Lions. I so badly want to believe in the Lions. Two seasons ago, we saw what Matthew Stafford to Calvin Johnson was capable of producing. Last year, we saw Megatron go off and eclipse the single season receiving record. However, game after game we saw Stafford running for his life, which is epitomized in this picture.  There was no reliable running game, so Stafford had to throw the ball a record-setting 727 times. There wasn’t a reliable number two receiver behind Megatron to take the defense off of him. The secondary consistently got torn up. To put into perspective just how bad the defense was last year, they gave up 500 total yards three times last season. The Tennessee Titans’ anemic offense put up 44 points and Jake Locker, one of the worst starting quarterbacks in the league, threw for 378 yards and two touchdowns. 

Thankfully for those brave Detroit faithful, the Lions upgraded their offense in the offseason by getting a feature back in Reggie Bush. He is by no means a top-tier running back, but he’s dynamic and he can catch the ball. He adds a critical dimension to the offense that has been lacking since Jahvid Best was healthy. If Bush manages to stay healthy for at least 12 games, he could improve the Lions’ record by four games. That number may sound ridiculous, but I’ll address that later. There is some hype around training camp breakout sensation Patrick Edwards at receiver and Nate Burleson, who missed most of last season with a broken leg, will be back at the slot.  Third-year receiver Ryan Broyles has generated some hype as he attempts to return from his second ACL surgery in three years. Stafford should have way more options this season than last. Factor in the fact that 23 of Stafford’s completions were stopped inside the five yard line. It’s hard to imagine that he has that much bad luck again this season. Then again, these are the Lions we’re talking about. 

So the offense is healthy and way more stacked than it was a season ago, but now we come to the disastrous defense. They did have a very talented duo on the defensive line with Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. While they lost Cliff Avril to free agency, they did pick up Israel Idonije  and CJ Mosley. Then, with the fifth pick in the draft, they took athletic freak Ziggy Ansah to rush off the edge. However, they still have the same paltry secondary which blew games for them last year. Hopefully, a healthy and dynamic offense can put a team, that finished 11 games within seven points of its opponent, over the hump.  Look for a healthy Lions team to put up a lot of points, but be ultimately done in by its secondary.

Division: 2-4

Overall: 7-9

Clay Matthews and the Packers' D must step up to support the high-flying offense. (Wikimedia Commons)
Clay Matthews and the Packers' D must step up to support the high-flying offense. (Wikimedia Commons)
SEE MORE: 2013 AFC North Division Preview

Green Bay Packers

Is there really much to say? In my mind, the Packers are the undisputed champions of this division.  They still have the best quarterback in the league in Aaron Rodgers. While they lost Greg Jennings, Randall Cobb established himself as an explosive and versatile number one receiver. James Jones is back, as is Jordy Nelson. Jermichael Finley might finally meet his potential. They got a huge upgrade at running back with their second round pick, Eddie Lacy, who has impressed thus far. 

The offensive line, however, is a question. Combine the fact that Rodgers tends to hold on to the ball for too long with subpar offensive line play, and you get 51 sacks. Unfortunately for Rodgers and Lacy, it doesn't look like the line is going to be any better this year. Left tackle Bryan Bulaga is out for the year, and his absence was painfully apparent in the preseason. The line couldn't create holes to run through and couldn't effectively protect the passer. 

Defensively, Clay Matthews takes the reigns of the defense from Charles Woodson. Expect them to have more of an edge and be more aggressive this season. This is essentially the same defense that held together for most of the year, but got torched by Colin Kaepernick and the read option in the playoffs. The Packers didn’t really do enough in the offseason to turn heads, but they did draft Datone Jones in the first round to give them a consistent pass rush. In the secondary, they have Morgan Burnett, but haven’t found an adequate replacement for Woodson to play alongside him. Look for the Packers to put up points in bunches with their fast pace offense and take the division, but in the playoffs, they go only as far as their offensive line and defense against mobile quarterbacks go.

Division record: 5-1

Overall record: 13-3

Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings come into this year with a lot of questions. Is Christian Ponder the quarterback of the future? Can Greg Jennings still play at a high level? Is Cordarelle Patterson the real deal? Can those two guys replace Percy Harvin? Ponder has been under intense scrutiny for his inconsistent performance, but he was stellar in the Week 17 win-to-get-in game against Green Bay, in which he threw for 234 yards and three touchdowns, all with a bruised triceps muscle on his throwing arm. Although he looked horrible at times last season, I think Ponder will prove to be a solid game manager this season, especially since he has added weapons around him. In classic Vikings fashion, they signed former Packer Greg Jennings. 

Jennings, who turns 30 this month, has been dealing with some injuries the past few seasons. If he can get back to form, he could post a 1,000 yard season, which is something the Vikings haven’t had since Randy Moss did it in 2003.  Alongside Jennings will likely be Cordarelle Patterson, the third of the Vikings’ three first round selections. Patterson is raw, but he can make jaw dropping plays when the ball is in his hands. He might not make an immediate impact on offense, but as he learns from Jennings, expect to see the Vikings try to create plays for him like they did for Harvin. If Jennings can stay on the field and if Patterson can live up to his hype, they can more than replace the dynamic Harvin, who has dealt with injuries his whole career. There really isn’t anything to say about the running game. 2012 MVP Adrian Peterson is the best running back in the league, bar none. He will make life easy for Ponder and the rest of the offense. 

Defensively, the Vikings have some welcomed new faces. First round pick Sharrif Floyd will help to clog up the middle at defensive tackle, and first round pick Xavier Rhodes will provide a much needed boost to the secondary. Jared Allen returns to anchor what was the fifth best pass rush in the league last year. The Vikings will be competitive in their division, and while they’re better on paper this year than last, it’s hard to see them going 10-6 again.

Division: 3-3

Overall: 8-8


Reach Staff Writer Bharath Ravishankar via e-mail



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