by Dave Mest Jr.
NFC North Preview
Welcome back to the NFL Depot! I’m your host Dave Mest! We take the leap into the NFC North this week, which would be the black and blue division to most. This division is no longer a two team race, with the Packers and Bears at the forefront, enter the Detroit Lions. I think this should be a great division race, but it looks like it will only be a three team race. I don’t see Minnesota doing much this year; they are a few years away from contending. So without haste, let’s get to it!
Green Bay Packers: Not much has changed in Packer land, as far as the offense is concerned. Aaron Rodgers, if stays healthy, should have another big year. Look for Rodgers to flirt with the 4500 to 5000 yard passing mark, as well as the 50 TD mark.
With the great cast of returning wide receivers, look for Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings to put up huge numbers. Donald Driver should still see a good amount of playing time, but his days of putting up big numbers are gone. At this point in Drivers career, he’s more of a team leader, and possession guy.
Randall Cobb, should be more involved in the Packers offense, he should have a good year. With Cobb in the Packers camp, James Jones will not be much of a factor. James Starks should be the Packers top running back this year. Starks will get them the tough yards, and should put up ok numbers. Now on to the million dollar question.
Did the Packers do enough to fix the defense? For the first time ever, the Packers used their first four picks, on defensive players. Nick Perry should fit in well with Clay Matthews; both players should have good seasons.
BJ Raji should be his disruptive self, opening holes For AJ Hawk.
The biggest question will be the secondary. Can Casey Hayward be good enough to compete for a starting gig? If so the Packers could move an ageing Charles Woodson to safety, but I think were another year away from that. Look for it to be Woodson and Williams at the corners, and Jerron McMillian to push for a starting gig alongside Morgan Burnett.
The Three Key Points: 1. The defense must be better than it was last year. With the Bears and Lions nipping at their heals, they better hope the four draft picks, and the younger players pan out. 2. They need a run game to go with their outstanding passing game. If James Starks fails to provide the balance needed, then they better find someone who will before they break camp. 3. How many years does Jeff Saturday have left in the tank, he could be the anchor needed, for an already solid line, to make another Super Bowl run. Dave’s pick: 12-4
Chicago Bears: The Bears had a very solid off season; they picked up some key players that will make them a contender this year. The three key players added to this team gave strength to very weak spots. Those players QB Jason Campbell, RB, Michael Bush, and WR Brandon Marshall. All three players are major upgrades, at positions of need. Brandon Marshall back with Jay Cutler, means big things for the Bears offense, add Matt Forte to that group, now you have something very special.
Look for the Bears offense to put up big numbers this year. With the Bears drafting Alshon Jeffery, in the second round, look for Devon Hester to return to an all-purpose role.
Michael Bush and Jason Campbell bring needed quality depth, both players are major upgrades at the back up QB spot, and Bush should see playing time.
The Bears defense should be very good as well, number one pick Shea McClellin should start right away. With McClellin in the fold, and Julius Peppers, the Bears should have a very good pass rush.
The Bears have one of the best linebacker corps in the league, even though they are an ageing group, this group, led by Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs should put up sold numbers. Charles Tillman had a pro bowl year last year; look for more of the same this year.
The question remains with the rest of the DB’s. Will Jennings bounce back from last year’s second half miss-queues and bad plays, if not the Bears brought in two players to push him in the form of Kelvin Hayden, and Jonathan Wilhite. Look for Brandon Hardin to push for a starting gig at free safety, or play a lot of special teams.
The Three Key Points: 1. The Bears have a lot riding on Alshon Jeffery, if he can’t pick up the offense as quick as the Bears would like, it would put added pressure on Brandon Marshall. 2. Can Marshall and Cutler recreate the magic they had in Denver? I think with the offense the Bears run, and added Matt Forte, the outcome will be better than their play in Denver. 3. The Bears have to hope age doesn’t catch up to their defense, I think they have a few years left in the tank, but the window is closing fast. Dave’s Pick: 11-5
When you have more arrests, then positive things to say, something is wrong. The Lions front office, and the coaching staff, must take control of this young team, if they don’t do so the arrests will just keep coming, along with the bad press.
Now on with the football! I love the Lions offense; if they can stay healthy the sky is the limit. Matthew Stafford should have a good year, when you’re throwing to Calvin Johnson. Stafford, should flirt with the 4,500 yard mark, and close to 40 TD’s.
Johnson, like last year, should be close to the 100 catch mark, as well as 1,800 yards, adding close to 15 TD’s to the bill. The Lions have three things they need to address with the offense, before the season starts.
The first, they need to hope another receiver steps up, and takes some pressure off Johnson. I don’t think Burleson is that guy; he’s a nice slot back but not a starter.
I think Titus Young could be that guy, but he has to have a consistent year, or the second round pick Ryan Broyles could pass him by.
The second, they must protect Stafford better, enter Riley Reiff. Reiff, might just start off at guard, then move out to tackle, either way he’s a big upgrade.
The third, they have to hope Jahvid Best comes back from injury, because a healthy Best takes heat off the passing game. If Best isn’t back they need to figure out who is going to be their prime back. If they go with Kevin Smith, they better hope he’s past the injury bug as well.
The Lions have a very good front seven, but once again the secondary is going to be a main factor.
Suh, will lead the charge on defense, I think he is one of the best DT’s in the league, if not the best. Cliff Avril and Stephen Tulloch have a lot to prove after their big raises. Avril has to prove last year wasn’t a fluke to get the long term deal he’s seeking.
The big question, who will start opposite of Chris Houston? I’m not in love with either Aaron Berry or Jacob Lacey; I think both players lack the starter’s mentality. I think both guy’s would be a better fit in a nickel or dime slot.
That’s why I think the Lions need to take a long look at third round pick Dwight Bentley, and fifth round pick Chris Greenwood. Both players are smaller school guys, but I think they have a diamond in the ruff with both. If not they will have two very good special teams players.
The Three Key Points: 1. The Lions have to tighten things up as a team, enough off field distractions. 2. Who is going to be the starting RB? The Lions need a healthy option in the backfield. 3. The Lions need to come up with answers to their failing secondary, if they don’t have the answer in their camp, maybe it’s time to look in someone else’s . The secondary could be the difference between a playoff run and missing out altogether. Dave’s pick 9-7. 10-6 if they fix some things.
They have been taking some great steps in the right direction, but still lack in many. They really had a good draft, added some needed depth, but they are still a few years away from turning some heads.
Let’s start with Christian Ponder, I think with another year under his belt he will only get better, he’s a strong armed kid, and moves very well. Percy Harvin, should have a good year, but would flourish better if another receiver would step up their game.
I don’t think Micheal Jenkins is the answer, but they added Jerome Simpson who could make a difference, but they have to wait while Simpson serves a three game suspension to start the year.
The Vikings can only hope Adrian Peterson is up and running sooner than later. Peterson lumps the majority of the Vikings offense, but Toby Gerhart should do an ok job.
The Vikings did address a key need with the drafting of Matt Kalil, maybe the best tackle, in the draft, in the last five years. Kalil should add some punch to a suspect line.
The other aspect the Vikings needed to address was their defensive secondary; they added Harrison Smith through the draft. They must also hope Chris Cook can get the job done opposite an aging Antoine Winfield. But that’s not where the Vikings Defensive woes stop, besides Jared Allens and defensive line mates Kevin Williams and Brian Robinson where the only bright spots last year, and just might be this year as well.
The Vikings line backing corps didn’t get any better this year, and they were bad last year, so I don’t see much change there.
The Three Key Points: 1. The Vikings must hope Adrian Peterson makes a quick return, but at the same time they can’t rush him back if he isn’t ready. 2. They have to hope Antoine Winfield has a few more years left in him, or things could get real ugly in the defensive backfield. 3. They must protect Christian Ponder if they hope for any progression out of the second year QB. Dave’s pick 6-10
Now on to our guest picks, once again we have the Depots Handicapper Tarn Slater, and the CEO of this great site Bay Ragni.
Bay’s picks Tarn’s picks/odds
Green Bay Packers 13-3 Green Bay Packers 13-3/5-1
Detroit Lions 10-6 Detroit Lions 11-5/7-1
Chicago Bears 8-8 Chicago Bears 10-6/10-1
Minnesota Vikings 6-10 Minnesota Vikings 7-9/20-1
Well that’s a wrap for this week! With only 4 weeks left till the real thing, I’m going to try and step it up with the remaining six divisions. We will see how many I can get done, but till the next one see ya!
I can be reached at Facebook Dave Mest Jr. and Twitter blitzburgh6