Tuesday, August 8, 2017

2017-18 Season NFC North Preview

The NFC North has had one consistent winner now for many years in the Green Bay Packers. As for the other teams, they break out with some moderate success every now and again, but almost always fall short in the end. Last season, the Lions looked to be in good position to take the division title. But in a familiar story with that franchise, they fell short. True, they qualified for the playoffs, but they were one and done, quickly losing to the Seahawks. The Vikings were looking good for a while there, too. But they ran out of gas towards the end of the season, and wound up out of the postseason altogether. As doe the Chicago Bears, they were among the very worst teams in the league from the first, and will likely not be able to get out of the basement in this division for the upcoming season, either. 

Here are my predictions for the NFC North!

1. Green Bay Packers (projected division winners) - A similar story in recent years has become a pattern in Green Bay. The story is more or less this: sensation, explosive offense, one of the elite units in the league, behind star quarterback Aaron Rodgers. But a defense that leaves a lot to be desired, and which costs the Pack a chance to greatness. Green Bay's defense was not atrocious last season, yet it was also not worthy of the near championship level that the offense plays at. Still, the Packers got hot and knocked off both the Giants and the Cowboys in the playoffs, before bowing out against Atlanta in the NFC Championship Game. Of course, all of that seemed impossible at midseason, when Green Bay suffered four straight defeats and stood with a 4-6 record, two games behind both Minnesota and Detroit. When asked what he thought pf the Packers chances at that point, Rodgers suggested that he felt they were excellent, and that Green Bay could run the table. Some laughed and dismissed this prediction, but that wound up being exactly what happened. The Pack got very hot. The defense stepped up, as did the offense. They beat two playoff teams in a row, then finished the regular season by knocking the Vikings out of playoff contention, then beating the Lions in a winner takes all regular season finale for the division title. They kept winning in the playoffs, until they got hammered by Atlanta. But last season can only really be seen as a success. And with Rodgers still at the helm at quarterback, Green Bay's offense will be potent. If they can make some improvements on the defense, watch out! They have dominated this division for too long, and have qualified for the postseason for eight straight seasons now, having won the division title five of those seasons. This team remains the standard by which the other teams in the division are judging and found lacking, and that much still has not changed. That is why I cannot predict anybody but Green Bay to take this division title. 

3. Detroit Lions (projected second place) - The Lions once again had a decent season, but not a great one. Their defense was good, although the offense fell off, perhaps betraying some loss of talent on that end. Matthew Stafford is still a good quarterback, albeit not an elite one who can carry his team's load and take them to the next level, like his counterpart in Green Bay can. The problem that the Lions had was that they could not beat any winning teams, going 0-5 against playoff teams during the regular season, and then going one and done in the playoffs. If Detroit is to improve, they absolutely need to start winning some of those kinds of games against the better teams. They cannot keep getting swept by Green Bay and losing to other playoff teams and hope to win the division or advance in the playoffs, obviously, if they cannot do that. The defense is pretty good, although not quite as good as a few years ago. But on offense, Stafford could use some help, because he is not quite strong enough to do this on his own. Failing some significant improvements, the Lions will likely once again hover a little over or under .500. The playoffs are a possibility, but unless they get better, winning anything significant seems out of the question.

2. Minnesota Vikings (projected third place) - The Vikings were too good to suffer through the kind of season that they went through last year. This team has one of the best defenses in the league. They had one of the best turnover rations, too. They had one of the best running backs in the league, although he was injured for most of last season. And Sam Bradford brought some experience and talent at the quarterback position. And, Minnesota got off to the hot 5-0 start, beating three playoff bound teams during that stretch. Still, the Vikings were out of the playoff picture by the time that the Lions and Packers fought for the division title in the regular season finale. From around Thanksgiving onward, this team only beat two of the very worst teams in the league, the Jaguars and the Bears, and lost every other game during that stretch. Indeed, it all fell apart, and quickly, for Minnesota, as they kept falling from grace. Entering this season, the Vikings still look decent on defense, but the departure of their star running back was basically a foregone conclusion for some time. The Vikings still have Bradford, but will he be enough? Their offense still has some question marks, and without answers, this team simply will not be good enough to qualify for the postseason, once again. 

2. Chicago Bears (projected last place team) -  Well, the Bears were simply awful last season. Their defense ranked among the worst units in the league last season, and their offense was even worse! This team was tied with the Jets for worst turnover differential in the league, at -20. They made a ton of mistakes, and did not have the talent to overcome them. Finally, the Bears decided, once and for all, that Jay Cutler just was not their quarterback, either of the present, and especially for the future. Ultimately, the Bears were just a terrible team last year, and the end result, fittingly, was a 3-13 mark. Only the 49ers in the NFC has a worse record than Chicago did last season, and only Cleveland and Jacksonville had equally bad or worse records in the AFC. Chicago was one of the few teams which failed to score 30 points or more in a single game, and yet they allowed 29 points or more seven times.They seemed to give up by the end of the season, allowing 109 total points in the final three weeks of play. It was just a disaster, and when you examine exactly why, you see one thing after another that contributed to this team's woes. Now, they are in rebuilding mode, of course, which means that you should not expect too much from this team for this season, either. That is why I have them solidly in last place for this division. 

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