X-Green Bay Packers 11-5
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is rapidly making the fans in Wisconsin forget about the man that he replaced in Brett Favre. Rodgers has led the Packers to the postseason in the past five years which includes a Super Bowl Championship in 2010. A broken collarbone sidelined Rodgers for a portion of the 2013 National Football League season. Rodgers was able to return for the regular season finale as he helped the Packers win the NFC North. Now Rodgers is healthy and he’ll once again be in the running to be NFL MVP.
Last season the Packers solved their woes in the running game with running back Eddie Lacy. As a rookie in 2013, Lacy rushed for nearly 1,200 yards and 11 touchdowns and he is a bruiser. The Packers wide receiver unit is not as deep as it has been in past years, but as long as Rodgers is under center along with Mike McCarthy as their head coach, the Packers offense shouldn’t slow down that much this season.
On the defensive side of the football the Packers will be without the services of nose tackle B.J. Raji this season along with his endzone dance. Raji suffered a biceps injury in the preseason and his absence will leave a huge void on the defensive side of the football in Green Bay. The Packers still have outside linebacker Clay Matthews III and he’ll get some help this season in veteran edge rusher Julius Peppers while safeties Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix and Morgan Burnett will be two of the most physical players in the National Football League.
At the end of Week 5, the Packers would have played every foe in the NFC North at least once which will give us all an idea of how they’ll fare this season.
Y-Chicago Bears 10-6
The past two seasons have seen the Chicago Bears knock on the door of the postseason, but they have been unable to turn the knob and enter the party. For second year Bears head coach Marc Trestman he is hopeful that the Bears will be able to end their three-year playoff drought this season.
With quarterback Jay Cutler, running back Matt Forte, tight end Martellus Bennett, and wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, the Bears have a chance to have one of the most explosive units in the National Football League. But the Bears offense will come down to the health of Cutler. In five seasons with the Bears, Cutler has only made all 16 regular season starts on one occasion. Cutler possesses one of the strongest arms in football, but it will be up to the offensive line in front of him to provide protection for him.
Last year Chicago had the 30th ranked defense in the NFL and Trestman along with Bears defensive coordinator Marc Trestman have tried to remedy that in the off-season. The Bears signed defensive ends Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston, and Willie Young along with drafting defensive tackles Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton in the effort to improve their chances of making the postseason.
On special teams the Bears still have place kicker Robbie Gould who is one of the best in the business and his strong leg will be important when the temperature drops in the Windy City heading into the fall and winter.
Four of the Bears first six games this season are on the road including two against playoff teams from last season in the San Francisco 49ers and Carolina Panthers. But when the dust settles, the Bears should be on their way to the postseason.
Detroit Lions 7-9
Under former head coach Jim Schwartz, the Detroit Lions were one of the most talented teams in the NFL, but talent alone cannot get it done. The Lions were one of the most undisciplined teams in the NFL which led to Schwartz being fired this past January. Schwartz has been replaced by former Indianapolis Colts head coach Jim Caldwell who will be charged with getting the Lions to live up to their potential. In three years as the Colts head coach, Caldwell complied a 26-22 record with a trip to the Super Bowl in 2009. But in Caldwell’s last season in Indy, the Colts were 2-14 when quarterback Peyton Manning was sidelined for the season which isn’t promising for Caldwell heading into Motown.
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is one of the better young signal callers in the National Football League, but for the Lions to take the next step he must improve on his completion percentage that has been under 60 percent in the past two seasons. Yes, Stafford can pass for 4,500 yards while Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson (aka Megatron) is a freak of nature, but for Detroit to be a better offensive club in 2014, they must not be afraid to continuously feed running backs Reggie Bush and Joique Bell.
Defensively the Lions still have defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh who his in the final year of his contract, but how many games will he play in 2014? Suh has been called to the principal’s office (NFL commissioner Roger Goodell) several times and you have to wonder whether or not that he’ll be on his best behavior this season.
With games in the first month of the season against the New York Giants, Carolina Panthers, Green Bay Packers, and New York Jets, the Lions could find themselves in an early hole that they may be unable to dig themselves out from.
Minnesota Vikings 6-10
Just when you think that the Minnesota Vikings are ready to turn the corner and become a title contender, they take several steps backwards. After making the playoffs in 2012, the Vikings stumbled in 2013 as they only managed to win five games. The Vikings subpar season cost head coach Leslie Frazier his job as he has been replaced by former Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer.
With the start of the regular season around the bend, Zimmer has yet to name a starting quarterback, but it appears to be between veteran Matt Cassell and rookie Teddy Bridgewater. Whoever the quarterback will be this season for the Vikings, he will have to deal with outdoor elements this year as for the first time since 1982 they won’t be playing at the Metrodome. The Vikings still have All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson who continues to surge up the National Football League’s all-time rushing yardage list as he should eclipse the 11,000 mark this season.
When Zimmer was in Cincinnati, the Bengals consistently had one of the best defenses in the NFL and you should see his impact on the defense for the Vikings who have a stout defensive line that features defensive end Brian Robison and Everson Griffen along with defensive tackles Linval Joseph and Sharrif Floyd.
This season should be a stepping stone for Zimmer as he is attempting to establish himself with Vikings.
Y-Clinched Wild Card