Tag Archives: Chicago Bears

2017 NFC North Projections

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X-Green Bay Packers 11-5

In the NFC North, it is the Green Bay Packers and everyone else. The Packers have won five of the last six NFC North Championships, while their eight-year playoff streak is tied with the New England Patriots for the longest active playoff streak in the National Football League. But since the Packers won the Super Bowl to conclude the 2010 NFL season, they have dealt with heartache during the playoffs. Two of the last three seasons have ended with the Packers losing in the NFC Championship Game this past January to the Atlanta Falcons. But as the Packers continue to be one of the better teams in the NFC, will they be able to put it all together in 2017 to claim another Vince Lombardi Trophy?

Mike McCarthy

For Packers head coach Mike McCarthy, his job has been made easier over the last nine years with Aaron Rodgers as his starting quarterback. In 2008, Rodgers took on an impossible job in replacing Brett Favre as the Packers starting quarterback. And although that Rodgers will never be able to make the people in Green Bay forget about Favre, he has done a tremendous job in regards to writing his own story.

Aside from leading Green Bay to a Super Bowl victory, Rodgers is a two-time National Football League MVP and he is one of the most accurate quarterbacks that the game has ever seen. For his career Rodgers has completed 65.1% of his passes, while he has thrown 297 touchdowns passes to just 72 interceptions. And even at the age of 33, Rodgers is showing no signs of slowing down, while he should also rack up plenty of points in fantasy football.

Rodgers has always been one of the best in regards to spreading the football around and that’ll once again be the case this season. Since 2008, wide receiver Jordy Nelson has been one of Rodgers’ most dependable pass catchers. And after Nelson missed the entire 2015 National Football League season as he was recovering from a torn ACL, he returned last year to lead Green Bay in receptions (97), receiving yards (1,257), and receiving touchdowns (14). Nelson has some of the best hands for a wide receiver and he should continue be dependable in key situations; especially on third down.

Devante Adams

In 2014, the Packers used a second-round pick on wide receiver Devante Adams and he continues to improve. Adams was on the verge of totaling 1,000 receiving yards last season, and he should be able to reach the mark this season in what will be an important year for him with his rookie contract set to expire.

But as good as Rodgers has been, he cannot mask the fact that the Packers have struggled to rush the football. Last year the Packers were 20th in the National Football League in regards to rushing as their running game was in shambles. As Green Bay dealt with several injuries at the running back position, they were forced to convert wide receiver Ty Montgomery to running back. And with no long term answer in sight, it appears that Montgomery will once get the bulk of the carries this year for Green Bay.

The past few years has seen as the Packers offensive line as a quiet, unassuming group which goes out and does their job which is to keep the uniform of Rodgers clean. The Packers offensive line is not comprised of Pro Bowl caliber players as they are more of a “no-name” group that has come together to be a solid unit. However the Packers offensive line should get a boost with veteran guard Jahri Evans joining the unit. Evans has spent the last 11 years with the New Orleans Saints where he was a six-time Pro Bowl selection, while also helping the Saints win their only Super Bowl Championship in franchise history.

For Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers, his unit must find a way to improve after they were 22nd in the National Football League last year in total defense. The Packers desperately need outside linebacker Clay Matthews to regain the form that has made him one of the top defenders in the NFL. The Packers have been shifting Matthews around over the last three years playing him as both an inside and outside linebacker. However Matthews is at his best as an outside linebacker due to his edge rushing ability. And Capers must find a way to play Matthews as much as on the outside this season.

Morgan Burnett, Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix

Green Bay has one of the best safety combos in the National Football League with strong safety Morgan Burnett and free safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix as both players have tremendous range, while neither is afraid to do some paint swapping in the run game. But the Packers will need some more consistency from their cornerbacks such as Davon House and Damarious Randall in order to be one of the better units in the league.

Once the Packers offense is able to get the football inside of an opponents 40-yard line they are in scoring range due to the leg of kicker Mason Crosby. Crosby connected on seven of his nine attempts from beyond 40 yards last season, and his powerful leg will once again be important; especially when the temperature begins to drop.

The schedule makers weren’t kind to the Packers as they’ll begin the upcoming season by hosting the Seattle Seahawks before they visit the Falcons who eliminated them from the playoffs this past January. However with the NFC North expected to weak, Green Bay should once again be able to coast to another division title.

Minnesota Vikings 7-9

The 2016 National Football League was set to begin with the Minnesota Vikings as a legit Super Bowl contender, but things would unravel rather quickly. In last August 2016, Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater suffered a torn ACL during a non-contact drill which changed the outlook for Minnesota. The Vikings would scramble as they would acquire quarterback Sam Bradford from the Philadelphia Eagles. The Vikings still had strong defense which propelled them to a 5-0 start, however the wheels would quickly fall apart as they would lose eight of their final 13 games to finish 8-8.

Aside from the Bridgewater injury, veteran running back Adrian Peterson only appeared in three games for the Vikings last year due to a knee injury of his own. And thus when the off-season rolled around,the Vikings deciding to not exercise an option on his contract which made him a free agent as he would go on to sign with the New Orleans Saints.

Peterson left Minnesota as the Vikings all-time leading rusher with 11,747 yards, while he had been the face of the franchise for the last decade. And now that Peterson is gone, while Bridgewater still isn’t fully back from his ACL injury, how will Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer handle the upcoming season for his team?

Dalvin Cook

With the Vikings parting with Peterson, it left a void for this team as they use a second-round pick on running back Dalvin Cook. During Cook’s collegiate career with the Florida State Seminoles, he was a two-time All-American as at times he was a runaway freight train. Cook is 5’10”, 213 lbs., but he runs over opponents like a fullback, while possessing the speed of someone smaller than him which makes him a logical candidate to the Offensive Rookie of the Year this season in the National Football League.

Bradford doesn’t have a reputation for being a Pro Bowl caliber quarterback, but he is coming off of the finest season of his professional career. Bradford completed 71.6% of his passes last year which was tops in the National Football League. Even though that Bradford was in his first year with the Vikings, he had familiarity with offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur when they worked together with the Eagles as Bradford made it his business to not force the football.

Stefon Diggs

Minnesota has plenty of speed with wide receivers such as Laquon Treadwell and Stefon Diggs, but the biggest question will be whether or not that Bradford who is not known for the deep pass will be able to get them the football consistently? However whereas Bradford doesn’t get the football down the field with regularity, one of his favorites options in the passing game last year was tight end Kyle Rudolph. Rudolph continues to improve in each season with the Vikings and his 6’6″ frame is a matchup nightmare for opposing safeties and linebackers. Rudolph will be Bradford’s go-to-guy once again this season; especially on third down as he knows how to move the chains.

But with Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer being a defensive minded coach, Minnesota’s bread and butter is defensive football. Last year the Vikings were third in the National Football League in total defense which included holding nine opponents under 20 points. Defensive end Danielle Hunter is rapidly emerging as a force for the Vikings which was evident by him recording 12.5 sacks last year. A knee injury could force defensive tackle Shariff Floyd to retire, but Minnesota still possesses plenty of depth on the defensive line with defensive tackle Linval Joseph and defensive end Brian Robison.

Detroit Lions 6-10

The 2016 National Football League season was full of surprises which included seeing the Detroit Lions reach the postseason. Lions head coach Jim Caldwell was able to rally his team as Detroit was seeking to replace a legend in wide receiver Calvin Johnson who had retired following the end of the 2015 NFL. However although that the Lions made the playoffs last January, they finished the season on a four-game losing streak which included blowing an opportunity to win the NFC North for the first time in franchise history. And as the Lions are set to embark on a new campaign, will they be able to do something which they’ve been unable to do since 1995 which is to make the postseason in consecutive years?

Jim Caldwell

For Caldwell and Lions general manager Bob Quinn, they have attached their wagon to quarterback Matthew Stafford. In 2009, the Lions made Stafford the first overall pick of the National Football League Draft in the hopes that he would help to reverse the fortunes of their franchise. Stafford has not always had the best team around him, but by 2011 he was able to help Detroit reach the playoffs. Stafford has made one Pro Bowl appearance and he has rapidliy become one of the better quarterbacks in Lions franchise history which is evident by him passing for at least 4,000 yards in each of the last six years. The Lions have committed to Stafford as last month they gave him a five-year, $136 million extension which made him the highest paid player in NFL history.

But Stafford’s extension with the Lions has been met with criticism as he has a career record of 51-58, while he has never won a playoff game. Stafford did show maturity last year as without Johnson as his security blanket, he had to focus on getting the football to other wide receivers, but will he be able to take the next step and get the Lions a playoff victory?

Matthew Stafford

A big reason why the Lions have had to rely on Stafford’s arm so much is that they have struggled mightily in regards running the football. The Lions leading rusher in 2016 was running back Theo Riddick with just 357 yards, and as a team, Detroit was 30th in the National Football League in rushing. And with Riddick as the Lions best option at running back heading into the new season, I don’t see the Lions problems in regards to running the football going away; especially with a patchwork offensive line.

Last year the Lions defense lacked sizzle, but they had substance. Seven of Detroit’s opponents in 2016 were held under 20 points as points came at a premium against them. But as the Lions were only able to tally 26 sacks, they lacked the ability to make big plays in key situations which is a big reason why they were swept by the Packers.

A big reason for the Lions lack of a pass rush was due to the fact that defensive end Ziggy Ansah was plagued by an ankle injury as after recording 14.5 sacks in 2015, he was limited to just a pair of sacks last year. Aside from Ansah, the Lions don’t have a pass rusher who can consistently put fear into opponents which makes it paramount that he is healthy to be an anchor of Detroit’s defensive line.

The Lions won’t be confused with having an easy schedule as they have road games with the New York Giants and New Orleans, as well a pair of divisional meetings with the Packers. The Lions have not had consecutive winning seasons since 1995 and Caldwell and his club have their work cut out for them in order to make that a reality in 2017.

Chicago Bears 5-11

It’s hard to believe, but the Chicago Bears have not made the playoffs since 2010, while they have not had a winning record since 2012. Over the last three seasons the Bears have lost a combined 34 games for their worst stretch since 1997-2000 as this organization has been plagued by numerous bad personnel decisions. General manager Ryan Pace and head coach John Fox are each set to begin their third year with the Bears and as Chicago is in the midst of rebuilding, there doesn’t appear to be any end in sight in regards to the futility in the Windy City.

In 2009, the Bears acquired quarterback Jay Cutler from the Denver Broncos and he was expected to be a savior as he was expected to finally solve Chicago’s long time issues at the position. Cutler had an up and down career with the Bears as he was 51-51 as a starter while throwing 154 touchdowns to 109 interceptions.

At the conclusion of the 2016 National Football League season, Cutler announced that he was going to retire after 11 years as a professional. But when Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill suffered a knee injury during training camp, Cutler decided to unretire to take his spot in South Florida.

John Fox

Pace and Fox have spent this off-season attempting to find Cutler’s replacement with the Bears. The first move by the Bears was to sign quarterback Mike Glennon. Glennon spent the last four years as a backup quarterback. Glennon has 18 starts under his belt in the National Football League and he has a career record of 5-13. However the Bears saw enough and they decided to sign Glennon to a three-year deal for $45 million.

The Bears would not stop there as they made a trade with the San Francisco 49ers to move up to the second overall pick in the National Football League Draft this past April to select quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. The jury is still out on Trubisky who only had one year as a starter collegiately for the North Carolina Tar Heels. But this was enough for Pace and Fox to be convinced that Trubisky will be the Bears quarterback of the future.

But whereas the Bears were only able to go 3-13 last year and that they are in the process of rebuilding, it means that there have been plenty of opportunities for young players to earn roster spots. Last year as a rookie, running back Jordan Howard exploded for 1,313 yards, while he also made the Pro Bowl. Howard did have 252 carries last year and as there is plenty of wear and tear on running backs in the National Football League, the Bears must make sure that he stays fresh here in 2017.

There is potential in the Bears receiving corps, but potential is only go on paper. In 2015, Chicago used the seventh overall pick of the National Football League Draft on wide receiver Kevin White. However through two seasons, White has only appeared in four games for the Bears. White’s absence gave wide receiver Cameron Meredith the opportunity to be “the guy” last year, but he’ll miss the entire upcoming season as the result of a torn ACL. Wide receiver Kendall Wright was first-round pick of the Tennessee Titans in 2012, but in five seasons in Nashville he was never able able to reach his potential. Now after Wright signed a one-year deal to join the Bears, he will get a shot at redemption, however it won’t be easy as he’ll have to rely on a rookie quarterback in Trubisky to get him the football.

Like the Bears receiving corps, the defense in Chicago has potential, but it is just a matter of everyone staying healthy for defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. Outside linebacker Danny Trevathan has been out of action since he suffered a torn patellar tendon last November. In 12 games as a rookie in 2016, outside linebacker Leonard Floyd was able to record 7 sacks, and I can see Fangio using him in the same role that he used outside linebacker Aldon Smith in when he was the defensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers. Floyd missed four games last year due to injury, and the Bears are going to need the combination of him and Trevathan to be healthy in order to consistently put pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

Right out of the chute the Bears are going to have to deal with some heavy hitters as they will face the Atlanta Falcons, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Green Bay Packers, and Pittsburgh Steelers in their first four games. Only the Buccaneers didn’t make the playoffs last season, and as the Bears have questions surrounding their quarterbacking situation, this could be a long season in the Windy City.

X-Division Winner

Source: Pro-football-reference.com

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2017 NFC North Draft Grades

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Green Bay Packers

First-Round Pick: (N/A)

Best Pick: Round Seven-Malachi Dupre-Wide Receiver-LSU

Grade: B

The Green Bay Packers are hardly ever in contention when it comes to signing the top-tier free agents which means that their focus is always on the National Football League Draft in regards to making roster upgrades. That was once again the case this year as Packers general manager Ted Thompson sought to make things happen for his team at the NFL Draft and maintain their status as the team to beat in the NFC North.

After making a deal with the Cleveland Browns, the Packers traded out of the first round, but they would obtain the first selection of the second round which is where Thompson began to go to work.

After the Packers secondary was torched in their NFC Championship Game loss to the Atlanta Falcons, upgrading the unit became a top priority here in the off-season. The Packers used their first choice of the draft on Washington Huskies cornerback Kevin King which was followed by using their second pick of the round on North Carolina State Wolfpack safety Josh Jones. The Packers would keep the defensive theme going in the third round when they selected Auburn Tigers defensive tackle Montravius Adams, but they may have found a steal in the fourth round when they selected Wisconsin Badgers outside linebacker Vince Biegel.

Vince Biegel

At Wisconsin, Biegel played opposite of outside linebacker T.J. Watt who went on to be a first-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers. But Biegel has a motor like no other, and that determination should see him crack the Packers linebacker rotation rather quickly.

Later in the fourth round the Packers selected BYU Cougars running back Jamaal Williams who won’t completely solve Green Bay’s issues at running back, but he can provide them with a player who will be good in short yardage situations as he continues to familiarize himself with the nuances of the team.

The Packers got themselves a steal in the seventh round when they selected LSU Tigers wide receiver Malachi Dupre. Dupre entered college as one of the nation’s top prep players, but a stagnant passing game at LSU didn’t allow him to shine. And now it will be interesting to see if Dupre will be able to take his game to the next level in the National Football League in the same fashion that former LSU Tigers wide receivers in Odell Beckham Jr. of the New York Giants and Jarvis Landry of the Miami Dolphins are currently doing.

If you want to question how and why the Packers have made the playoffs in each of the last eight years, just look at what Thompson has been able to consistently do at the draft as he goes in with a plan of attack, and more importantly he sticks with it.

Detroit Lions

First-Round Pick: Jarrad Davis-Linebacker-Florida

Best Pick: Jarrad Davis

Grade: C

It was going to be interesting to see what the Detroit Lions would do to build off of their surprising trip to the postseason last season as all signs pointed to them attempting to fix the defense. But the Lions main issue on defense in 2016 were a lack of sacks as they were only able to tally 26. And when the Lions were ready to make their first choice of the 2017 National Football League Draft, they had both Missouri Tigers defensive end Charles Harris and Michigan Wolverines defensive end Taco Charlton sitting there for the taking. However Lions general manager Bob Quinn decided to taking Florida Gators inside linebacker Jarrad Davis. Davis does fill a need for the Lions at middle linebacker, but if Davis was their guy they probably could have gotten him in the second round, while still being able to pick up a pass rusher in the first.

Teez Tabor

Three of the Lions first four picks in the draft were used on defense which included taking Davis’ college teammate in cornerback Teez Tabor in the second round. Tabor had first-round potential, but he slipped to the second and only time will tell if the Lions got themselves a steal.

The Lions didn’t take a pass rusher until the sixth round when they selected Arkansas Razorbacks defensive end Jeremiah Ledbetter which is not going to help their issues as far as getting to the quarterback. And until the Lions find a way to consistently put pressure on Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, they will continue to play second fiddle to them in the NFC North.

Minnesota Vikings

First-Round Pick: (N/A)

Best Pick: Round Two-Dalvin Cook-Running Back-Florida State

Grade: B

After the Minnesota Vikings acquired quarterback Sam Bradford from the Philadelphia Eagles last year, they knew that they wouldn’t be picking in the first round of this year’s National Football League Draft. But that didn’t prevent Vikings general manager Rick Spielman from coming out of the draft smelling like a rose. The Vikings watched the first round train pass them by, but they struck it rich in the second round with their selection of Florida State Seminoles running back Dalvin Cook.

Dalvin Cook

Cook enters the National Football League as a two-time All-American, while also being one of the most decorated ball carriers in the history of the Florida State program. The Vikings needed to replace running back Adrian Peterson who joined the New Orleans Saints and their rushing attack shouldn’t skip a beat with Cook as the feature ball carrier.

This draft was all about getting better in the trenches for the Vikings which saw them make a run through Big Ten country as in the third round they would select Ohio State Buckeyes center Pat Elflein, while taking Iowa defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson and Michigan Wolverines inside linebacker Ben Gedeon in the fourth round.

In all the Vikies made 11 selections in the draft as they added depth. And whereas that Cook will rightfully grab the headlines of this draft class, there will be other impact players who’ll emerge from this group.

Chicago Bears

First-Round Pick: Mitchell Trubisky-Quarterback-North Carolina

Best Pick: Round Four-Eddie Jackson-Safety-Alabama

Grade: F

The last three years have seen the Chicago Bears combine to lose 34 games and after their performance at the National Football League Draft, they aren’t any closer to turning things around. This off-season has already seen the Bears sign former Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon to a three-year deal that is worth $45 million with $19 million guaranteed. The Bears entered the draft with the third overall pick with all signs pointing to them improving their defense. However Bears general manager Ryan Pace got trigger happy when he made a trade with the San Francisco 49ers to move up one slot to select North Carolina Tar Heels quarterback Mitch Trubisky.

Mitch Trubisky

In making the deal the Bears sent three additional picks to San Francisco this year, while also parting with their third-round pick next year for a player in Trubisky who some people feel might be a one-year wonder. The Bears bet against themselves since there wasn’t going to be another team that was seeking to move up to select Trubisky and have now mortgaged their future in the process.

The Bears failed to address their issues in the secondary until the fourth round when they selected Alabama Crimson Tide free safety Eddie Jackson who missed the majority of the 2016 college football season due to an injury.

In all the Bears only had five picks as they failed to properly address their needs on the offensive and defensive line, as well as in the secondary. And thus it could be another long season in Chicago for the Bears and their fan base.

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Not The Monsters Of The Midway

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From 2005-2012, the Chicago Bears were one of the best teams in the National Football League. Over that stretch the Bears posted five winning seasons, along with three NFC North Championships, and a Super Bowl appearance. But the Bears might be kicking themselves when they fired head coach Lovie Smith at the conclusion of the 2012 season after he over saw this span of success in Chicago. Since then the Bears have not posted a winning season, and here in 2016, they are spiraling out of control.

The Bears began this season by losing their first three games and it has not gotten any better for them since. Chicago has a trio of three-game losing streaks to their credit this season, and with only three games remaining, they are on pace for their worst season since 2002 when they went 4-12. General manager Ryan Pace and head coach John Fox are both in their second year with the Bears, but neither man could have imagined the misfortune that they would be forced to deal with here in 2016.

Wide receiver Kevin White was the Bears first-round pick in 2015. And after White missed his entire rookie season with a leg injury, he has only appeared in four games here in 2016. The Bears traded up in the first round this year to select outside linebacker Leonard Floyd. But after Floyd had amassed 5 sacks in eight games, he would be placed in the National Football League’s concussion protocol after a scary head and neck injury that he suffered during the Bears Week 11 loss to the New York Giants. Floyd has since returned to the Bears and has gone on to tally 2 more sacks. Veteran wide receiver Alshon Jeffery has just finished serving a four-game suspension that was handed down by the NFL after he tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. From 2011-2014, Fox was the head coach of the Denver Broncos, and during his timed there he drafted inside linebacker Danny Trevathan. After Trevathan helped the Broncos win the Super Bowl last season, he struck it big in free agency when he agreed to a four-year deal with the Bears that is worth $24.5 million. But after the Bears lost to the Tennessee Titans in Week 12, Trevathan was placed on injured reserve when he suffered a ruptured patellar tendon.

Jay Cutler

As of right now the Bears have 16 players who are on injured reserve with the biggest name being quarterback Jay Cutler. Cutler was placed on injured reserve last month by the Bears after it was revealed that he would need surgery to repair a torn labrum. Cutler’s time with the Bears has been inconsistent as his record as a starter is 51-51, while Chicago is no closer to being a Super Bowl contender with him now than when they acquired him from the Broncos in 2009. And as the Bears are going nowhere fast, this might be the perfect time to evaluate all 53 roster spots heading into 2017.

Cutler is still under contract with the Bears through 2020. But since Cutler is 33-years of age, and his only claim to fame is having a strong arm, this is great opportunity for the Bears to move on from him either by trading him, or releasing him. The Bears appear to be a lock as far as obtaining a top-five choice in the 2017 National Football League Draft and Clemson Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson could be on Chicago’s roster; especially since there won’t be that many quarterbacks selected in the first round.

The Bears have not lucked out on White who was supposed to give their receiving corps some depth as he is flirting with being a draft bust. The Bears did allow running back Matt Forte to leave last off-season and sign with the New York Jets as running back Jeremy Langford was expected to his heir apparent. But is has been rookie running back Jordan Howard who has been the one to emerge as the Bears top runner. Howard is the Bears leading rusher with 969 yards and he appears to have a bright future with them.

Matt Barkley

Cutler’s injury has paved the way for Matt Barkley to get some reps as the Bears starting quarterback. Barkley has been the Bears starting quarterback in each of the team’s last three games. And although that the Bears record in Barkley’s three starts is 1-2, they’ve had an opportunity to win each contest. One thing that has helped Barkley is that he gets the football out of his hands much quicker than Cutler along with having better footwork as the offense appears to have more cohesion under him. Barkley appears to be the Bears starting quarterback for the final three games as Fox and Pace have to decide who is going to be their signal caller in 2017.

But overall, the Bears must get more athletic on both sides of the football; especially in the trenches. The Bears are currently lacking a game changer on their defensive line, while they need players on their offensive line that can take control of the unit and provide stability as Chicago currently has three offensive lineman that are on injured reserve.

However as grim as it currently is for the Bears, they can take solace in knowing that the National Football League is known for quick turnarounds. Eight teams that finished 2015 with a losing record currently find themselves in contention for the postseason with three weeks remaining in the regular season with one in the Dallas Cowboys having already clinched a playoff berth. And if the Bears are able take care of their business in the off-season which means upgrading the talent, a quick turnaround in 2017 might not be that far-fetched.

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2016 Week 14 NFL Picks

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Quarterback Dak Prescott has the Dallas Cowboys on the verge of an NFC East Title?

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2016 Week 8 NFL Picks

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Will Derek Carr and the Oakland Raiders be able to make it consecutive wins in the State of Florida?

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2016 Week 4 NFL Picks

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The New York Jets need quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to get back on track.

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2016 NFC North Projections

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X-Green Bay Packers 11-5

The Green Bay Packers have been the model of consistency in the National Football League as their seven consecutive trips to the postseason are tied with the New England Patriots for the longest current streak in the league. For Packers head coach Mike McCarthy, the last two Januarys have ended in heartbreaking losses on the road against teams from the NFC West. In January 2015, the NFC Championship Game saw the Packers in control for the majority of the game until the very end when they lost to the Seattle Seahawks. And this past January saw the Packers scrap and claw to force overtime against the Arizona Cardinals before coming apart at the seams during the extra frame. Now the Packers are looking to put all of the playoff disappointment of the recent years behind them and get back to the Super Bowl.

Aaron Rodgers

Luckily for the Packers, they still have Aaron Rodgers at quarterback. Rodgers is a two-time National Football League MVP that is one of the best signal callers in the business. But recently Rodgers ability has masked some of the Packers flaws on offense which can no longer be the case if Green Bay wants to get back to the Super Bowl.

Last year weight issues plagued running back Eddie Lacy as he is an important part of the Packers offense. Lacy only gained 758 rushing yards as he drew the ire of Packers head coach Mike McCarthy due to his conditioning. This off-season has seen Lacy dedicate himself to getting in better shape, and the slimmed down running back should become a bigger contributor in Green Bay’s offense.

 

Rodgers had to go all of 2015 without the services of wide receiver Jordy Nelson who has been his most reliable pass catcher. Nelson tore his ACL last summer, and although that he is back on the Packers roster, it is going to take him some time to regain the form that he had in 2014 when he tallied 1,519 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns. In the Packers receiving corps, they also have Randall Cobb, Ty Montgomery, and Davante Adams, but somebody needs to step up from this trio and become more consistent.

The Packers offensive line isn’t full of Pro Bowlers or household names, but they have been together for awhile. However Rodgers was sacked 46 times last year which isn’t going to cut it in 2016 if Green Bay wants to win the NFC North.

For Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers, he must find a way to get more usage of outside linebacker Clay Matthews as a pass rusher. In 2014, injuries to the Packers defense forced Matthews to play inside linebacker. Matthews tends to line up at different spots defensively for Green Bay, but he is a better player as an outside linebacker. The Packers used a fourth-round draft pick on inside linebacker Blake Martinez this past April, and if he is ready to fill Green Bay’s void at that position, Matthews should be able to see more time as a pass rusher. Outside linebacker Julius Peppers is 36-years of age, but he still can put plenty of fear into opposing quarterbacks. Peppers is a freak of nature and there is a strong possibility that when this season is over, he will be in the top-five on the National Football League’s all-time list for sacks.

There is plenty of potential for the Packers in their secondary, but it is just a matter of whether or not that cornerbacks Sam Shields and Damarious Randall, along with free safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, and strong safety Morgan Burnett will come to play on a weekly basis.

Kicker Mason Crosby can be shaky at times on field goals, but he is still a player that McCarthy relies on, while punter Tim Masthay has the strong leg needed for when the temperature drops during the Wisconsin winter.

The Packers have a chance to set the tone for themselves early as three of their first six games will come against the foes from the NFC North as they know that they must scrap and claw to win this division.

Y-Minnesota Vikings 11-5

 

Last year saw everything beginning to come together for the Minnesota Vikings as they won the NFC North for the first time since 2009, but they suffered a heart breaking loss in the NFC Wild Card Game to the Seattle Seahawks. The Vikings are hopeful that they can learn from that experience as they look to make it consecutive postseason appearances for the first time since 2009 as they are set to begin life in their new home of U.S. Bank Stadium in Downtown Minneapolis.

Mike Zimmer

For Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer it has not taken him that long to make Minnesota a contender once again as he has two years under his belt. Zimmer has always preached having a strong defense, while he also has an offense that can take care of the football.

Running back Adrian Peterson is set to begin his tenth season in the National Football League. But unlike most 31-year old running backs, Peterson isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. Peterson gained 1,485 yards last year, however he led the league in carries with 327 as it marked the fourth time in his career that toted the rock at least 300 times in a campaign. Peterson is still extremely vital to the Vikings offense as his running ability sets up the pass. And as Peterson will look to keep his legs churning, another 1,000-yard campaign on the ground will put him in the top 10 on the NFL’s all-time rushing list.

But as Peterson is still important to the Vikings offense, is quarterback Teddy Bridgewater ready to take the next step? From the early stages of Bridgewater’s National Football League career, he doesn’t appear to be a quarterback that is going to be hot commodity in fantasy football, but he has been accurate to the tune of completing 65.3% of his passes last season. However Minnesota’s passing offense was 31st in the NFL in 2015 as they have been know to shy away from taking chances down the field which is something that must change if the Vikings want to be a legitimate Super Bowl contender. And that will come down to whether or not that Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turnver is ready to take the kid gloves off of his young quarterback.

Stefon Diggs

Last year as a rookie, wide receiver Stefon Diggs showed promise as he averaged 13.8 yards per catch, but he will need to develop more consistency with Bridgewater. Tight end Kyle Rudolph is still a very dependable pass catcher at his position while the Vikings have high hopes for rookie wide receiver Laquon Treadwell.

But make no mistake about it that Minnesota’s team has a blue-collar feel to it which starts with their defense. Defensively the Vikings were 13th in total defense as they have a unit that can get after opponents.

The Vikings defensive line might not be “The Purple People Eaters” of the 1970’s, but they can still bring the noise. The combination of defensive ends Everson Griffen and Brian Robison, along with defensive tackles Linval Joseph and Sharrif Floyd have the potential to combine for 25 sacks, while at least one member of the quartet could end up in the Pro Bowl.

Chad Greenway

Minnesota has solid corner linebackers in Anthony Barr and Chad Greenway, but their secondary is littered with play makers such as free safety Harrison Smith which is important in a division such as the NFC North that has Pro Bowl caliber quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers.

Since joining the Vikings in 2012, kicker Blair Walsh has been one of the more accurate kickers in the National Football League, but he must put last year’s meltdown in the playoffs behind him. Last year Walsh had a field goal percentage of 87.2 which included making six kicks from beyond 50 yards and his strong right leg will have an impact on the upcoming season for the Vikings.

It won’t take us long to see if the Vikings are for real as in Week 2 they will host the Packers which will be followed by a trip to Charlotte to face the Carolina Panthers who are the defending NFC Champions. But comes Christmas, Minnesota should still have plenty to play for.

Chicago Bears 9-7

2015 was an up and down year for the Chicago Bears as they finished with a record of 6-10. It marked the fifth consecutive season in which the Bears failed to qualify for the postseason which is their longest stretch since 1995-2000. And during the Bears current streak, they have employed three different head coaches over that stretch. But however the Bears appear to be committed to their current head coach in John Fox. Fox is coming off of his first year in Chicago and he knows a thing or two about turning around struggling franchises from his previous work as the head coach of the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos respectively.

Jay Cutler

After leading the National Football League in interceptions in 2014 with 18, quarterback Jay Cutler threw just 11 in 2015. Cutler improved under offensive coordinator Adam Gase last year. But Gase is now the head coach of the Miami Dolphins. Dowell Loggains was the Bears quarterbacks coach last year and he will now take over the play calling duties with Gase being in Miami and he must continue to build off of what Chicago’s former offensive coordinator was able to accomplish with Cutler last season.

What helped Cutler improve as a quarterback in 2015 was the fact that he began to trust throwing the football to his running backs as opposed to simply trying to force his passes down the field. Last year Bears running backs accounted for nearly 70 receptions and Jeremy Langford could once have a big impact in Chicago.

Jeremy Langford

After the Bears parted with longtime running back Matt Forte this off-season, Langford should take a bigger role in Chicago’s offense this year. Langford only averaged 3.6 yards per carry as a rookie in 2015, but I expect him to be a guy that gets at least 20 carries per game, and he can also be a solid contributor on swing and screen passes.

Kevin White

Last year saw the Bears use a first-round pick on wide receiver Kevin White, but a shin injury prevented him from taking the field. Now 2016 will be White’s de facto rookie season as he theoretically gives the Bears another first-round pick this season. White’s presence should take some of the pressure off of wide receiver Alshon Jeffery as the Bears look to open up the passing game some more.

As Fox and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio are in their second year with the Bears, they’ve gone about putting more play makers on that side of the football. The Bears have high hopes for outside linebacker Leonard Floyd who was their first-round pick this past spring. At 6’6″, 240 lbs., Floyd has a slender build, but the Bears are optimistic that he will have a smooth transition to the National Football League. The Bears also have outside linebackers that can rush the passer in Willie Young and Lamarr Houston as this is a part of their arsenal that will be needed as they look to compete with the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers in the NFC North.

The Bears first six opponents this season did not make the playoffs last year, and a quick start could be just what the doctor ordered as they look to sneak up on the Packers and Vikings in the NFC North.

Detroit Lions 6-10

Last year was an up and down one for the Detroit Lions as they began the season with a record of 0-5 only to rebound and finish 7-9. Assistant coaches were dropping like flies while general manager Martin Mayhew was also relieved of his duties and replaced by Bob Quinn. But somehow Jim Caldwell was able to maintain his post as the Lions head coach. And although that Caldwell was able to avoid the chopping block this past January, he is still on the hot seat and he’ll be fighting an uphill battle to get the Lions back to the postseason after missing out on it in 2015.

It is going to be difficult for the Lions to replace the contributions of wide receiver Calvin Johnson who decided to retire after nine seasons in the National Football League as his presence alone caused matchup issues for opposing defenses. And in Johnson’s final season with the Lions, he led the team in receptions (88), receiving yards (1,214), and touchdowns (9) as quarterback Matthew Stafford is going to now have to rely on committee of wide receivers where nobody stands out.

One of the Lions biggest issues in 2015 was their inability to run the football. The Lions were last in the National Football League in rushing with rookie running back Ameer Abdullah being their leading rusher with just 597 yards. Abdullah’s struggles summed up the Lions issues on offense which began with their offensive line. The Lions were never able to get the right combination on their offensive line which made their offense one dimensional, while Stafford was running for his life in the pocket.

Ezekiel Ansah

Defensively the Lions do have a Defensive Player of the Year candidate in defensive end Ziggy Ansah who had 14.5 sacks last year, but overall this is a unit that lacks play makers as they could once again be fighting an uphill battle in the NFC North.

Three of the Lions first four games here in 2016 will be on the road, with two of those contests coming against NFC North foes in the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears as another slow start will get the folks in Motown gearing up to run Caldwell out of town.

X-Division Winner

Y-Clinched Wild Card

Source: Pro-football-reference.com

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