Tag Archives: Matthew Stafford

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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A Motor City Meltdown

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The Detroit Lions teased their fan base with a trip to the playoffs this past January. And when the Lions suffered a controversial loss to the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Wild Card Game, it was a harbinger of things to come for them in 2015. Last year the Lions had the second best defense in the National Football League as they were led by defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh who had a very menacing presence. But the Lions allowed Suh to leave Detroit in free agency as he went on to sign with the Miami Dolphins and their defense has lost its edge. Coming into the 2015 NFL season, the Lions also had questions in regards to their offensive line as they lost key veterans from the group such as center Dominic Raiola and guard Rob Sims. And what you’ve gotten in 2015 from the Lions is a group that isn’t as tough in the trenches which is magnified by the team’s 1-7 record.

The highlight of the Lions season came in their Week 1 loss to the San Diego Chargers. The Lions raced to a 21-3 lead in the first half before the wheels fell off and they lost 33-28. In Week 4, it was the same old song for the Lions as they trailed the Seattle Seahawks 13-10 late in the contest. The Lions were driving for the potential game-winning score when Seahawks strong safety Kam Chancellor stripped wide receiver Calvin Johnson of the football. The ball bounced around in the end zone before it was batted out of play by Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright. The officials would give the ball the Seahawks at the 20-yard line as they deemed it a touch back. But in actuality, the Lions should have been rewarded the football at the 1-yard line due to Wright’s illegal bat. And unfortunately for the Lions, they would go on to lose to the Seahawks 13-10.

Matthew Stafford

In the Lions, Week 5 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, the boo birds reigned down at Ford Field with the 42-17 beat down resulting in quarterback Matthew Stafford being benched. Stafford would return to the Lions starting lineup in the following week as he threw for 405 yards in helping Detroit get its only victory of the season so far which was a 37-34 nail biter in overtime against the Chicago Bears. The Lions held a 17-3 lead over the Minnesota Vikings in Week 7, but they were unable to hang as they lost 28-19. And last Sunday, the Lions made the long journey across the Atlantic Ocean to London, England where they were taken behind the woodshed by a depleted Kansas City Chiefs team as they lost 45-10.

Jim Caldwell

Lions head coach Jim Caldwell has dug deep into his bag of tricks to light a fire under his team and nothing has worked. Last week the Lions fired offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and in Detroit’s first game without him, they only managed to score a touchdown and a field goal. A team such as the Lions can fire assistant coaches and attempt to make all of the adjustments that they want to, but this a team that is merely lacking leadership. And it is not helping Caldwell that he referred to the media room at the Lions headquarters as the “dungeon of doom” as whether or not he is right or wrong about this matter, he is fighting a losing battle with the media; especially since now is not the time for anyone that is associated with the Lions to be pointing fingers at anyone. And to make matters worse, the Lions fired their general manager Martin Mayhew along with team president Tom Lewand this week as this is an organization that is searching for answers.

Good franchises will use losses such as the one that the Lions suffered in January to the Cowboys as motivation as far as attempting to get better, but Detroit has failed to get over that as they are suffering from a playoff hangover. And when things like that happen, it screams for a culture change. When things are going good for Caldwell, they are really good, and the same can be said for him when the situation gets bad. From 2009-2011, Caldwell was the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, and in his first year there, he came out of the chute and won his first 14 games. The Colts would win the AFC Championship that season before losing to the New Orleans Saints in the Super Bowl, and by 2011, Caldwell had seen Indianapolis go 2-14 as once quarterback Peyton Manning was injured, he didn’t have an answer to rally that team.

Caldwell was a breath of fresh air for the Lions last year as he replaced Jim Schwartz who had lost the locker room. And as this current Lions team has faced adversity all season long which included having their first two games of the National Football League campaign on the road, they’ve never been able to overcome that and thus their confidence appears to have waned.

Stafford is in his seventh season as the Lions starting quarterback and he is true definition of the term “gunslinger”. Stafford will attempt to fit the football into tight spots which is evident by the 11 interceptions that he has already thrown this season. And although wide receiver Calvin Johnson is still a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses, it hasn’t prevented the Lions offense from being stagnant.

This season the Lions are 26th in the National Football League in total offense while they are last in rushing and 24th in third down conversions. The lack of a running game falls on the Lions offensive line as does the 22 sacks that Stafford has suffered this season as only three quarterbacks in the National Football League have been sacked more than him.

Defensively the Lions are 27th in the National Football League and unlike the past few years, they don’t have that difference maker on that side of the football which doesn’t appear to be coming down the pike this season.

The Lions are in the midst of their bye week, but don’t expect things to get any better for this team anytime soon. In Week 10, the Lions will travel to face the Green Bay Packers who are one of the best teams in the NFC in their first of two meetings which will be followed by meeting the resurgent Oakland Raiders who are no longer a pushover. And whereas the Lions had the look of a team that could win the Super Bowl last year, this team will most likely be picking in the top five of the National Football League next spring which should symbolize the end of the Caldwell era in Detroit.

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2015 NFC North Projections

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X-Green Bay Packers 12-4

This off-season began quicker than expected for the Green Bay Packers. For the first 55 minutes of the NFC Championship Game, the Packers did everything right in order to secure a berth in Super Bowl 49. But the last five minutes of the fourth quarter and in the few moments of overtime, the Packers fell apart and lost to the Seattle Seahawks. And now all that the Packers can do is reassemble and prepare for the 2015 National Football League season.

Aaron Rodgers

But luckily for the Packers, they still have Aaron Rodgers as their starting quarterback. Rodgers is set to enter his eighth season as the Packers starting quarterback and he is one of the best field generals in the NFL. Rodgers threw 38 touchdown passes last season to only 5 interceptions en route to being named as the NFL MVP for the second time in his career. Rodgers has that rare combination a strong throwing arm, precision, and overall awareness on the gridiron which makes the job of Packers head coach Mike McCarthy that much easier.

Around Rodgers, the Packers have talent as in a very short period of time, running back Eddie Lacy has proven himself to be very dependable. The Packers have taken care of Rodgers in the last two off-seasons as they re-signed his top two wide receivers in Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb while Davante Adams has the ability to emerge as a bigger part of the passing game in 2015. But whereas Nelson has been Rodgers most dependable target in recent year, things will be different in 2015 due to the fact that Nelson suffered a torn ACL in the preseason. The Packers offensive line might not be full of Pro Bowl caliber players, but they have played together for quite some time and they now have that cohesion which is important to any unit.

Defensively, the Packers have the potential to be really good in 2015 under defensive coordinator Dom Capers. Nose tackle B.J. Raji is returning after missing the entire 2014 NFL season with a bicep injury. And anyone that has followed Raji’s career knows that he is difficult to stop on the interior defensive line as he constantly commands a double team.

Clay Matthews

Last year injuries forced outside linebacker Clay Matthews III to play middle linebacker, but he is once again expected to mainly concentrate on being an edge rusher this year and he’ll have his tag-team partner back on the opposite side of him in outside linebacker Julius Peppers.

The Packers secondary took a ton of criticism following Green Bay’s loss in the NFC Championship Game, but they do return some talent there as strong safety Morgan Burnett and free safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix each has the potential to be All-Pros this season.

The Packers will begin the season with a very familiar foe as they’ll travel to meet the Chicago Bears while they’ll host the Seahawks in Week 2. And a quick start could be just what the doctor ordered for the Packers as far as them securing home-field advantage in the NFC which could be the difference in them making the Super Bowl this year.

Y-Detroit Lions 10-6

Jim Caldwell

2014 was a good year for the Detroit Lions. The Lions went 11-5 in their first season under head coach Jim Caldwell as they had one of the better teams in the National Football League. The Lions had the second ranked defense in the NFL and they saw quarterback Matthew Stafford enjoy his fourth consecutive season in which he passed for more than 4,200 yards. But we’ll see a different Lions team when they take the field this season.

The Lions didn’t go overboard in attempting to keep defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh in spite of his immense production on the field. Suh left the Lions as a free agent to join the Miami Dolphins while defensive tackle Nick Fairley left Detroit to join the St. Louis Rams. To offset the loss of Suh and Fairley, the Lions were able to acquire defensive tackle Haloti Ngata this off-season in a trade with the Baltimore Ravens. Ngata is a five-time Pro Bowl selection at defensive tackle, but up until this year he has spent his entire NFL career in a 3-4 defensive scheme which will make it interesting to see how he will be able to transition to the 4-3 in Detroit.

The Lions also have talent at linebacker in the form of outside linebackers Kyle Van Noy and DeAndre Levy along with middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch as each player can hit along with cover.

Offensively the Lions still possess one of the best units in the game as explosiveness is what they are all about. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is coming off of his fourth consecutive year in which he threw for at least 4,000 yards and folks that love fantasy football covet the opportunity to have him put up big numbers for them. Wide receiver Calvin Johnson was limited last year due to a bum knee, but the Lions are hopeful that is ready to re-emerge as one of the better receivers in football. Johnson’s injury gave wide receiver Golden Tate the opportunity to prove his worth and the combination of him and “Megatron” aka Johnson could be tough on secondaries in the NFC North.

The Lions were 28th in the National Football League last season in rushing, but a change could be on the way. The Lions drafted running back Ameer Abdullah in the second round of the NFL Draft this past spring and he is a home-run hitter at the tailback position as he has the potential to be the team’s first consistent threat at that position in a very long time.

The Lions will be on the road for the first two weeks of the upcoming National Football League season as they’ll take on the San Diego Chargers and the Minnesota Vikings. But Detroit’s biggest test of the year will come during a four-game stretch in the second half of the year where they will meet the Green Bay Packers twice. And if the Lions want to win the NFC North for the first time in franchise history, they are going to have to find a way to defeat the Packers.

Minnesota Vikings 9-7

Mike Zimmer

The Minnesota Vikings were fighting an uphill battle in 2014 under head coach Mike Zimmer, but they found a way to get through it. The Vikings started a rookie quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater while they only had the services of running back Adrian Peterson for one game as the National Football League didn’t allow him to play as the result of off-the-field issues. The Vikings were able to survive as they went 7-9 and in 2015, Minnesota feels that they can make the playoffs.

For Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer, he can take solace in knowing that Bridgewater showed fight and resolve as he improved as his rookie campaign went along. Bridgewater was able to put the notion to bed that his throwing arm wasn’t strong enough for the brutal elements of Minnesota as the Vikings appear to have their franchise quarterback. And under the tutelage of Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner, Bridgewater could flirt with completing nearly 70 percent of his passes this year.

The Vikings passing game should also receive a boost after the team acquired wide receiver Mike Wallace from the Miami Dolphins this off-season. Wallace is one of the fastest players in the National Football League, but it is just a matter of him being motivated on each play.

Adrian Peterson

But the Vikings offense will come down to Peterson. It seemed as if the Vikings and Peterson were heading towards a messy divorce, but cooler heads have prevailed which is a good thing for Minnesota and bad for every other team within the NFC North. Even with the return of Peterson, the Vikings running game game suffered a blow in training camp when offensive tackle Phil Loadholt ruptured his Achilles tendon and his absence will leave a big void to be filled.

Prior to becoming the head coach of the Vikings, Zimmer made his name in the NFL on the defensive side of the football which included stints as the defensive coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys, Atlanta Falcons, and Cincinnati Bengals. And whereas the NFC North features high-profile quarterbacks in Matthew Stafford of the Detroit Lions, Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers, and Jay Cutler of the Chicago Bears, Zimmer knows that he needs a strong defense that is going to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks in order to win games.

The Vikes were 14th in the National Football League last year in total defense and that number has the potential to improve this year being that their defensive line can disrupt things. Defensive tackles Sharrif Floyd and Linval Joseph can plug up the middle while defensive ends Everson Griffen and Brian Robison could both be in the running to be selected to the Pro Bowl which should make life a bit easier for the back seven in the Vikings defense.

If the Vikings are able to remain relevant in the playoff picture until November when the temperature begins to drop, they can become a very formidable team as opponents won’t be thrilled to have to play them in cold of Minnesota.

Chicago Bears 7-9

The past few years have seen a tremendous overhaul in the front office of the Chicago Bears and the result has been an unsuccessful football team. Ryan Pace is the Bears third general manager since 2011 while John Fox is the third head coach in Chicago since 2012. The Bears are Pace’s first shot at being a general manager in the National Football League while this will be Fox’s third stop as far as being a head coach. Fox has a career record of 119-89 in 14 seasons with the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos. And at each stop along the way, Fox was able to take his team to the Super Bowl at least once. Fox is still one of the best defensive minds in the NFL, but his time in Chicago will be defined by what he will be able to do with Bears starting quarterback Jay Cutler.

Jay Cutler

Cutler has all of the physical tools to be one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL and to also lead the Bears to a Super Bowl Title, but it comes down to whether or not that he’ll be dialed in mentally. Part of Cutler’s problem is that 2015 will be his seventh year in Chicago and new Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase will be the fifth different offensive coordinator that he will be working with in the Windy City. And Cutler is also coming off of his second season with the Bears in which he led the NFL in interceptions.

The Bears played the old switcheroo this off-season when wide receiver Brandon Marshall was traded to the New York Jets. Pace didn’t waste any time in replacing Marshall as he used the Bears first round pick at the 2015 National Football League Draft on wide receiver Kevin White. At 6’3″, 215 lbs., White has the physical tools to be good, it is just a matter of him getting adjusted to the professional game. But the bigger problem for the Bears and White right now is that a shin injury has kept him on the sidelines during training camp which could carry over to the regular season. The Bears still have wide receiver Alshon Jeffery who will be looked at as being the go-to-guy for Cutler in the Bears passing game now that Marshall is no longer with the team.

But the best thing that can help a struggling quarterback is a strong running game. And when Fox was with both the Panthers and Broncos, he had teams that were able run the football effectively. Since joining the Bears in 2008, running back Matt Forte has been one of the better and more reliable players at his position in the NFL. And only Walter Payton has rushed for more yards in a Bears uniform than Forte. Forte has been durable as well and you can expect him to carry the football at least 200 times this season.

But for both Cutler and Forte, this will be a very young offensive line that will be blocking for them in 2015 and with that it will be important to get some cohesion early on if this offense will be able to enjoy any success this season.

The Bears finished last season ranked 30th in total defense which means that there will be some changes on that side of the football in Chicago. Fox has allowed new Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio to switch the Bears from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defensive scheme which will ask more of the linebackers. Fangio spent the last four seasons as the defensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers where he coached some of the best defensive players of this era. The Bears don’t have any defensive play makers currently as this scheme will be a work in progress for both Fox and Fangio.

The Bears first three games of 2015 will be against playoff teams from last season in the Green Bay Packers, Arizona Cardinals, and Seattle Seahawks as Fox, Cutler, and crew can ill-afford to begin the new season in the basement of the NFC North.

X-Clinched Division

Y-Clinched Wild Card

Source: Pro-football-reference.com

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2015 NFL Wild Card Picks

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http://thechtonsports.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Bengals-Redskins-Football.jpg

Which Andy Dalton will show up for the Cincinnati Bengals this Sunday in the AFC Wild Card Game?

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