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NFL Preview: NFC North

Aug 28, 2013
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The NFL kicks off Thursday, September 5. Daily previews of all eight division are in order.

Detroit Lions

Last Year: They went 0-6 in the division and tacked on two other losses that defied logic, including a three-point loss on Thanksgiving to Houston due in part to Jim Schwartz challenging a play that would have been automatically reviewed, and thus made it an automatic non-review. They have since changed the rule. Detroit dropped eight games by less than seven points last year, so a regression toward the mean is going to happen.

Big Acquisition: Reggie Bush. After proving in Miami that he was more than a third-down back, Bush gets back to his natural habitat: indoor football. Detroit has tried nearly every option at running back. Jahvid Best has a bruised brain. Mikel Leshoure blew out his Achilles tendon, smoked weed, and underwhelmed. Joique Bell is Joique Bell. Enter Bush. If he can balance the offense, which will always lean toward Calvin Johnson anyway, the Lions could be more dangerous.

Problem Area: Their offense has been dangerous over the last few years without Bush. Matt Stafford likes to throw. Megatron likes to catch. That is working for them. The problem here is despite Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley’s dominance inside, the defense stinks. Even Fairley and Suh are wildly undisciplined. With the loss of two starting defensive ends to free agency, the d-line for Detroit will be a roller coaster of productivity. Detroit did spend three of its first four picks on defense, but the Lions probably needed to spend all of them on defense (of course that’s a terrible idea as well). The Lions must get some instant production from pick #5 (DE Ziggy Ansah) and pick #36 (CB Darius Slay) if they plan on vying for a playoff spot.

Prediction: Detroit lost a lot of heartbreakers last year. This can be viewed in two ways: One, this will eventually correct itself and the Lions will win some of these close games. Two, the Lions are consistently shooting themselves in the foot with penalties, etc., that cause good teams to be average and average teams to be bad. They were the latter last year. I think they are the former this year. A good team rendered average by undisciplined play fostered by the man in charge, Jim Schwartz.

Prediction #1 – The Lions will go 7-9 this year.
Prediction #2 – Jim Schwartz will be fired by the Super Bowl.
Prediction #3 – Matt Stafford will miss at least a game from an injury (he’s due)
Prediction #4 – Megatron will catch 15 Touchdowns this year (he’s due)
Prediction #5 – Detroit will start the season 2-0 and then lose six of their next eight (very difficult schedule) - Pete Fitzsimmons

Chicago Bears

Let’s face it, this season is a great wide expanse of unknown unknowns interspersed with a few known unknowns. There is a LOT of new stuff going on with the Bears.

New Head Coach: Marc Trestman, fresh off of a successful stint in Canada, has a track record of doing great things with good quarterbacks (Rich Gannon) and galactically fantastic things with great quarterbacks (Steve Young). He’s got great raw material to work with in Jay Cutler, who conspicuously hasn’t been re-signed yet. The conventional wisdom is that 2013 will be a final exam for Cutler and if he fails, Trestman tries next year with the next guy. Maybe the next guy will do better in the . . .

New Offense: Trestman and co-offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer will institute a West Coast-style offense, wide open and relentlessly vertical. Cutler, Bears receiving record-holder Brandon Marshall and the newly acquired Martellus Bennett can thrive in this offense. There’s no reason why they wouldn’t unless . . .

New O-Line: First-round draft pick Kyle Long won’t be the only new face on the offensive line this year and that’s a good thing, because the Bears can’t afford to see Cutler sacked half as much as he was sacked last year. Cutler went up-down-up-down-up-down so much, DJ Khaled sued him. If the line can protect Cutler, the Bears may be damn well fierce because . . .

New Defense: Or is it? Really, the only big change is a really, REALLY big change: Brian Urlacher is gone. Julius Peppers is still around, though, and the corner combo of Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman should continue to grab interceptions at a jaw-dropping pace. Sprinkle Devin Hester into the mix and it really doesn’t get more exciting and explosive than that. For the first time since Urlacher joined the Bears 13 years ago, the linebacking corps will be the weak link in the Bears D.

I’m going to decline to make predictions though, because I’m a Bears fan. I live in Chicago and I’m still basking in the glow of a Stanley Cup. I don’t want to jinx it by making predictions. Let’s just say . . . wait til this year- Kat Gotsick

Green Bay Packers

The Green Bay Packers have won 26 games in two years, but have unceremoniously bowed out in the playoffs with embarrassing losses to the New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers. While people are lost in their swollen legacy—as bloated as their fans after a meal of venison, cheese curds, and shitty beer—this team, since the 2010 Super Bowl run, has been more disappointing than my adulthood.

It’s hard to put these woes on the offense. Belt Celebrator Aaron Rodgers can will this squad to 10 wins—and then grow a playoff beard and disappear behind it. If tailback Eddie Lacy runs like he’s chasing the Miller Park sausages this offense could be scary. Unfortunately, the last two seasons has featured a defense that couldn’t stop the cast of “Murderball” on frozen tundra. Dom Capers won’t be confused with Sun Tzu, but the addition of Datone Jones and a healthy Nick Perry could help take the pressure off Clay Matthews, the Thor look-a-like proof that HGH doesn’t affect hair growth.

This squad should win the North, but until they can slow down opposing offenses, fans better stock up their ice fishing houses for a long, cold, uneventful winter.

It should be noted that while I was penning this Colin Kaepernick ran through my living room, drank all my bourbon, scored with my girlfriend, and got a tattoo portrait of Mike McCarthy’s mom on his ass. - Ken Griggs

Minnesota Vikings

The 2012 Minnesota Vikings were a fluke. The more I say it, the more I believe it. I could point to Adrian Peterson‘s Herculean performance and note that he won’t break 2,000 yards in back-to-back seasons. But that’s all I got. They played nine games against playoff teams last season and won four of them. With Christian Ponder at quarterback. I doubt he’s going to regress, and they’ve since added weapons like Greg Jennings, Cordarelle Patterson (for much of last season, their best WR was Michael Jenkins), Sharrif Floyd, and Xavier Rhodes.

So AP is unlikely to reach the same plateaus as a season ago. But now they potentially have a real passing attack and a defense that won’t roll over for anyone (watch out for Harrison Smith, entering his second season). Most likely they’re a fringe contender again, though I think they finish third behind the Packers and Bears. As is often the case with young, unproven quarterbacks, as Ponder goes, so do the Vikings. - Nikhil Dandekar


Gambling Pete’s Divisional special

Who knows in this division. Green Bay’s line is in shambles . . . but they have Aaron Rodgers. The Bears were 10-6 last year and fixed their shitty offensive line . . . but their defense is aging and Jay Cutler refuses to get better. Detroit misses their window, and their defense sucks . . . but they lost eight games by one score or less last year. The Vikings have Christian Ponder . . . and Adrian Peterson.  Honestly anything could go down. I think Detroit is a talented team that has no discipline. Discipline wins close games. The over-under for the Lions is eight wins. I don’t think this team wins nine. But I’m not completely sold they can’t win the division either. If I had a million dollars I’m putting 50k on Detroit and the under eight at even money. – PF

Um, let's see, I don't know, maybe about six feet tall and two hundred pounds? I've been doing theater and improv in Chicago for a while now. Like fifteen years or so. O, yeah, I have a full day, day job for insurance and monetary purposes (no more half days with a big nap in the afternoon). I work as a project manager for a metal manufacturing plant. Huh? O, ah, two kids a wife. Yeah, they're great. I mean, not all the time great, like Brady Bunch shit, but no one has burned the house down yet. So, yeah, I guess that's it. I didn't get the job, did I?