Check Down Roundtable: NFC North Predictions

 

We’re looking at the NFC North in our latest 2016 NFL Preview roundtable. For the first time since 2010, the division Chris Berman refers to as the “NFC Norris” changed hands last year, with the Minnesota Vikings stealing the division away from the Green Bay Packers on the final Sunday Night of the 2015 regular season. Things continue to look up for the Vikings, who are led by one of the game’s best offensive players in Adrian Peterson and boast one of the stronger defenses in the NFC. But, as usual, the Packers will be formidable, especially now that Jordy Nelson is back in the fold. And even though the Vikings and Packers look like the favorites to win the division, the Lions, who ended last season by winning six of their final eight games, and Bears, whose defense is improving, should provide some resistance.

Will Green Bay reclaim the NFC North once again? Mando, Fronte, JP, and Hempdad debate.

 

JP  

This choice is an easy one for me to make. I can’t see any team even sniffing the Pack in the NFC North this season. A healthy Jordy Nelson is returning to Aaron Rodgers’ arsenal and that should make opposing defenses cower in fear. Aaron Rodgers wasn’t the same dominant performer we’ve grown accustomed to watching last season without his favorite target, but I expect this duo to get back on track this season.

Another thing to take note of is the fact that Green Bay’s defense performed at an extremely high level last season. They only allowed an average of 20.2 points per game which was good for 12th best in the league. If the Packers can maintain that consistent level of good defense alongside their perennially strong offense, which features a multitude of elite threats, Green Bay could end up making mince meat of this division.

I really do like what is going on in Minnesota. I think Teddy Bridgewater has a very bright future in this league and that they have done a great job of adding some key defensive contributors through the draft over the past few years. However, I really don’t think they have enough fire power to overcome the Pack just yet.

 

Bold Prediction: Kevin White scores zero touchdowns 

Chicago’s first round pick from a year ago won’t have the breakout season many are expecting him to. Not even close.

 

Fronte 

Pundits are saying the NFC North has the potential to be one of the tighter divisions in football this year, and I agree. I expect the Lions and Bears to improve relative to their 2015 seasons, but I think this will mainly be a two horse race between the Vikings and the Packers.  It will be tight, don’t get me wrong, but in this scenario I’m going to take the team with the better defense, that being the reigning division champs, the Vikings.

In 2013, Minnesota allowed the most points in the NFL (30 points per game). When Mike Zimmer took over the head coaching duties in 2014, they jumped to allowing just the 11th most points in the league (21.4 points per game) and last season they ranked 5th (17.9 points per game). This Vikings’ defense has come a long way under Zimmer and they are certainly legit. Returning all their starters from last season, I expect this young defense to continue on this positive trend.

Looking at this team offensively, there is still a lot of promise. Teddy Bridgewater is looking to improve his stats across the board for the second straight year and he will do so with the help of second year receiver Stefon Diggs, who has been getting rave reviews from training camp thus far. With Adrian Peterson healthy, the Vikings are guaranteed  to have a productive ground game. In fact, AP has rushed for at least 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns every year he has played at least 14 games.

Like I said, I think it will be a tight race between the Packers and the Vikings, but if there is any defense that can stop Aaron Rodgers and company, it’s Minnesota’s. Ultimately I believe both these teams will have 10+ win seasons, and I think there is a good chance they both find themselves in the playoffs come January.

 

Bold Prediction: Teddy Bridgewater makes the Pro Bowl

In addition to taking the Vikings to the playoffs again, Bridgewater will take another step forward as a passer and be voted to the Pro Bowl for the first time (he technically made it last year, but that was after multiple quarterbacks decided not to participate).

 

Mando 

If there’s one prediction I’m set on for the 2016 NFL season, it’s this one. Much has already been said about how much the Packers missed Jordy Nelson last year, but there are two other things to consider when explaining why the Packers passing offense slipped from 2nd to 16th in DVOA. First, they suffered numerous injuries to key offensive lineman that inhibited their ability to protect Aaron Rodgers. Never let injuries to the offensive line go unnoticed! Second, their schedule was brutal  last season. Not only did they play against the 5th toughest slate of defenses, but they managed to face six of the top seven  defenses in football! What offense wouldn’t  struggle under these conditions?

Good news for Green Bay: The regular season should be much smoother this year. Nelson is back, the offensive line will likely be healthier than it was last season, and, most importantly, the Packers project to face the easiest schedule in football. Even if Minnesota takes another step forward (which they might), Detroit proves that their second half resurgence last year was no fluke (which they could), and Chicago shows everyone they’re not terrible (which is at least possible), none of those three teams will come close to stopping Aaron Rodgers and the Packers! Hammer Green Bay to win the North while you still can!

 

Bold Prediction: The Bears Defense, Particularly Against the Run, Improves Dramatically

Chicago ranked 31st overall in defense last year according to Football Outsiders. But after acquiring players such as Danny Trevathan, Jerrell Freeman, and Akiem Hicks to bolster their front-seven, I think the Bears will be above average against the run in 2016 (they were 32nd last year according to DVOA).

 

Hempdad 

This one is a no-brainer for me: I’m taking Green Bay in the NFC North. Aaron Rodgers is one of the few quarterbacks in the league who can win games with his receivers alone, proven by their run last year when Jeff Janis absolutely lit up the Cardinals defense (even though the Packers did go on to lose the game in overtime). Now that Jordy Nelson is returning, opposing defenses will have their hands full once again. And if Eddie Lacy can have another season like he did two years ago, then it’s really  a no-brainer as to who is going to win this division.

The other three teams in the division have potential, but not enough to match Green Bay, who I think could be better than their Super Bowl-winning squad from five years ago. The Bear’s preseason week 2 performance against New England had me thinking Chicago was moving in the right direction, but Alshon Jeffery simply cannot catch enough wayward footballs to make up for Jay Cutler’s trash throwing. The Lions have that aforementioned potential, but Matthew Stafford still needs to find his way, and losing Calvin Johnson certainly doesn’t help his case. Moreover, I’m still not high on the Vikings even though they made the playoffs last year and almost beat the Seahawks.

Green Bay has it on a silver platter. They can stroll through this division undefeated.

 

Bold Prediction: Aaron Rodgers will rush for more touchdowns than Eddie Lacy.

I drafted Lacy first overall last year for my fantasy team (some may say that was a dumb move, and obviously it was), and he was an absolute disappointment. If this prediction is correct, Lacy better be drafting ME first overall next season.

Posted by Mando

Co-Founder of Check Down Sports. Die-hard Boston sports fan: Patriots, Celtics, Bruins- in that order. I haven't been that interested in the Red Sox since they traded Manny. If you're a fan of Leslie Nielson movies and/or think Entourage is overrated, we'll get along.

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