This 2013 NFL preview takes a quick look at the new faces in the NFC North, the fantasy football spin on the Packers, Lions, Bears, and Vikings, and a few best bets in the division.
New Bears coach Marc Trestman comes to Chicago from the Canadian Football League to spark the offense, rookie RB Eddie Lacy comes from University of Alabama to give Green Bay a much-needed boost in the running game, Reggie Bush comes from New Orleans to Detroit to fill up the stat sheet, and QB Matt Cassel arrives in Minnesota from KC to probably play out the last half of the season once Christian Ponder is finally benched.
This division features some of the obvious big fantasy stars like Aaron Rodgers, Adrian Peterson, and Calvin Johnson, while Lions QB Matthew Stafford and Bears WR Brandon Marshall are also very reliable. But I also think Bush could be in for a big year in Detroit, and Packers rookie RB Eddie Lacy should be a solid producer as well.
The arrival of Trestman in Chicago and what it could mean for the Bears offense has generated some fantasy buzz for RB Matt Forte, but QB Jay Cutler might have a much better season than most expect. Trestman’s resume as an NFL offensive assistant features Rich Gannon’s MVP season (Gannon and RB Charlie Garner made huge leaps in 2002, hence the aforementioned hype on Forte) and he even coaxed big passing seasons out of the likes of Scott Mitchell and Jake Plummer. Going all the way back to his first year as QB coach and offensive coordinator in San Francisco (1995), the 49ers led the league in points scored, pass attempts, and passing yards. (And for what it’s worth, Trestman also guided the Montreal Alouettes to two straight championships and QB Anthony Calvillo to two consecutive CFL MVP awards. So there’s that.)
No fantasy experts are recommending you draft Cutler as your starting quarterback. In fact, I haven’t even seen him on many lists of “late-round sleeper” QBs where we start scraping the Alex Smith, Carson Palmer, and Sam Bradford parts of the barrel. But considering he’ll be available late in most drafts, he could end up being a great value if you miss out on the elite QBs and spend the early rounds building up your RBs and WRs. He’s not just “available late,” he’s practically free. (His average draft position on ESPN right now is 129, which is around the 10-13th round depending on the size of your league.) Guys in your league will be spending 4th and 5th round picks assuming Tony Romo can replicate his consistent fantasy averages behind a horrid offensive line. Cutler is armed not only with Trestman, but also with an upgraded offensive line, a new TE, and 2nd-year WR in Alshon Jeffery who by all accounts is poised for a breakout season, plus two bona-fide studs in Forte and Marshall…. Would you be that shocked if he surpassed the fantasy numbers of Romo, Andrew Luck, and Matt Schaub, guys who are ranked around the 8-10th best QBs?
Despite the expected bounce-back year from Detroit and offensive improvement in Chicago, this is still Green Bay’s division. They’ve proven they can win with a bend-but-don’t-break defense, and Lacy should add a credible running game which will help Rodgers (as if he needs any help). They’ve also shown the ability to overcome the injury bug, as their Super Bowl winning team from a few years ago was decimated by injuries.
Even if the Bears make the offensive strides outlined above, ironically the defense could finally fall off a bit following the departure of defensive-minded head coach Lovie Smith, the retirement of LB Brian Urlacher, and the aging of their remaining stars.
Aaron Rodgers is among the favorites to win league MVP, but at 13-2 he doesn’t offer much bang for the buck. Same goes for the Packers at 10-1 to win the Super Bowl. Perhaps the best bet in this division might be on the Lions to go over their season wins total of 8. There are some good statistical arguments for Detroit to see a jump in wins after last year’s misfortunes. I think with their nasty defensive line and that potent offense, they could get to 10-6 with games against the likes of Cleveland, Arizona, and Minnesota (twice). Their more challenging opponents like the Ravens, Bengals, Giants, and Cowboys all have to visit the dome in Detroit, so if they can at least split within the division, getting to 9 wins should be relatively easy.
Green Bay should capture another division title, and I can see Detroit in the hunt for a Wild Card spot, with the Bears competitive but just outside that mix.
The Minnesota Vikings are also in this division, but will be a non-factor. This is the year we confirm that Ponder isn’t a starting-caliber QB and the Vikings will turn to the 2014 draft or Kirk Cousins as their QB of the future.