Dec 30, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler (6) drops back to pass against the Detroit Lions during the first quarter at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

NFL Preview: NFC North

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.


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Tags: Aaron Rodgers Chicago Bears Detroit Lions Fantasy Football Green Bay Pakcers Jay Cutler Marc Trestman Matt Forte Minnesota Vikings NFC North NFL Preview Reggie Bush

  • David Crosby

    I’d take Cousins.

  • Lars McDougal

    he’s acting like the vikings are the worst team in football.

    • James Weiss

      Like the worst team in football? More like an NFL practice squad.

      • Lars McDougal

        you deserve a brain tumor.

  • James Weiss

    Another extraordinary example of group think. They say the NFL is a copycat league, well, so are sports writers. I’m surprised you didn’t fit a reference to the New York Jets in there (Sanchez or Smith?). The NFL network does when talking about anything outside the NFC or AFC east. The Packers flipped their guards and tackle’s and lost Bulaga for the season. They lost Jerel Worthy for the season more than likely, (no OTA, mini or training camp for the highly touted rookie).

    Where’s their safety Sean Richardson? OUT! A rookie is going to run successfully behind that banged up “O” line of musical chairs that let Rogers get sacked more than any other QB last year? OK… Da Bears! They are only going through a complete coaching make over. No big deal. How long before Cutler and Trestman get into it? And the Lions? Once again sports writers are saying “this will be the year”. How did last year work out for ya? And just like last year, Ponder sucks so why bother talk about the Vikings? 10-6, play-off’s, league MVP, pro-bowl RB, FB, TE, one of the best “O” lines return intact. The defensive line returns intact with a 1st rd. DT and CB game ready. Did Harrison Smith make the pro-bowl last year? WR, Cordarrelle Patterson might be a good 1st rounder and Greg Jennings has had a decent carrier. The Vikings must have dropped off somewhere between last years play-off’s and today because they barely deserve honorable mention according to Todd Levinson Frank. Like He said: The Minnesota Vikings are also in this division, but will be a non-factor.

  • Todd Frank

    I appreciate the comments… obviously these are just my opinions and none of us has a crystal ball to know exactly how the season will play out. We’ll see.
    Either way, thanks for reading and commenting!