Our NFL Crystal Balls turn to the NFC North where the Green Bay Packers are king of the mountain. Can anyone topple the king? Dan Salem and Todd Salem debate in part one of this week’s TD Sports Debate. Two brothers from New York yell, scream and debate the NFL and sports.
If the NFC East was a division falling in a hole, then the NFC North is four teams about to top the mountain. Or top that mountain again, as the reasons for their resurgences are nothing radical or new. All four teams have had successful seasons in the recent past (yes even the Vikings – remember Brett Favre). This division may not be the best in the conference heading into the season, but they very well could be by season’s end.
Before I lay down what the NFC North has in store for 2014, here’s a look at how they ended things in 2013:
Green Bay Packers 8-7-1 (division title)(playoffs)
Chicago Bears 8-8
Detroit Lions 7-9
Minnesota Vikings 5-10-1
It’s a testament to all four teams that they each took a step forward this offseason. The Vikings may have taken two or three. Minnesota will not finish in last place in the division in 2014. They’ll put up an above .500 record as their future hall-of-fame running back winds down his illustrious career.
Each of the last five years it seems like Detroit might finally get over the hump. But each season they find a way to slump down the stretch. Maybe its the Thanksgiving day game, maybe its the fact they are in Detroit, or maybe, just maybe, they’ve been building a thick skin for a playoff season. The Lions will be very good in 2014. How good you ask? They snatch one of the NFC Wildcard spots from a thick group of talented clubs.
The Lions success leaves the Chicago Bears on the outside once again. They’ll be lucky to find themselves over .500 by season’s end. This up and down ride of wins and losses will leave them at the bottom of a tough and competitive division. I’m not sure it’s mathematically possible for all four teams to finish at .500 or better, but the Bears get stuck below regardless.
This leaves the Green Bay Packers, a team that manages to do a little more than just enough every season. I think their mantra is “Just get in” because they kick it up a notch come playoff time. They’ll win the North once again, on the backs of their maturing running back and of course Mr. Aaron Rodgers. He’s a “Bad Man” and won’t ever let us forget it.
We are on two different wavelengths as far as the NFC North is concerned. I don’t see the optimism that you describe.
Minnesota was a bad football team last year and should be just as bad this year. Adrian Peterson is a year older; the Vikings quarterback situation is another year along and perhaps even more muddled than it was a season ago with Matt Cassel, Christian Ponder and Teddy Bridgewater all vying for the starting gig. Cassel gives them the best chance to win while Bridgewater gives them the most hope for the future. Predicting an above .500 record for them is kind. If Minnesota tabs Bridgewater as its starter day one, we’ll know they don’t even believe they’ll compete this season.
Chicago and Detroit were lumped together last season as talented underachievers. I can see why you would be optimistic. If both teams put all the pieces together, especially on offense, the sky is the limit. I don’t see it though. The story for these two teams directly follow their respective quarterbacks. Both Jay Cutler and Matthew Stafford are talented dudes who can put up grand numbers, Stafford especially in that regard. However, neither one seems to have the wherewithal or game IQ to harness their talents when it matters (Stafford especially in that regard!). Both are prone to bad throws and late-game mistakes. Likewise, both teams falter down stretches and fail to live up to hype.
The saving grace for the NFC North resides in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Packers are the cream of this crop, and it’s not close. While talking up the dregs of the division, you actually undersell the Pack. The only reason Green Bay sneaked into last year’s playoffs with an 8-7-1 record was because Aaron Rodgers missed half the season. In the games he did play he was his normal, elite self. “Just get in” implies GB has some competition here for the division crown.