While we may be a little biased, the NFC North is arguably the toughest division in the NFL (fellow DNer Sittin, Waitin, Ponderin gave a few good reasons why in this well-written FanPost). So naturally, it begs the cart-before-the-horse question: just how far can the Vikes climb in the 2013 divisional standings??
Well, if Vegas is any indicator (it isn't), our favorite team will seemingly suck bottom with the lowly Lions. CCNorsemen posted the updated Vegas betting lines last week, and the over/under for the Vikings is set at 7.5 -- which, again, doesn't really mean much. Hell, less than a year ago, every talking head had the Vikings in the basement of the NFC North -- sure, they had their reasons... coming off 3-13; big question mark at the quarterback position;
star running back the Six Million Dollar Man rips his knee to shreds...
Yeah, it wasn't looking good. But perception is a funny thing, especially when applied to the underdog. Things turned around in a very unpredictable manner. We began playing as a team, and the naysayers took a step back and realized that while we're young, a team can do a lot when they all buy into what the coach is selling -- and coaching is a major component of these predictions that if often overlooked. The roster is entirely important, but the other side of the sideline coin needs to be factored in, as well.
So with that said, how does the status of our division rivals play into the Vikings' potential success this season?? Let's assess the competition, with a bonus 'bold prediction' for each team:
Outside of Megatron, the Lions can't really boast much of anything. In four full seasons as head coach, Jim Schwartz has a .344 winning percentage (no, really -- it's that bad). Their defense was among the league's worst in points allowed last season. Oh, and fun fact: of the 84 arrests of NFL players since the beginning of 2012, the Lions have 9 of them -- put another way, 1 out of every 10 NFL players arrested in 2012 and so far in 2013 were on Detroit's roster. Yikes.
But looking ahead, they do have a few things to look forward to. Reggie Bush was, in all honesty, a fantastic pickup for a stout offense. They also drafted a great OG prospect in Larry Warford (though admittedly their OT situation should be interesting to watch). The wild card for the Lions is DE Ziggy Ansah -- with little experience, but a crap ton of raw athleticism, he is the textbook boom-or-bust player of this draft class.
Even with a few bright spots, though, the Lions have their work cut out for them -- and their playoff run of 2011 might be the outlier.
Bold prediction -- Jim Schwartz is fired mid-season.
Daaaaa Bears. More like... Duuuuhhh, Bears??
Chicago's defense (more specifically, defensive scoring via turnovers) is what kept them in games last season. Most noticeably this offseason, the defense lost Brian Urlacher, the heart-and-soul of the squad for over a decade. And while they drafted a couple young promising LB prospects to fill the void (Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene), conventional wisdom says it will take a couple years to glue the defense back together -- the already aging vets got another year older, and the inexperience of players at key positions will be a tried each Sunday.
On the other side of the ball, the Bears offensive line was atrocious -- and while the front office made moves to remedy that, I can't necessarily say it'll work out the way they want it to. Jermon Bushrod, to me, looks to be like their Charlie Johnson -- the beneficiary of an elite QB on a previous team, who will ultimately be a disappointment on his new OLine. J'Marcus Webb at the other OT position will still be lackluster on the right side. Roberto Garza is declining at Center. They
reached for drafted Kyle Long to plug in at OG, but traded former 1st-rd pick Gabe Carimi to Tampa Bay for a measly 6th-rd pick (LOLWUT). I honestly don't see that much of an improvement with this OLine.
And then... the quarterback. Jay Cutler really isn't much more than an average QB in this league -- take away the yardage he had his final year in Denver, and there isn't a single thing you can point to that makes him special. And if you took away his favorite WR, whether it was in Denver or Chicago, I doubt Cutler would even be a starter in today's game. (Double fun fact: did you realize that Brandon Marshall accounted for 50% of Cutler's 3,000+ yds last season, and nearly 60% of Cutler's 19 TDs...??) Lest we forget many players perform well in contract years -- but I wouldn't be surprised if this is Cutler's final season in a Bears uniform.
Finally, not to pile on... they have a new head coach. Consider this a transitional, re-building/loading/tooling year for Chicago.
Bold prediction -- the Bears will finish the season with a sub-.500 record.
Upon reviewing the NFC North a couple weeks back, I noticed a trend -- that the Vikings have the only worthwhile offensive line in the division. Aaron Rodgers was sacked more than any other QB in the NFL -- and it's not like Green Bay added much to their OLine this offseason, outside of a couple Day 3 prospects (which could turn out to be valuable in the long run, but almost certainly not in 2013).
More interestingly with Green Bay, I think ABC could launch a pilot for Extreme Makover: OLine Edition. After a couple seasons of mediocrity, Marshall Newhouse is moving to RT (though I'm pretty sure he's essentially worthless no matter what side of the line he plays on). The Packers seem to be high on Bryan Bulaga, who is flipping sides opposite Newhouse, but that seems to be a response motivated by desperation -- if Bulaga was so promising, why did it take this long for him to have a crack at LT?? Bulaga will be facing several double-digit sack rushers face-to-face while protecting Rodgers' blindside -- best of luck, buddy. Another recent 1st-rd OT, Derek Sherrod, has been a non-factor due to injury. Dietrich-Smith is a gamble at Center. Their guards are also flip-flopping sides. Anyone who thinks this unit will gel immediately is kidding themselves.
On other offensive fronts, at long last, the 'brilliant' Ted Thompson is attempting to give his team a legitimate rushing attack in drafting a couple great RB prospects. Maybe he realized how important a running game can be after he saw Adrian Peterson rush for over 500 yds in three games against the Packers this last season, hrrm?? I guess anything to take the pressure off a passing attack which now consists of James 'Dropsy' Jones and Jordy 'I Got Hurt Again' Nelson.
While Mike McCarthy is a great coach, I think it says a lot about the culture when certain players appear to be happily out of Green Bay. Our own Greg Jennings commented that he'd rather be on a team whose window is opening instead of closing. GB has always oozed an elitist attitude, and I'm not shocked that it might rub some players the wrong way. The Packers will be the obvious favorite to win the division, but eventually an entitled atmosphere will bite you in the ass -- and the underdog will be waiting, licking his chops.
Bold prediction -- Aaron Rodgers will be sacked 50+ times... again.
What can be said here that hasn't already been covered by the DN hopeful??
Reigning MVP at RB.
Developing and improving QB with a revitalized WR corps.
Solid defense loaded with young talent learning behind Pro Bowl vets.
Top Special Teams unit in the league.
Confident coaching staff.
Bold prediction -- the Vikings will win the NFC North title.
Legitimate longshot, or too much Purple Kool-Aid?? Give the Magic 8-Ball a shake...