Friday, July 20, 2012

Are the Packers overrated?  It's hard to argue with 15-1 and 11-5 ATS, but their defense has kept the hope alive for the Lions and Bears.  Speaking of Chicago, how much did they close the gap after their stellar offseason?  Is Detroit ready to mature into contender status?  The Vikings will finish last, but can they steal some divisional wins along the way?  There could be some surprises in this group.

  

Green Bay Packers

2012 NFL Preview: NFC North Green Bay Packers
2011 Review: The Green Bay Packers entered the 2011 season at or near the top of many power rankings--including my own.  Much like the Saints and the Patriots, they ended the season in the same position, but mostly due to their offense.

Their defense couldn't stop the pass, the D-line couldn't generate consistent pressure, and the unit as a whole couldn't get off the field on 3rd down. The New York Giants took advantage.

2012 Offseason: Scott Wells is out, Jeff Saturday is in. Flynn set sail for Seattle.  Nick Collins moved on due to a neck injury.  Ryan Grant and Chad Clifton are no more.

In the draft the Pack focused on defense taking DE Nick Perry, DT Jerel Worthy, and CB Casey Heyward with their top picks.

Anthony Hargrove was added via free agency to beef up the front, but thanks to Bounty-Gate he's gone for the 1st half of the year.

Beyond that, there wasn't much done to address the problems Green Bay had last year.

Looking ahead: I suppose the Packers are expecting better production from the D-line to improve the coverage ability in the secondary, but the questions at safety are legit.  That puts a lot of pressure on those rookies to make an impact this season.  I have concerns about this defense.

Once again it will be the high-flying Aaron Rodgers show and his collection of dangerous WRs. I don't think the O-line is as stable as people think though--especially with a new left tackle.  Rodgers' previous concussion history shouldn't be forgotten and without a legit running game to rely on he'll be in the firing lane once again.

Green Bay still top the list of the season win chart at 12, but juice is leaning under. I don't see any value at all taking the over here, but betting against Rodgers isn't exactly smart either.

Detroit Lions

2012 NFL Preview: NFC North Detroit Lions
2011 Review: The question we were left with for the Detroit Lions when the season ended was--is this team for real?

The most troubling stat for Lions fans was their 0-4 record vs the top teams--not including the playoffs.  The lack of a running game hurt their offense. An embarassing pass defense compounded the issues. A low special teams ranking added insult to injury.

Yet, most people (including myself) are high on this team going forward thanks to what we saw at QB. They also had some good ranks with their third down/red zone defense, so we know there is more to the story here.

2012 Offseason: Avril didn't get his contract, but he will show up to collect his money under the franchise tag at some point.  Eric Wright left town, but overall the offseason was largely ok.

One of the biggest gains Detroit will get comes in the form of Jahvid Best and Mikel Leshoure. Both of these guys clearly have their injury concerns, but neither of them have to carry the full load.  Along with Kevin Smith, if this group can keep defenses even half-honest, the passing game is going to be that much more lethal.

We aren't quite sure who will start at corner yet, but they better have an answer if they hope to take that next step in 2012. 3rd round pick Dwight Bentley could be in the mix.

Overall, it wasn't a stellar draft for Detroit. Snatching Riley Reiff in round one to play on the O-line was a smart move, but they waited a long time to address the defense. I agree with the draft pundits that taking a WR in round 2 was unnecessary.

Looking ahead: I expect to see much of the same from Detroit in 2012. The offense will hum and the defense will be spotty. Given all the hype surrounding their D-line, they weren't nearly as productive as advertised. If they can get better production from the front then the holes at the back won't be as glaring.

Bookmakers opened them at 9.5 in their season win total, but heavy money came in on the under. It's hard to argue with this move since 10+ wins might be asking too much for a group that is still learning how to play with the big dogs. If they can stay even a little bit healthier then they'll have a fighting chance to challenge the elite.

Chicago Bears

2012 NFL Preview: NFC North Chicago Bears
2011 Review: Much like the 49ers, the Bears are a difficult team to handicap.  Just take a look at these stats. Near the bottom in passing offense and defense, O-line and D-line, third down percentage, completed plays, and points from long drives. Of course some of these stats need to be taken with a grain of salt due to the injuries, but even with Cutler and Forte the offense wasn't exactly scaring people.

2012 Offseason: Jay Cutler, say hello to Brandon Marshall.  The WR position has been one of the most talked about issues in Chicago for who knows how long. Now they finally have a legitimate game-breaker (with all apologies to Devin Hester). Chicaco also added Alshon Jeffery in the draft. Somewhere Jay Cutler is smiling this offseason.

Another nice move was bringing in Michael Bush to compliment Forte.  Eric Weems was an interesting addition as well.

Meriweather won't be missed at safety. Chicago have enough options and depth at the position. Elsewhere on defense, Chicago took Shea McClellin in round one to boost the line.

One red flag heading into camp is the left tackle position.  Chris Williams will challenge Webb (who was a liability last year) for the job. Carimi's return is a welcomed addition to the line. Overall there is a fair reason for concern here, but a scheme change will help.

Another big move made was the outing of Mike Martz. Even lay-people could see some of the scheme problems he introduced for an offense that wasn't equipped to carry out his intentions. Mike Tice should have a better idea of what will work with this personnel. 

Looking ahead: I've been front and center with my criticism of this Chicago team for quite some time. They finally had the kind of offseason that gives me confidence. Like every team there are concerns, but they should be right in the mix for the division crown when all is said and done. They've closed the gap with the Packers.

Minnesota Vikings

2012 NFL Preview: NFC North Minnesota Vikings
2011 Review: For two years in a row the old-man QB experiment failed miserably.  Last season the pass offense was utterly forgettable. So was the pass defense. That's a bad combination for today's NFL.  The O-line was leaky all season and they were also bad on special teams.  For their efforts they went 0-12 against the top two-thirds of the league and 0-6 in the division.

The run game and D-line were the lone bright spots.

2012 Offseason: Hutchinson, Griffen, Longwell, and Kleinsasser all jumped (or were thrown off) a sinking ship. 

John Carlson wasn't exactly tearing up the stat-box in Seattle, so his addition is underwhelming. 

The secondary was an obvious area of need and Harrison Smith was taken in round one to make a dent at the safety position.  They grabbed Josh Robinson in round three to address the CB spot. Chris Carr was signed in free agency.  Cook and Winfield are returning so this group should be improved.

Matt Kalil was the obvious choice in the draft and they'll roll out the red carpet for his arrival to the O-line.  Geoff Schwartz was added via free agency and will be a welcomed addition. 

Looking ahead: Some of the key rebuilding pieces are now in place. They have what they hope is a francise QB and LT. Adrian Peterson is the go-to guy--despite his knee issues. They have some potential at WR, but the Percy Harvin situation is a concern.

The main problem for Minny will be their defense. Large-scale rebuilds require growing pains and there will be some on this side of the ball.

Their season win total opened at 6 and to no one's surprise, money is on the under. They play in a brutal division and will rely heavily on some good fortune and easier matchups to get the wins.  I think the Vikings are headed for a painful season.