There are few things in life that are absolute: death, taxes and Aaron Rodgers terrorizing NFC North defenses. In 2014 Rodgers threw the third most TDs, fewest interceptions and posted the second highest QB rating in his illustrious career. The possibility that he might actually be getting better in his early 30’s should be enough to have D-Coordinators in Chicago, Detroit and Minnesota shaking in their cleats. We can surely anticipate big numbers out of the Packers signal caller again this year. But as mini-camps have ended, let’s take a closer look at each team’s reasons to be optimistic and one question mark as they challenge Rodgers and Green Bay for NFC North supremacy:
Gone is the ever reliable Brandon Marshall. The Ray McDonald fiasco is sure to have a negative impact. Also, Jay Cutler, uh oh and Jay Culture’s wife, has made some not so pleasant comments about her living situation in Chicago recently. Most of that stuff is reality TV fodder anyway. It might not seem like it, but the sun is shining in the Windy City (of course it is shining everywhere this time of year). The Bears signed Antrel Rolle, a productive veteran, and drafted Eddie Goldman in the 2nd round. Those two should help shore up its’ 30th ranked defense last season. Martellus Bennett reported to mini-camp, so there aren’t any hold out issues to worry about. To offset losing Marshall, the Bears drafted Kevin White with its 1st round pick. It might take some time, but White should be able to keep defenses honest and take pressure off of Alshon Jeffery, Forte, Bennett and Co. The biggest offseason question that has yet to be answered is, “Will the Bears have enough to compete in the suddenly deep NFC North?”
The Lions flaunted perhaps the best rush defense in NFL history (69.3 rushing yards p/game last season). Did I also mention it lost its best rush defender this offseason? On the surface, that sounds bad. Losing Suh would be a tough blow for any team to overcome. But Detroit did attempt to replace his production by trading for Ngata and signing a few under the radar DTs with high upside. The Lions do return DeAndre Levy (who is coming off of a 151 tackle season) and Stephen Tulloch (injury) at LB. Darius Slay and Ezekiel Ansah are both young studs and the Lions feature two Pro Bowl caliber safeties. On the other side of the ball, the Lions rebuilt its’ offensive line and drafted Ameer Abdullah to replace Reggie Bush. Suh notwithstanding, it has been a successful offseason at Allen Park. Detroit plays three of its first four games on the road (at Seahawks on Monday night Oct. 5) which could spell doom. But the biggest question is not “how tough is the Lions schedule” its’, “did they do enough to replace Suh and keep the defense elite?”
Aaron Rodgers could probably turn me into a serviceable NFL receiver. Ok, so that’s not a very accurate statement. Point is however, he turns his offensive complements into Pro Bowlers rather easily. The Pack gave new contracts to Randall Cobb (91 catches, 1287 yards, 12 TDs) and Bryan Bulaga (starting LT). So Rodgers returns one of his most explosive weapons as well as the guy who protects his blindside. Those two moves ensure that the Packers have every starter back from last year. That type of continuity goes a long way in sports. Green Bay did lose some production on the defensive side in free agency, but Damarious Randall (1st round safety) and Quinten Rollins (2nd round corner) to replace that output. Fortunately, Green Bay has so far benefited with no significant injuries in the offseason, the Packers looked poised to repeat as NFC North champs in 2015. Yet, the biggest question for GB is, “which TE is going to grab the starting job?”
The Vikes finished 7-9 last season which was better than most anticipated after a dismal 2-5 start and a rookie QB, which experienced a few growing pains. The record will improve if the team just makes a few more plays; Minnesota lost four games last year by 3 points or less. The Vikes still have AP and they believe they have an elite receiver in Charles Johnson. Those two should help Bridgewater continue his steady development as their franchise QB. Minnesota featured a top 15 defense last season and did nothing but improve it. Anthony Barr and 2nd round pick Eric Kendricks give Minny two young LBs. The also drafted what most experts believe was the best corner in the draft (MSU – Trae Waynes) has a chance to sprout in the secondary. Personally, I absolutely love what Zimmer and the organization are doing on the defensive side of the ball. The Purple People Eaters may indeed be back. The biggest question for the Vikes will be, “How motivated will AP be?” Things are definitely looking up in Minnesota and the playoffs should be hot on Minnesota fans minds.