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2013 NFC North Preview 

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Spread em out and light em up. That is going to be the philosophy for the majority of this division this year. That Packers have won this division the past two years but doing it a third time will be much more difficult than in years past. There is more talent in this division than in the past two years and the Packers have more weaknesses/uncertainties than the past two years. Regardless the Pack are heavy favorites, can they threepeat?  

How they will finish:

4. Lions 6-10 overall, 1-5 in the division (+550 to win the division)

The Lions front office may have already cost them a winning season when they chose to move forward with 38 year old placekicker David Akers instead of internet sensation Kickalicious. Dubbed Kickalicious after Detroit’s scouts had trouble pronouncing the Norwegian's name, Harvard Rugland. Rugland went 3/3 in the preseason with makes from 33, 49, and 50 yards. Meanwhile Akers comes in as an aging kicker coming off an incredibly disappointing season in which he almost got cut before the playoffs. Not that he would have changed the outcome of their season but what more could the guy have done? They should have kept him and dumped Akers even if it’s just for the publicity, or maybe they move a few jerseys.

Anyway, you should know what to expect from this Lions team. They are going to throw, throw and throw some more. Adding Reggie Bush to the mix should help keep teams honest but he will serve the team best by being a check down target underneath the defense. Bush can make guys miss in the open field and could really help them out.

However, I believe that Matthew Stafford is really overrated. I know the stats don’t really back me up on this one, since he is only 25 years old and has thrown for over 10,000 yards in the past two seasons, but any competent NFL quarterback could put up similar numbers that when they are throwing for an NFL record 46.25 times per game, and Calvin Johnson is on the receiving end of those throws.

In Stafford’s defense the blame for the Lions disappointing is more on the shoulders of Jim Schwartz. He is a terrible head coach. I think it’s because it’s the lowly Lions but for some reason this guy has gotten a pass simply because he made them sort of relevant for one season. People now think about the Detroit Lions and they first think about Calvin Johnson and the passing attack and then about the losing. He has been the Lions head coach for four seasons. He has gone 2-14, 6-10, 10-6, and 4-12 in those years.

Schwartz has not helped any of his young talent progress (Calvin Johnson is a physical freak he would have succeeded anywhere with anyone coaching him). Stafford should be more of a leader instead of looking like he’s thinking “What the fuck another pass play? How many more hits am I going to have to take?”, the offensive line should be getting better not worse (especially after signing Stafford to such a big deal, yet his blockers are going to allow him to get hit much more this year), a second receiver should have been developed just based on the fact that defenses focus in on Johnson, Pettigrew shouldn't have been a complete disappointment, Suh shouldn't have been turned into a “thug” and Nick Fairley shouldn't have disappointed thus far. Once Schwartz is gone I will reevaluate this Lions team, until then they are back to last place material. Something tells me he is going to fit in nicely as the replacement for Norv Turner.

While I consider myself a bit of a UGA fan I still don’t believe in this kid at this level. He was a great college QB because he was just more talented and maybe a bit smarter than the other players. I had confidence in him at that level but now I can’t help but think that without Calvin Johnson that three year extension worth $53M may have been three more years for a total of how much he is making roughly on average per season… $18 million.

When I watch Stafford I have zero confidence in his next throw. He doesn’t exactly exude confidence in himself either. For some reason it feels like his body language is always in a down mood. He never seems to be cheerful, excited or confident. He looks as though he is either content or just in pain. A player with some mojo is contagious. When your quarterback is feeling good you are feeling good. When Tom Brady is talking trash on the field and screaming at his teammates on the sideline, I know the Patriots are going to win, or at the very least they won’t disappoint or quit. There is never a time in which I feel like Stafford feels good. He has zero mojo. He carries himself around on the field like Oprah would. His meh persona rubs off on the rest of the offense and is what I believe to be the reason for all the deep drives that stall... it’s why they should have kept Kickalicious.  

3. Vikings 7-9 overall, 2-4 in the division (+600 to win the division)

If Adrian Peterson can become the first running back to run for 2,000 yards twice, nevermind in back to back seasons the Vikings have a chance. Unfortunately it has never happened because it is a crazy feat that only seven men have accomplished. The value of a 2,000 yard season may be the only thing nerds, who are against an 18 game season, would argue. Maybe this makes me a nerd but I love the 2,000 yard rushing club and if I have learned everything it’s that guys can’t handle an 18 game schedule. How long do most starters play in the preseason? Half the time if that? So call it two full preseason games… that makes 18… only ratchet up the intensity for those two games and tell me if you think players would survive an 18 game season. That’s the non-nerd side of me argues.

Sorry that was a bit of a tangent, my point is you can’t expect a repeat of 2012 out of ADP. What you should hope for is more total yards. Everyone knows the Vikings are going hand the ball to Peterson a lot. While it may not be enough to stop him the opposing defenses will load the box daring Christian Ponder to throw the ball. If he can grow into even just a Trent Dilfer this year, then the length of the 2013 Vikings season depends on how well the defense performs.

The offense this year replaces Percry Harvin with Greg Jennings which is probably a bit more equal of a move than it should be. Harvin is a far better player but he can’t stay on the field. Only Greg Jennings’ soup eating mother would take him over Percy if it were for one big game in which both were 100% healthy.

I feel like the move from Green Bay to Minnesota for Greg Jennings really cost him some respect of the real football fans, but it has not cause him nearly enough shame. Instead Old Spice signed him up for some commercials and he talked shit yet nobody really had a beef with him. I’m sure people in Green Bay hate his guts but I feel like the national public doesn’t hate him nearly enough. Jennings is a scumbag that has only recorded three 1,000+ yard seasons in his seven seasons. He has missed a total of sixteen games in those seven season… that’s the equivalent to an entire NFL season. His highest reception total in one season is 80… Now that you are back from checking my math, since we all thought he was better than that, he has had Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre throwing him the ball. He has had future Hall of Famer, Donald Driver opposite him his entire career. There are backup running backs you honestly shouldn’t trade for him in some fantasy leagues. He is not a stud, he is a mouth and going from Aaron Rodgers to Christian Ponder and/or Matt Cassel is going to make him become really depressed really quick.  

While the loss of slot cornerback Antoine Winfield (Who was graded as the #1 CB in the NFL last year by Pro Football Focus), will hurt quite a bit, mostly in thanks to the foes in the division loving to spread things out wide, the Vikings quarterback situation is the thing holding them back.

I don’t think Ponder has even Trent Dilfer in him this year and I definitely don’t think Matt Cassel has it in him either. Cassel came from a similar situation and couldn’t succeed, why would he here? The Vikings finished 31st in passing yards just 38 yards ahead of 32nd. Want to guess as to had 38 yards passing less than the 2012 Vikings did? That’s right the Matt Cassel driven Kansas City Chiefs.

This team could be good. But they need to overcome the Kevin Williams injury and create havoc in the backfield to overcome an iffy back seven. They need to have a rookie fill in the shoes of the #1 rated CB from 2012 against divisional foes or at least have second year Harrison Smith become a legit Pro Bowler in 2013 (Not the 6th replacement). They need Kyle Rudolph to continue on the path he lead last year and they need to develop a second wide receiver. Jennings can draw some attention and needs some help to succeed. That falls the shoulders of both Jerome Simpson and Ryan Broyles. Something tells me Broyles is the guy to keep an eye on, but there is still no quarterback worthy of spreading the ball out.

They either need that or Peterson to have another monumental year. If that defense can come together and Ponder/Cassel can manage the game while moving more of Adrian Petersons yards from the rushing end to the receiving end they stand a chance. They need to get him more involved in the passing game to keep the defense on their toes. They need to incorporate more play action even if it’s just leading into a quick underneath pass to Peterson with some blockers in front of him, just to keep the defense honest when they want to hand it off to him.

Unfortunately it’s been literally impossible to rush for 2,000+ yards in back to back seasons thus far, so the Vikings need a lot to happen to make them as competitive as last year. Their young incompetent QB’s will end up costing them if they don’t make a big move to compete in ADP’s prime similar to the way Barry Sanders’ career went, just hopefully not as short; I love watching ADP.  

2. Packers 10-6 overall, 3-3 in the division (-175 to win the division)

Back to back division titles happened in very, very, different seasons. In 2011 the Packers, backed by Aaron Rodgers, blew up on the scene, in this division. After back to back runner up finishes in the NFC North, and as defending Super Bowl Champs the Packers finished 15-1 earning their first division title under Aaron Rodgers and the first since 2007. However they were ousted in their first playoff game, at home against the eventual champion Giants (that still smarts).

In 2012 the Packers seemed to carry on as the team that choked a bit in 2010. While they won the division again, they only won by one game over both Minnesota and Chicago with an 11-5 record. Last year they did win a playoff game, against Minnesota, but once again lost in the second round; this time to the eventual NFC champ 49ers.

This year the Packers return a really disappointing offensive line to protect Rodgers, who is probably the best quarterback currently in the NFL. If they want to succeed as an offense and as a team the 2013 Packers need both rookies Eddie Lacy and Jonathan Franklin to step up out of the backfield. They need to take some pressure off of their QB and they need to keep defenses honest when rushing against a weak offensive line.

Also, the wide receivers need to take the step up from guys that are being made by Aaron Rodgers to guys that help make Aaron Rodgers. Unfortunately I’m not sure Cobb, Nelson, or Jones have that in them. That means that TE JerMichael Finley needs to step up as a true leader now that Donald Driver and Greg Jennings are gone.

The defense has two solid pieces on the defensive line but needs more production to free up Clay Matthews. BJ Raji and Ryan Pickett anchor the line but need some more help out of their 3-4 defense to free up the linebackers to make plays. They have quite a few key pieces that could explode in the coming year. First top pick in 2013 Datone Jones. He is a defensive end that could play opposite Raji and create one of the best front three in football if he can play to his potential. Also in that same boat is 2nd round pick in 2012 Jerel Worthy coming off an acl injury. Then there is Nick Perry who is ready to explode onto the scene as the OLB playing opposite Clay Matthews. He was playing well before a wrist injury in Week 6 sidelined him for the remainder of the 2012 season.

The Packers have plenty of nice pieces in place to make another Super Bowl run, but I’m not sure they are deep enough or talented enough to let Rodgers simply get them there.

1. Bears 11-5 overall, 6-0 in the division (+350 to win the division)

The Bears have a few issues. Some can be solved while others are just sheer bad luck to start the year. First the ones that can be solved so you don’t totally check out on me before I try and convince you/justify me picking Jay Cutler and the Bears to go 6-0 and actually win this division before giving a reason to maybe checkout before things get started. I know I just gave you a pseudo invite to scroll down and check out on me being stupid early but trust me it feels more significant than it is. This team is going to be really good and could win us some money.

I guess I should mention that the new coaching staff headed by Marc Trestman has never been regarded as “head coach material” until the Bears elected to sign him out of the CFL. Along with him he brought along two new coordinators that will make a huge impact on this offense. They have already made a big impact on the offensive line with the addition of Jermon Bushrod to protect Cutler’s blindside and added some other depth at lineman. They should be a much better protective unit.

Last year Cutler got destroyed. This year he should be protected for the most part. He has some movement in those legs so he does have the potential to be elite even with a mediocre line. The point is his offensive weapons. He could hand the ball off to Forte, Michael Bush, or young, former LSU Tiger, Michael Ford. But what will help Jay Cutler become an elite QB in the 2013 NFL season is if Alshon Jeffery becomes the player he should become. While Jeffery has the potential to be the best receiver on any team in the NFL, he also has some things to make up for. However when you factor in the advantage that WR Brandon Marshall creates, especially in the redzone, Jeffery should reach the potential we thought was possible when he was at South Carolina.

So between having Matt Forte and Michael Bush out of the backfield to run and catch the ball on screen-plays or check-downs, and then Marshall, Jeffery, and now Martellus Bennett making plays in which they may out run, jump, or dive the opposition. They have a ton of weapons and should thrive this year, as long as Cutler doesn’t sabotage himself.

Now for the bad news… I know you love Green Bay. I know that they have been drilled into your mind as elite, as the best team in this division by far. In fact you’re right, they are elite. They are as much a contender to win the 2014 Super Bowl as anyone is.

Enough stalling… If you bet the Bears you are either going to have to agree with me or trust me because the Packers have a schedule that could have them sitting at 0-1 to start the year,  but 10-2 heading into a Week 14. I know you are discounting everything I have said but they have a closing run of vs Atlanta, @ Dallas, vs Pittsburgh, and @ Chicago. I think there is a very good chance they could start 10-2 and lose their final four games resulting in a second place finish in the division. Sure it seems a bit far fetched but that was my point. Maybe I’m wrong about the 10-2 start and equally as wrong about the closing stretch. But let it be known I am as confident in the Bears winning this division in 2013 as I am of any division winner in the NFL this year.

Best Bets:

Bears to win the division +350


Sunday, September 1, 2013

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