The NFC north usually is overlooked because the reigning NFC Champion trophy is out west in San Francisco, some believe that the AFC South has more overall talent, and there are more rabid Cowboys, Giants and Redskins fans across the nation, but the four teams are all capable of giving the rest of the NFC a run for its money because each has a player that at one point in their career was considered the best player at his position: Aaron Rodgers, Adrian Peterson, Calvin Johnson and Julius Peppers; conversely each are facing unique circumstances heading into week one that could also have them on the outside looking in once its time for post-season football. Tune in to Sports Q&A Radio to find out what Q and A really think of each team and their potential to come out of the black and blue division on top.
Green Bay Packers:
Can the Pack keep Rodgers upright?
Preparing for the upcoming season the Packers already had the task of having to replace key players on their roster: defensive back Charles Woodson, linebacker Desmond Bishop and receivers Donald Driver and Greg Jennings. Only one week into the preseason, they now have to replace two more pieces to their offense due to injuries. While its speculated that he should be ready by week 1, Jordy Nelson going down for 4-6 weeks because of a lingering knee injury further thins out a receiving corp that was looking for him, James Jones and Randall Cobb to fill the void left by two key targets for quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The bigger injury of the two came on the offensive line where starting LT Bryan Bulaga was lost for the season after tearing his ACL during a training camp practice; losing the third year man out of Iowa could prove to be very costly for an offense that has struggled with allowing Rodgers to take too many hits the past couple of seasons. What is even more concerning is that the team may replace him with a fourth round rookie, so Packer fans better hope that State Farm offers injury protection because the former Super Bowl MVP will need it if they lose anyone else on the offensive line.
Are the Vikings on the brink of stardom?
While Robo-back aka Adrian Peterson is still the star; third year quarterback Christian Ponder has to be the one leading the offense for the team to continue its success from last season. Ponders improvement in every key quarterback statistic: Passing yards, touchdown to interception ratio, completion percentage and QB rating shows his ability to play the position in the NFL; but some question if he will ever become a top flight signal caller that is capable of leading his team to a championship or will he be just a game manager who has already reached his talent ceiling. Part of his evolution as a better quarterback will be tied to how quickly he builds chemistry with new talent at wide receiver. While they did lose the talented but oft-injured co-star Percy Harvin to Seattle, they were able to find a suitable stand-ins by signing former Packers wide out Greg Jennings and drafting receiver Cordarrelle Patterson from the University of Tennessee. If there is continued improvement in the passing game and Ponder is able to keep defenses honest, AP, the leading rusher in 2012 has a legit chance at breaking the rushing record, but if not, the Vikings management may have to start considering another option at quarterback because their 15 minutes of fame is quickly ticking away.
No Lovie + No Urlacher = defensive drop off?
That is the equation many fans in the windy city are now faced with considering this upcoming season. In spite of going 10-6, general manager Phil Emery felt that it was time to go in a different direction with the team and fired Lovie Smith ending an 8 year relationship. Hiring offensive-minded Marc Trestman from the CFL and signing: Jermon Bushrod, Eben Britton and drafting Kyle Long to solidify the offensive line will help the offense significantly, but the pride of this team has always been the defense and 2013 could be the first year that the offense has to carry the defense, which may not be a good thing. Reuniting with former Denver Broncos’ teammate Jay Cutler proved to be very beneficial for Brandon Marshall as the receiver posted career highs in receptions (118) yards (1,508) and touchdowns (11), but Cutler will need the other receivers like Alshon Jeffery to step up because teams will look to limit Marshall. While middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, who was the centerpiece of this Bears defense for 12 years, was cut, no other significant defensive players was lost from a unit that was fifth in total defense, third in points allowed and had +20 turnover ratio; however being able to replicate those impressive numbers in 2013 wont be as easy after replacing Smith who brought in the successful Tampa 2 scheme, as well as having to adjust to the different terminology and expectations placed by new coordinator Mel Tucker.
Hope springs eternal in the D
Expectations in the Motor City are surprisingly high for a team coming off a 4-12 season but can you really blame the fan-base for wanting more out of a team that has as much talent and potential as the Lions; However those same feelings of optimism are why Head Coach Jim Schwartz is on the coaching hot seat. He got a pass for suffering through the “started from the bottom” roster reconstruction when he was hired in 2009, but after going 10-6 and making the playoffs in 2011, the hope grew for on-field stability from long-suffering fans. Even with the setback season of 2012, the roster additions of: Reggie Bush, Glover Quin, Jason Jones, and the healthy return of receivers Nate Burlson and Ryan Broyles, combined with a quiet off-season shows that the team may be poised to turn the corner for good. The multiple off field issues, lack of discipline and questionable playcalling on the field and only two victories against winning teams in his four seasons have placed that bull’s-eye directly on Schwartz and unless he turns things around this season, his tenure as Lions coach will be just as uneventful as Detroit Mayor Dave Bing’s time as head man of the beleaguered city.
Who wins the division?
Who/What will be the surprise of the division?
Who/What will be the disappointment of the division?