Culture of Hoops

2015 NFL Season Preview: NFC North

Photo courtesy of Mike Morbeck/Flickr

Photo courtesy of Mike Morbeck/Flickr

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Teams not named the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North had to deal with Brett Favre twice a year for what seemed like an eternity. After finally leaving the Packers in 2007, a guy by the name of Aaron Rodgers took over. Things have not only gotten worse for the rest of the NFC North, but the entire NFL as well. Quarterback is the most important position on a football field and when you have the best guy at the spot, chances are you’re the team to beat. The Packers have been, and will be for a while, the team to beat in the NFC North. However, the drop after them may not be as deep as you think. Here is a look at the NFC North as part of BMF Sports’ NFL season preview.

Most Important Player: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Minnesota Vikings
While Aaron Rodgers could be a lock here as well, I’m going to change things up a little and go with the second year signal caller out of Louisville. In his rookie year, he started 13 games for the Vikings and played pretty well given his situation. He completed over 60 percent of his passes (64.4) and threw for just under 3,000 yards (2,919). The big stat here, however, is that he threw more touchdowns (14) than interceptions (12). That is always a good sign when looking at rookie quarterbacks.

Coming off of a productive rookie campaign, Bridgewater will need to do much more for this Vikings team to make any noise. The best thing working in his favor is the return of Adrian Peterson. He makes life much more pleasant for a young quarterback. With Peterson almost always forcing an 8-man front defense, Bridgewater will see much easier coverages. I’m not sure people realize the speed this team has at receiver either. Cordarrelle Patterson and Stefon Diggs both ran 4.4 in the 40-yard dash, while Charles Johnson and Mike Wallace ran 4.3. Any of these receivers can be a threat with single coverage and that’s exactly what they will get with Peterson drawing so much attention from the back field. When you add in Bridgewater’s ability to extend plays with his legs, this offense can be scary come this season.

X-Factor: Adrian Peterson, HB, Minnesota Vikings
Is there any debate that Peterson was the best running back in the NFL prior to missing last season? I would highly doubt that. The most productive season of his career came after a torn ACL the year before. In 2012, he rushed for 2,097 yards, missing Eric Dickerson’s single season rushing record by only 8 yards. He followed that up with a 1,200 yard season in 2013. He missed all but one game last season due to suspension. It was even questioned at times if he would step on a football field again. Is missing an entire year of football going to have an impact on him, or will we watch the same old Adrian Peterson toss defenders aside like rag dolls? If he picks up where he left off, he can be the piece the Vikings need to take the pressure of their young franchise QB, Teddy Bridgewater.

Best Team: Green Bay Packers
As mentioned above, having the best QB in the league often translates to having one of the best teams. That’s exactly the case here. As long as the Packers have Aaron Rodgers, they will be the premiere team in the NFC North. They have been the division champions in 4 of the past 5 years. The year they didn’t win the division was 2010, but they won something a little more meaningful. As a Bears fan, it hurts to mention the 2010 NFC Championship game, but the Packers dismantled the Bears and went on to defeat the Steelers and become Super Bowl champs. With a very successful head coach in Mike McCarthy and the best QB in the business, the Packers could very well be on their way to Santa Clara in 2016.

Team That Could Surprise: Minnesota Vikings
After a 7-9 season last year, this Viking team is headed in the right direction. Teddy Bridgewater showed us all that he is a dependable franchise quarterback in just his rookie season. The return of arguably the best running back in football will definitely help Teddy’s progression this year. The Vikings are stacked on the defensive side of the ball. Shariff Floyd is quickly becoming a force up front, Anthony Barr will be entering his second season with very high expectations, Eric Kendricks was drafted this year after being awarded the Dick Butkus award in college at UCLA, and finally you have Xavier Rhodes emerging as a shutdown corner along with Harrison Smith who is already one of the best young free safeties in the league. Defense wins championships and this team has all the pieces.

Bold Prediction: Jay Cutler’s Touchdown to Interception Ratio is 2:1
Cutler has never accomplished this feat in his entire career, so why now? Well, coaching plays a big part in this. Adam Gase was brought in from Denver as the new offensive coordinator. Have you watched a Bronco game in the past two years? Chances are, if you have, you seen them put up north of 30 points. Granted, when you have Peyton Manning, I like your odds of scoring the football. However, the scheme also played a big role. In 2013, Gases first year as offensive coordinator, the Broncos set records across the board. They led the league in both total yards per game (457.3) and passing yards per game (340.2). Peyton had his best statistical year of his career throwing for 55 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions. Jay Cutler has a history of turning the ball over, but if anyone is going to help change that, it’s Adam Gase.

Offensive Player of the Year: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers
Surprise! This may be the only lock for this entire preview. Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in football, period. Calvin Johnson is still a monster in Detroit and Adrian Peterson is back, but Aaron Rodgers still runs the show in the North. Last year he threw for 38 touchdowns and only five interceptions. With Eddie Lacy keeping defenses honest in the run game, Rodgers is set to carve teams up once again.

Defensive Player of the Year: Deandre Levy, OLB, Detroit Lions
There are not many superstars on the defensive side of the ball in the NFC North. Clay Mathews is still a beast in Green Bay, Harrison Smith has emerged as a top five free safety in Minnesota, but other than that there are not many defensive stars in this division. Levy burst on the scene in 2013 with 119 combined tackles, 6 interceptions, and a touchdown. He followed that up by racking up a staggering 151 combined tackles last season to go along with two and a half sacks and an interception. After being snubbed from the Pro Bowl last year, look out for a hungry Deandre Levy in 2015.

Final Standings:
1. Green Bay Packers: 12-4
2. Minnesota Vikings: 10-6
3. Detroit Lions: 8-8
4. Chicago Bears: 7-9

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