Teams around the NFL have closed minicamps and are away for the summer until training camp. We’ve learned a lot about clubs during their offseason workouts. So where are they now? Who will be doing what? Who looks like they’re improving? Who mMediaight not be? So let’s take it division by division, team by team, highlighting the good news, the bad news, and the overall outlook.
Green Bay Packers (12-4, 5-1 Div.)
Good News – Aaron Rodgers plays quarterback
This team will always be considered a Super Bowl contender as long as number 12 is under center. Since taking over for Brett Favre in 2008, Rodgers has done nothing but light up the stats sheet; throwing for at least 4,000 yards in 5 of his 7 years as a starter (yes, it’s been 7 years since Favre wore Packer green). The Packers have made the playoffs 6 years in a row and things only seem to be looking up. The team kept wideout Randall Cobb on the roster to maintain the dynamic duo of him and Jordy Nelson. Adding to a lethal passing attack, Eddie Lacy has proven to be a workhorse running back. With young upstart wide receiver Davante Adams in the mix, this offense looks to be even better in 2015.
Bad News – Scott Tolzien also plays quarterback
The one concern that has risen about Aaron Rodgers is his durability. He has played a full 16 games only twice in the last 5 years (Mike McCarthy rested him in a meaningless week 17 game in 2011, but you get my point). His injury problems were still evident last year, even when he did manage to play in all 16 games. Finishing the season, he played through a calf injury that clearly limited his mobility. In 2013, the NFL world was introduced to Scott Tolzien, who was one of 3 quarterbacks to play in relief of Aaron Rodgers when he broke his collarbone. In 3 appearances, Tolzien threw for 717 yards, 1 touchdown, and 5 interceptions. That is 5 interceptions in less than 3 full games. That is who would play in 2015 if Rodgers were to get hurt again.
The only thing that will slow the Green Bay Packers down this year will be injuries. The offense is set to take the league by storm in 2015. Their defense can match up well with most offenses. Julius Peppers will be back. Clay Matthews was moved to inside linebacker last year and flourished. Watch out for the Green Bay Packers come September.
Detroit Lions (11-5, 5-1 Div.)
Good News – Detroit can play defense!
For the first time in a very long time, Detroit seemed to be carried by their defense this past year. The Lions only gave up an average of 17 points per game, and that is including when the Patriots put up 34 points and the Packers put up 30. Detroit was also the only team in the NFC North to beat Green Bay a year ago, and they did it in the hardest way possible, they shut down Aaron Rodgers. Detroit only allowed him to throw for 162 yards in their week 3 victory. The high powered Packers offense put up a measly 7 points in that game. Yes, Ndamukong Suh is gone, but Detroit’s head brass traded for Haloti Ngata to replace him (they like complicated names on their defense). Ngata brings a similar amount of defensive production without being a distraction with excessive personal foul penalties.
Bad News – Matthew Stafford can’t beat good teams
Quarterback Matthew Stafford has had an interesting career. It started as “He can’t stay healthy,” as he battled shoulder injuries and struggled staying on the field early in his career. Now it’s “He can’t beat good teams.” The numbers don’t lie. Stafford is a mere 3 and 32 against teams with winning records and is 0 and 18 against winning teams on the road. The last two games of the 2014 season were just the latest in Stafford’s struggles. In the regular season finale loss to the Packers, Stafford completed less than half of his passes, and in the playoff loss to the Cowboys, Stafford only led his offense to 3 second half points. He is not a bad quarterback. He is one of just 5 quarterbacks in NFL history to throw for 5,000 yards in a season. Yet, he continues to struggle when it matters.
This team looks very similar to the team it was last year. Their defense saw a change along the defensive front, but Haloti Ngata is still a beast that can stuff the run with the best of them. Stafford can lead the offense to win games that they’re expected to win. Head coach Jim Caldwell proved last year he can win without Peyton Manning, leading the Lions to the playoffs in his first year at the helm. The team did enough to beat the Cowboys in the first round of the playoffs last year (we won’t talk about the ridiculous pass interference mind change the referees had). Now the question is: Can Matthew Stafford prove his critics wrong and win when it matters?
Chicago Bears (5-11, 1-5 Div.)
Good News – John Fox is in town
In a bizarre twist of fate, the Broncos did their best 49ers impression and “mutually parted ways” with a very successful head coach. Luckily for the Bears, they were in need of a head coach when this occurred and took advantage of the opportunity. John Fox is now the head man in Chicago and has a team that is set up very similarly to the Panthers team he coached to a Super Bowl appearance. They have a quarterback that can sling it in Jay Cutler, exhibit A
(granted he forgets the color of his own jersey from time to time but no one can deny he’s got a cannon), and they have a strong running game in Matt Forte. The defense needs work, but that is Fox’s specialty. If anyone can get this team back to winning football games, it’s John Fox.
Bad News – John Fox is in town…
I could go the obvious route here and hate on Jay Cutler some more, but I decided to take the road less traveled. This is now the third team that John Fox has coached. During his head coaching career, Fox has two Super Bowl appearances and no rings. He is entering his 14th season as a head coach and boasts a mediocre playoff record of 8 and 7. He’s made the playoffs 7 times in his career but 3 of those times were with Peyton Manning. He is also the head coach of the greatest offense in NFL history…that put up 8 points in the Super Bowl. The Bears may get competitive again with Fox as their head man, but I’ll say it, they will not win the Super Bowl with John Fox at the helm.
The Bears will be better than the 5 wins they put up a year ago. They may even compete for a wild card playoff spot, but a few things need to happen. They have to improve their 30th ranked defense, and Jay Cutler must improve on his 18 interceptions. Both of which are possible now that they have gotten younger at wide receiver by drafting Kevin White and hired former 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio to lead their defense in 2015.
Minnesota Vikings (7-9, 1-5 Div.)
Good News – Adrian Peterson and Teddy Bridgewater will finally play in a game together
The Vikings had quite a bit of drama with their star running back last year. He was placed on the commissioner’s exempt list after the season opener due to allegations of child abuse and missed the rest of the season. Then, once his name was cleared and he was reinstated, Peterson wanted out of Minnesota because he felt the organization betrayed him. The bridges were mended and Peterson is now a full participant in Vikings offseason activities, and even reworked his deal and got more security from the team. Now, back to football. The Vikings sorely missed Peterson last year. For the first time since drafting Peterson in 2007, no Vikings rusher ran for more than 570 yards. Bridgewater took over as starting quarterback in week 4 as he lit up the Falcons defense, throwing for 317 yards in a 41 to 28 win. He missed the following game, but then started the rest of the year, going 6-7 as a starter. Adrian Peterson will provide the spark to get this team to winning games again. Don’t forget he can do things like this.
Bad News – Adrian Peterson missed a year
The off the field drama resulted in Adrian Peterson missing basically all of the 2014 season. Most people point to what happened when he came off a torn ACL as evidence that for AD, it doesn’t matter. He will be back and better than ever, but this is different. When he tore his ACL, he had a ton of time to focus on rehab and getting into the best shape of his life. He missed the 2014 season due to legal troubles. He had to make various court appearances and had a lot of media and attention distracting him from staying in football shape. He also didn’t have rehab forcing him to work out this time. Now I get it. He’s Adrian Peterson. He’s a machine, but I am a little more skeptical this time than last time. He will certainly be rusty coming back. Remember, he didn’t miss a full season when he tore his ACL.
The Vikings have the potential to be a much improved ball club this year. Adrian Peterson is back. Teddy Bridgewater is entrenched as the starter at quarterback, and Mike Zimmer is still the head coach, a great defensive mind that will love having Adrian Peterson in his backfield. This team is still a year away from being a legitimate playoff contender, but they could surprise some people in 2015.
Division Winner – Green Bay Packers
This division is easy to pick a winner. The Packers are the only team with a sure thing at quarterback. Stafford can’t beat playoff teams. Bridgewater is young and still has some improvements to make, and Jay Cutler was benched for Jimmy Clausen last year. That being said, this division has the potential to produce 4 teams above .500 at the end of the season. Because this is the NFC however, they won’t produce 3 playoff teams. The Bears, Lions, and Vikings will have to compete against a loaded NFC West and NFC South. Green Bay will be competing for the number 1 seed this year, but don’t be surprised if there are 2 NFC North teams in the playoffs when January rolls around.
*Image from USA Today Sports