2013 NFL Preseason Predictions: NFC North (Woodhull)
Here are my NFC North predictions for 2013:
1. Green Bay Packers (schedule): 12-4
Despite the recent spate of injuries, more specifically to already weak offensive line with the loss of Bryan Bulaga, the Packers should be even better than last year. It all starts Aaron Rodgers, the best quarterback in football. He’s nimble enough to avoid the rush, side stepping or stepping up in the pocket, and yet still makes smart decisions with the football.
Despite the poor offensive line play last year, Rodgers only threw 8 interceptions, which was tied with Tom Brady for fewest of any starting quarterback who played all 16 games last year. Both Robert Griffin III and Colin Kaepernick threw fewer interceptions, but RG3 missed time with injury and Kaepernick didn’t start until Week 10. (In fairness it is worth noting, Griffin’s stats prorated over 16 starts would have been fewer than 8 picks.) And the interception total was against the second-most TD passes (39) in the NFL last year. The argument here for Rodgers is simple; he is the most effective quarterback in the NFL.
The run game has been suspect for years in Green Bay, but by way of their style of play, it just needs to be a change of pace. The knock on the Packers has been their defense, but that is improving. Their secondary has a star in the making in Casey Hayward and Clay Mathews is already a force at linebacker. They’ve invested heavily with their draft picks on the defense and it should start paying off.
2. Minnesota Vikings (schedule): 8-8
Adrian Peterson is hands-down the best running back in the NFL and is making a go at becoming the greatest running back of all time. In just six seasons, Peterson has already vaulted to 33rd on the career rushing leaders list. He may never get to Emmitt Smith’s record of 18,355, but another five or six seasons like how he started his career and he could easily put himself into the top three on the career list. Even just another 2,000 yards this year will move him into the top 20 on the career list.
As for the Vikings, this season will go only as far as Christian Ponder can take them. The Vikings added receiving threats by drafting Corradelle Paterson and signing veteran Greg Jennings. When you have the best running back in football, it is supposed to make the quarterback's job easy and if Ponder can’t succeed under these conditions, then the question will be can he ever? I do think we’ll see some forward progress from Ponder and the defense is solid, if unspectacular.
In the end though, there might be just too much for the Vikings to do to repeat last year’s success.
3. Chicago Bears (schedule): 7-9
Marc Trestman is in as the new head coach, replacing Lovie Smith. The Bears finished last year with a 10-6 record; however they slid through the second half of the season to do it, closing out 3-5 in their final eight games. The change was necessitated by the missed playoffs and Smith was effectively in “try-out” mode for last year’s new GM, Phil Emery.
Last year, I thought the Bears defense was getting old and would falter a bit, but they finished as the fifth best in total defense. Now, they are acclimating to life without Brian Urlacher. Veterans Lance Briggs and Julius Peppers, both great a few years ago, may soon join Urlacher as they are both on the downslope of their careers. Fortunately the Bears have developed some nice young players to carry the torch; Corey Wooton, Henry Melton and Stephen Paea will become the foundations of this defense over the next few years.
Ultimately, the big questions lie on the offensive side of the ball. Will Jay Cutler lead this team? Can they find a receiving threat other than Brandon Marshall? And How big a load can Matt Forte carry?
I’d expect Forte to have a big year as he’s a nice fit for Trestman’s new offense and they may not need another big time receiver if everyone produces to the level expected. It falls back on Cutler – a supremely talented passer, but believed to be incapable of handling the pressure.
This team will be trying to find its way this year and learning new schemes on offense and likely to get off to slow start. With tough non-conference competition against the NFC South and AFC North, it does not look like team ready to repeat double-digit wins.
4. Detroit Lions (schedule): 7-9
My biggest complaint with the Lions under the Jim Schwartz era has been the lack of discipline from their key players, specifically their dominating defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. My second issue has been about their one-dimensional offense: Matthew Stafford to Calvin Johnson.
Neither of the grievances is a direct reflection of the players or talent, I view it all as a reflection of the head coach. There are a lot of preseason prognosticators out there, expecting a bounce-back to double digits for the Lions.
I think they have the talent to be a 10- or 12-win team, but personally think they will be hamstrung by the coach again. I'll add a bonus prediction of Schwartz being replaced for the Thanksgiving showdown against the Packers.
All of our contributors will make their division and Super Bowl picks and we will track those on this centralized predictions page.