September 13, 2015 by Ell and Mike Sports
Ell’s NFL Preseason Divisional Standing Predictions (NFC) Part 1
The Packers still have one of the best offenses in the league behind HC Mike McCarthy and star QB Aaron Rodgers. The team locked in WR Randall Cobb and RT Bryan Bulaga which should help the WR core and offensive line not miss a beat. The run game should be even better with another year under Lacy’s belt, as he has already proved to be a reliable piece to bring offensive balance. After letting TE Jermichael Finley go after battling injuries, they are expecting Andrew Quarless to step up, but the offense will already be a solid passing attack making TE production icing on the cake. On defense, the Packers still boast a solid front 7 with a healthy B.J. Raji in the middle and the young talent a year wiser. The secondary is still young and developing, but a lot of the depth along with veteran starting CB Tramon Williams left via free agency; therefore, the young talent needs to step up and show that they are ready.
The Lions should have one of the best passing games in the league behind QB Matthew Stafford and WR1A Calvin Johnson and WR1B Golden Tate behind an improving O-line and run game. Rookie RB Ameer Abdullah appears to be the real deal and could be exactly what the team has been missing. If TE Eric Ebron can bring any production from the TE position, this offense will be able to put up points with anyone. On the defensive side of the ball, the Lions should get solid production and leadership from veteran NT Haloti Ngata, but they will still miss Suh. DE Ezekiel Ansah seems bound for a huge season as the main pass rusher. MLB Stephen Tulloch is still a tackling machine and OLB DeAndre Levy has a nose for the ball making his way into every play. The other young players in the front 7, need to step up around these vets, however DT Tyrunn Walker has shown that he can hold his own. The secondary stayed intact with veteran CB Rashean Mathis who is good in coverage, but is getting older, CB Darius Slay who needs to continue to improve, but has a good skill set, FS Glover Quinn coming off a big season and hard hitting SS James Ihedigbo. The safeties need to show that last season was no one hit wonder and the CBs need to continue to play better, or someone could step up to replace Mathis. If the there is a good balance of defense and offense, the Lions could take the division.
The Vikings have a solid offensive foundation with 2nd year QB Teddy Bridgewater who looks to be the real deal and the return of RB Adrian Peterson with some good depth behind him that had to step up last year. The WR core added Mike Wallace to replace Greg Jennings and they have young depth they really believe in, but they are hoping Cordarrelle Patterson steps up; rookie WR Stefon Diggs could be a surprise. TE Kyle Rudolph continues to hold down the TE position with a good quickness and hands with the ability to block. The young O-line was intact until huge RT Phil Loadholt went down, but rookie T T.J. Clemmings is expected to replace him; this will be a position to watch, but Clemmings does have the talent. On the defensive side of the ball, the D-line remains intact while they expect DE Everson Griffen and DT Sharrif Floyd to continue to grow. The linebacker core remains intact with OLBs Chad Greenway and Anthony Barr, who they expect to get even better. There is competition amongst the young MLBs. At CB, veteran Terrance Newman has been added to the mix and 1st round pick Trae Waynes; best case scenario Newman is in the slot and Waynes is the starter opposite Xavier Rhodes, but Waynes will be brought along slowly. At the safety position, they still have FS Harrison Smith, who they expect to make his name known around the league, and SS Robert Blanton. If the Vikings defense can match the offense, then this team could shoot up the division.
The Bears offense will go as far as QB Jay Cutler arm will take them, but it’s not looking too despite new coaching because his favorite target WR Brandon Marshall is gone and his replacement 1st round pick Kevin White is on the pup list. Now, free agent WR Eddie Royal will need to play a bigger role, as well as, the young depth behind him. RB Matt Forte will be needed to carry the load again, but free agent Jacquizz Rodgers can help him in the receiving game and Kadeem Carey can help with the power running. TE Martellus Bennett has been another favorite target of Cutler and should be the top 2 option on the majority of the plays. The offensive line can’t decide on a RT they like which might push RG Kyle Long there which may work out, but if they can’t get solid play upfront the offense will be in for a long season and a lot of change next year. On defense, the change to a (3-4) defense will be a struggle as they try to use the pieces they have. The D-line is relying on the veteran Jay Ratliff to play nose tackle, but he will probably be better as a DE with rookie DT Eddie Goldman taking the job and they have DE/DT Ego Ferguson and veteran free agent DE Jarvis Jones who are decent run stoppers, but they need to generate a better pass rush. At LB, they have moved Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston to OLB, but both players will probably be best on the D-line. They have added OLB Pernell McPhee who will have to prove that he can provide a consistent pass rush. ILB Mason Foster was brought in to provide solid pass coverage and quickness and 2nd year ILB Christian Jones will hold down the other job. The CB position is going through a youth movement and need to find a consistent starter opposite 2nd year star CB Kyle Fuller. The safety position has been upgraded with the addition of veteran Antrel Rolle who is a big hitter and good leader; there will be competition for the free safety spot. The Bears are looking like a team headed for a rebuilding year where they want to see who is going to stay long term.
The Seahawks still have one of the best defenses in the league while adding star TE Jimmy Graham as a big target to make their offense more dangerous. QB Russell Wilson is locked into a big contract to remain the starter for the long term as a smart player who can make plays with his arm and feet. RB Marshawn Lynch will continue to pound the load for another season, but the depth behind him needs to step up; they have since traded for RB Fred Jackson. Graham gives them the production they have always been lacking from the TE position. The WR position still doesn’t have a true #1 WR, but there is good competition and depth along with the addition of rookie WR Tyler Lockett who seems to be a playmaker in the return game and will be a good receiver in space. The offensive line lost a few pieces, but was never really flashy so they should find decent replacements amongst the competition. On the defensive side of the ball,
The Cardinals are back to normal on offense with QB Carson Palmer back from injury and motivated to take this team as far as they can go. The offensive line is improved with the addition of power run blocking LG Mike Iupati, but the loss of RT Bobby Massie to suspension hurts early chemistry and production. The WR core remains intact with vet Larry Fitzgerald, young protégé Michael Floyd and the hidden gem slot WR John Brown who could have a big season. The RB position has speedy RB Andre Ellington who excels at catching out of the backfield and making game changing plays, power back rookie David Johnson, and veteran RB Chris Johnson who must prove he can keep the chains moving. The TE position is full of huge athletes with veteran TE Jermaine Gresham looking to take the starting spot as the most productive throughout his career. On the defensive side of the ball, the D-line remains strong behind star DE Calais Campbell veteran energy guy DE Frostee Rucker and the addition of veteran Corey Redding in the rotation helps, however replacing NT Dan Williams will be something to watch. The LB core is good on paper as they kick the tires on veteran OLB LaMarr Woodley for pass rush help and talented ILB Sean Witherspoon who can’t stay healthy. ILB Kevin Minter continues to rack up tackles and young OLB Alex Okafor has potential. CB Patrick Peterson remains the star at the position as one of the top CBs in the league and Jerraud Powers will move from the slot, where he is best, to the opposite side, depth is scarce. They are deep at safety with FS/CB Tyrann “Honey Badger” Mathieu, FS Rashard Johnson, and SS Deone Bucanon, with a group this deep Mathieu will see time at CB also. If the defense can be just as good as last year and they if they can stay healthy on both sides of the ball, at key positions, this team could go far.
The Rams could be a team on the rise with the addition of QB Nick Foles, but his TD to interception ratio will be the key. The RB position is better with the addition of RB Todd Gurley who was college workhorse back and will eventually take over the starting job; the Rams have been very careful with his recovery from injury. The depth behind Gurley is pretty good and they have runners who can run by committee. The WR position is good on paper with veteran Kenny Britt, the athletic Brian Quick who needs to show consistency, and West Virginia WRs Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin, who they hope to get more involved in the offense because he is very good in space. The TE group continues to be led by TE Jared Cook and the athletic Lance Kendricks. The offensive line is going with a youth movement at tackle and there could be growing pains, but this will be a unit to watch. On the defensive side of the ball, the front 7 is intact behind a strong defensive line which got even stronger with the addition of DT Nick Fairley, with a young solid LB core behind it. The secondary continues with a youth movement and competition, but this is the weak link on the team and a unit to watch. The Rams have some good talent and pieces in place, but in a tough division they will have to really play to their strengths to make the playoffs.
The 49ers offense is undergoing change, but not nearly as much as the defense; however, it will be up to QB Colin Kaepernick to carry the load and prove that he is worth his contract. The offensive line is the major point of change where due to injuries and retirement, there will be new starters at C, RG, and RT. At RB, long stay veteran Frank Gore is no longer around and it now falls in the hands of 2nd year RB Carlos Hyde, veteran RB Reggie Bush will help carry the load and play the 3rd down back role, and rugby player Jarryd Hayne seems to be in the mix as a power back and returner. The WR position is solid with veteran Anquan Boldin, the addition of speedster Torrey Smith, and some good young depth behind them. TE Vernon Davis continues to hold down the TE group with Vance McDonald looking to cut into some of his targets. On the defensive side of the ball, the D-line is suffering due to retirement and untimely releases, so some young players will need to take over the DE and NT spots opposite of DE Glenn Dorsey. The LB core has suffered from retirements and untimely releases, but the return of ILB NaVorro Bowman helps a lot and veteran OLB Ahmad Brooks along with young players who provided depth who will need to step up. The CB position is the biggest weak link as they loss both starting CBs left via free agency, but they have veteran CB Trumaine Brock coming off of injury and veteran slot CB Shareece Wright, who is a risk taker. The safety position is solid with veteran playmaking SS Antoine Bethea and young upcoming FS Eric Reid. The 49ers have talent in key positions, but a new head coach, offense, atmosphere, and sudden player changes will be too much in a tough division.