August 26, 2016 by Ell and Mike Sports
Ell’s NFC North Divisional Rankings
The Packers look like the one of the best teams in the NFC as they continue to be led by QB Aaron Rodgers and continue to add pieces to the puzzle, as well as the return of #1 WR Jordy Nelson. The RB core should be improved by a slimmed down Eddie Lacy, but they will miss FB John Kuhn. TE Jared Cook is an athletic project who never had a real QB and could finally show his potential. The O-line remains intact with rookie T/G Jason Spriggs available to fill in any spot. The WR core is deep with Nelson’s return giving them receivers of all skillsets. The defense is mostly the same, except the addition of ILB Blake Martinez who could lock up a starting job, but with the added depth in the middle, the key is star pass rusher Clay Matthews moving back to OLB. After allowing some of their developed CBs to leave for more money via free agency, 2nd year CBs Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins will see more time on the field; they both proved they are viable starters last year. The Packers showed last year that they have a good veteran and youth mix, so it will be tough for any team in the division to take them down (injuries pending).
The Vikings are looking to grow from last year’s success and hope that the team, mostly QB Teddy Bridgewater can take the next step. Bridgewater put together a solid season last year and has been given a new WR in Laquon Tredwell who they hope can become a true #1 WR. RB Adrian Peterson continues to lead the way in the running game, while McKinnon is a nice pass catcher and speed back, and Asiata has proven that he carry the load and be a power back. TE Kyle Rudolph still leads the group and needs to be a lot more consistent, but he has the skills. The WR core will lean on 2nd year WR Stefon Diggs who proved to be a playmaker while Charles Johnson and Cordarrelle Patterson try to prove that they belong, or Treadwell will take their snaps. The offensive line should be much improved with the additions of RT Andre Smith and LG Alex Boone. The defense remains intact with a tough front 7 led by tough D-line where DE Everson Griffen is expected to put up double digits sacks again. The LB core should be even better with MLB Eric Kendricks in his 2nd year and OLB Anthony Barr getting even better. The secondary has good competition as 2nd year player CB Trae Waynes and rookie Mackensie Alexander will fight for snaps. Veteran S Michael Griffin will fight for snaps at both safeties, looking to possibly take the job at SS. The Vikings will need rapid growth in the passing game to contend with the Packers this year, but they are a good young team who will need to lean on AP and the defense again to win games.
The Bears could be a solid team if everything falls into place, but in a tough division that will be a lot to ask. QB Jay Cutler is coming off a solid season, but OC Adam Gase departed to the Dolphins. The WR core should be better with a healthy Eddie Royal in the slot and the chance to pair star WR Alshon Jeffery with last year’s 1st round pick Kevin White, who could really make or break this offense. The RB core is under change after the departure of long term starter Matt Forte who will replace by the committee of Jeremy Langford who has a similar skillset, Kadeem Carey as a power back, Jacquizz Rodgers as a scat back, and rookie Jordan Howard who has a homerun skillset. The O-line is a still a big concern as the tackle positions are a thing to watch and the center position as C Hroniss Grasu is loss for the season. The defense has been upgraded via free agency with ILB Danny Trevathan coming off a Super Bowl, DE/DT Akiem Hicks, and ILB Jerrell Freeman. The front 7 could be dominant or worst case very active with good depth through the draft and a good mix of youth and veteran players; however the secondary is an issue with too much youth. The CB position is very thin and Tracy Porter should not be a starter, but the biggest issue is still the safety position. The Bears have solid coaching and a veteran foundation to keep them in games, but the division is tough and the conference is tougher.
With the retirement of WR Calvin Johnson, the Lions are still clearly the worst team in the division. QB Matthew Stafford continues to hold down the QB position with a big arm and good leadership, but he needs to show better accuracy and the ability to close games. At RB Ameer Abdullah will be the lead back, but he must limit his turnovers and stay healthy, Theo Riddick is a pass catcher and speed back who should make his way on the field often, and Zack Zenner is in the mix for carries, if he can stay healthy. The WR position is now led by the duo of Golden Tate and free agent WR Marvin Jones. Tate is a consistent player who has been a #1 WR before and Jones is a good deep ball option who has struggled with injuries, but he’s coming off a big season. Veteran WR Anquan Boldin was brought in due to lack of depth and should provide good leadership and do the little things that only a vet can bring. The TE position continues to be led by Eric Ebron who must show better consistency, but he seems to get better each season. The offensive line should be better with rookie LT Tyler Decker allowing Riley Reiff to move RT, but there will be some growing pains as Decker was seen as more of a RT; however, he has stepped up to the plate. On defense, the D-line continues to be led by star DE Ezekiel Ansah who consistently gets after the QB and veteran DT Haloti Ngata who should continue to provide leadership. OLB Kyle Van Noy will take over one spot to prove his is not a bust in his 3rd year, OLB DeAndre Levy as a good sideline to sideline tackler, and Tahir Whitehead tacking over as the starter at MLB. The CB position is under change with the retirement of vet Rashean Mathis allowing Darius Slay to prove he is a top CB with no much talent behind him. Free agent SS Rafael Bush will take over that position proving that he can be a starter. The Lions offense should still put up numbers and should be consistent with the addition of Boldin, but the defense needs a lot more talent in a tough division.