Why they should be optimistic: They’ve still got Matt Forte, who is arguably the most versatile running back in the entire NFL. You look at his rushing stats from last year and it’s nothing that makes you giddy…just over 1,000 yards at 3.9 YPC and 6 TDs. Good, but nothing special – until you factor in what he did as a receiver out of the backfield: 102 receptions for over 800 yards and 4 TDs. Sum it up and you’ve got over 1,800 yards from scrimmage and 10 TDs, which is why he’s still one of the best in the league.
The only other reasons for optimism are that you’ve got some other weapons on offense too. Alshon Jeffrey has proven to be a playmaker in his first three seasons and should step right in to the WR1 role vacated by Brandon Marshall (although he’s already dealing with a nagging calf injury). You’ve also got Martellus Bennett still lurking at tight end, and you added one of Jay Cutler’s favorite security blankets from back in the day…Eddie Royal…to man the slot. If Cutler can get his head out of his own ass, the offense should be just fine.
Why they should be concerned: Da Bears should be concerned because they’re still stuck with Jay Cutler as their quarterback, and the dude is total muff-garbage. That’s why they couldn’t find any takers this offseason when they were reportedly “shopping him”…he’s not a good quarterback AND he’s had issues with prior coaches and teammates. As long as he’s your QB, the ceiling on this team will be pretty limited. Frankly, the only thing Cutler has in his ‘Win’ column is his wife.
The Bears also traded away Brandon Marshall this offseason. I know he’s got a screw loose, but the dude has boatloads of talent. And the kid they drafted in the 1st round to replace him – Kevin White – is already out with a shin injury. He’ll go on the PUP list and best case miss the first 6 weeks; still a chance he misses the entire season…so that’s a good start after 1 week of the preseason.
What are their chances: As long as Cutler is their QB, their chances are about as good as the odds of me watching the next Fast and the Furious movie (what are they up to, #7 now? – who still watches that shit?). They have some talent around him on offense, but the offensive line is shaky and the defense looks poised for another down year. I think John Fox will be able to right the ship, but not this quickly. They’ll take their licks in 2015 in a difficult division, and with a tough out of division schedule. My official prediction = they finish last in the division at 6-10.
Why they should be optimistic: Adrian Peterson is back!! That’s all you really need to keep in mind if you’re a Vikings fan. The Purple Jesus is back and Viking fans everywhere will get to see the big 2-8 steam-rolling over poor defensive backs on his way to endzone, and all will be right with the world again. You can put me down as being in the camp that AP is going to come back with a vengeance and punish the league this year. Struggling to remember just what this dude is capable of, enjoy…
You’ve also got a young, promising QB leading your team in Teddy Bridgewater. He made strides at the end of 2014 and definitely has more weapons around him in 2015 (the aforementioned AP is just a minor upgrade over Matt Asiata) and the Vikings traded for Mike Wallace this offseason to pair him with the emerging Charles Johnson on the outside and tight end Kyle Rudolph. If that group can stay healthy and if Teddy can keep progressing, the offense should be rock solid. His growth should definitely be eased by the return of AP, as teams will stack the box to slow him down – leaving 1 on 1 matchups on the outside.
Why they should be concerned: Personally, I’m a believer in Teddy Bridge, but he’s young and doesn’t even have a full season under his belt yet. So there’s the very real possibility that he has more growing pains and this season doesn’t go real well for the Vikes as he still develops.
There’s also the issue of their defense, which showed signs of improvement last year but didn’t make enough big plays to be a difference-maker. They had 41 sacks as a team last season, but didn’t generate enough turnovers (only 13 INTs and 6 fumble recoveries; 19 turnovers in 16 games just won’t cut it) to help create opportunities for their offense.
Lastly, the offensive line was a huge problem last year as Vikings QBs were sacked 51 times. That’s over 3 times per game. We’ll assume that improves with AP back in the fold, but reports are that the Vikings already lost starting right tackle Phil Loadholt to a season-ending Achilles injury in their first preseason game…that won’t help the cause.
What are their chances: I think the Vikings are the dark horses in this division. They were better than people realized last season, and I think the return of AP is going to have a massive impact on their offense – I honestly can’t overstate how important I think he is to this team. Their defense isn’t great, but I think they’ll be good enough. They don’t have enough to overtake the Packers this season…but they’re building in the right direction. My official prediction = 10-6, fighting for a wildcard spot.
Why they should be optimistic: They still have the man known best as Megatron. He’s struggled with some injuries the last two seasons, but when healthy he’s still the most unstoppable receiver in the NFL. They finally found a Robin for Megatron last season, as Golden Tate had a tremendous season and stepped up huge when Calvin went down with his injury. Plus, there have been rave reviews coming out of camp so far about the young back they drafted…Ameer Abdullah. And for once the hype might actually be worthwhile because there is at least one Jets defensive player in the trainer’s room with broken ankles after their preseason game. Kid can cut on a dime – now the early comparisons to Barry Sanders are just insane…but he did immediately remind me of Shady McCoy, which ain’t too shabby. In case you missed it…
Why they should be concerned: For starters, they haven’t gotten consistent play from Matthew Stafford. He’s got all the physical tools, but has regressed the past few years and his mechanics are just terrible. He reminds me of Nomar Garciaparra with his side-armed throws…and they’re both equally inaccurate. He’s got to be better for the team to have any real success, and he hasn’t shown any signs of taking that step into the upper echelon of QBs.
The larger concern is that it took the Lions over a decade to build any semblance of a defense. They finally had some success, culminating with last seasons’ top-5 defensive unit and right on cue…say goodbye to Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh. They brought in veteran Haloti Ngata to fill the gap, but it’s not enough, and the trickle-down effect should hamper their secondary in a big way.
What are their chances: They’ll be competitive, so they’ve got a chance to keep things interesting heading into December. But that’s all I expect from them – and it’ll be a definite step backwards from last season’s playoff appearance. I don’t expect Dan Orlovsky bad from them again…but with their lousy defense it’ll be more like the days of old with Stafford chucking all day. Keep your arm loose homie. My official prediction = 8-8 record.
Green Bay Packers
Why they should be optimistic: For starters, they have the best quarterback on the planet (right now) leading their team. Aaron Rodgers is in his prime, and the Pack can ride his golden arm as they chase another Super Bowl title. They’re also stocked with one of the best receiving corps in all of football – Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams; and they’ve got the human bowling ball at running back in “I’m not fat, I’m big-boned” Eddie Lacy. Simply put, assuming health, offense will not be an issue for the cheeseheads this season. They’ll continue to be one of the top offenses in the league and put up points at a high clip.
Why they should be concerned: Their pass rush couldn’t generate any consistent pressure on the quarterback last season outside of Clay Matthews and occasionally Julius Peppers. They need more consistent play up front and are hoping a healthy B.J. Raji can be part of the solution.
They should also be terrified if a game comes down to recovering an onside kick again, because that botched play has to be terrorizing the minds of every Packers player, coach and fan. My guess is that they’re spending some time with the “hands team” this training camp.
What are their chances: As far as I’m concerned, you can lock up this division now for the Pack. As long as Aaron Rodger’s arm doesn’t fall off, they’re winning the NFC North going away. I did give the Vikings some love, and they could stay within arm’s reach of Green Bay, but at the end of the day it’s their division to lose. My official prediction = they steam-roll through the regular season schedule and finish 13-3, get a top seed and first round bye in the playoffs. They end up facing Seattle in a rematch of last season’s devastating loss in the NFC title game.