NFCN status report.
ClevTA has the unenvied task of following Acto’s epic preview. Who knew the AFC South had that amount of charisma? Anyway TA’s knows his way around a sportsbook as well as anyone so pay good attention to what he’s got.
NFC North Breakdown
The NFC North is easily one of, if not the most, competitive divisions in the entire NFL. The one dominant theme within the division is excellent QB play that features Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, Jay Cutler and rookie Teddy Bridgewater. Those who have followed me know how big a Bridgewater fan I am and putting that QB in a dome with the best RB in the NFL in Adrian Peterson, a solid TE in Kyle Rudolph and young talent on the outside makes this potentially the best division of QBs in the NFL. Looking at the most recent Super Bowl odds, the Packers lead the way at 12-1, Chicago and Detroit both check in at 30-1 and Minnesota at 150-1. The NFC North is the only division outside of the AFC North that has three teams with odds listed at 30-1 or less. I don’t see 2014 any less competitive than in prior years and the North title is up for grabs.
Re-signed: QB Jay Cutler, CB Charles Tillman, LB D.J. Williams, QB Jordan Palmer, T Eben Britton, S Craig Steltz, WR Brandon Marshall.
Veteran additions: DE Jared Allen, C Brian De La Puente, WR Domenik Hixon, DE Lamarr Houston, DE Israel Idonije, FS M.D. Jennings, DE Austen Lane, SS Danny McCray, WR Josh Morgan, TE Matthew Mulligan, FS Ryan Mundy, LB Trevor Scott, LB Jordan Senn, DE Willie Young, WR Josh Bellamy, RB Shaun Draughn.
Veteran subtractions: LB James Anderson, CB Zack Bowman, RB Michael Bush, DE Landon Cohen, LB Blake Costanzo, WR Devin Hester, LS Patrick Mannelly, QB Josh McCown, DT Henry Melton, DE Julius Peppers, P Adam Podlesh, OT Jonathan Scott, FS Anthony Walters, DE Corey Wootton, FS Major Wright, WR Earl Bennett, DE Cheta Ozougwu, LS Jeremy Cain.
Draft picks: 1-Kyle Fuller (CB), 2-Ego Ferguson (DT), 3-Will Sutton (DT), 4a-Ka’Deem Carey (RB), 4b-Brock Vereen (S), 6a-David Fales (QB), 6b-Pat O’Donnell (P), 7-Charles Leno (OT).
2013 Offensive Rankings: 1st down/play: 4th; Pts/Gm: 4th
2013 Defensive Rankings: 1st down/play: 31st; Pts/Gm: 30th.
TA’s offseason grade: C.
Analysis: The 2013 Bears were one of a complete reversal from the old Monsters of the Midway. The Bears ranked 4th in pts per game at 27.8 and 4th in first downs per play on offense while the putrid defense allowed nearly 30 pts per game, ranking 2nd to last in the NFL. The defense got old in a hurry and, while the defense as a whole was poor, it was the awful run defense that ranked dead last in the NFL allowing 5.3 yards per carry, a full 0.5 yards per attempt more than the next worst defense. With the offense humming and no major changes needed, the defense was obviously in major need of upgrades and it was no surprise that the Bears spent their first three draft picks and FA addressing the holes on the DL and secondary. In free agency, the Bears didn’t add any real starters outside of swapping out Julius Peppers for Jared Allen, which is a wash in my opinion. They did re-sign DJ Williams to man the inside LB spot and it should be noted that the run defense was excellent in the five games Williams played before getting hurt against the Giants. The Bears defense allowed only 3.65 yards per carry in those five games with Williams in the lineup, a far cry from the dead last ranking by season’s end.
In terms of the draft, I love the Kyle Fuller selection in the first round, who can play opposite of incumbent turnover machine Charles Tillman in the secondary. I’d imagine the Bears were hoping a disruptive pass rushing DL like Aaron Donald would’ve dropped to them at #14 but that did not happen and Fuller was a nice fallback option. The Bears spent their 2nd and 3rd round picks trying to address the DL need by drafting Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton. The Ferguson selection seems like a bit of a reach as many draftniks expected him to go in the 3rd round and for a guy who only had 13 tackles and 0 sacks last season at LSU, he will be looked to produce fairly quickly as such a raw prospect. I loved the Sutton selection, on the other hand, as he was extremely productive at Arizona State totaling 20.5 career sacks. There are some concerns with Sutton taking plays off but that seems to be the case with most DL these days not named Aaron Donald. All he did was produce at ASU and was the Pac-12 defensive POY back to back seasons. Both Sutton and Ferguson will be expected to contribute immediately to help shore up that run defense.RB Ka’Deem Carey was selected in the 4th round to help alleviate some pressure off of Matt Forte. Carey was extremely productive at Arizona during his career but posted an extremely slow 40 time at 4.7. Not that a 40 time is a perfect correlation to success in the NFL, but it’s beyond rare to find a success for a RB who ran a 40 as slow as Carey. What Carey does bring to the table is solid short yardage prowess and the ability to catch the football. In Marc Trestman’s offense, RBs are expected to be good pass catchers and Carey should be able to fill that role.
If the Bears can even produce a mediocre defense, this offense with the tremendous firepower at WR and the QB whisperer in Trestman, the Bears are a nice sleeper for the Super Bowl.
Re-signed: CB Sam Shields, ILB Jamari Lattimore, FB John Kuhn, QB Matt Flynn, RB James Starks, DT B.J. Raji, TE Andrew Quarless, OLB Mike Neal.
Veteran additions: DT Letroy Guion, RB Michael Hill, DE Julius Peppers.
Veteran subtractions: RB Kahlil Bell, C Evan Dietrich-Smith, TE Jermichael Finley, LB Rob Francois, FS M.D. Jennings, DE Johnny Jolly, WR James Jones, OT Marshall Newhouse, NT Ryan Pickett, G Greg Van Roten, QB Seneca Wallace, DE C.J. Wilson.
Draft picks: 1-Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (S), 2-Davante Adams (WR), 3a-Khyri Thornton (DT), 3b-Richard Rodgers (TE), 4-Carl Bradford (OLB), 5-Corey Linsley (C), 5-Jared Abbrederis (WR), 6-Demetri Goodson (CB), 7-Jeff Janis (WR).
2013 Offensive Rankings: 1st down/play: 8th, Pts/Gm: 9th;
2013 Defensive Rankings: 1st down/play: 27th , Pts/Gm: 24th.
TA’s offseason grade: C.
Analysis: In typical Packer fashion, the team did not make many FA acquisitions this off season. However, the one FA splash was a big one, signing Julius Peppers to a 3 yr/$30 million deal. Peppers has had a great career but the end of the line may be coming soon. His 7 sacks were the lowest total since 2007. The one good thing about Peppers is that he is a physical specimen who never gets hurt. In 12 seasons he’s only missed a total of 6 games. For a defense that was ravaged with injuries last year, having a veteran presence like Peppers who can be relied upon for 16 games is nice. The Packers did a nice job retaining some key free agents including cornerback Sam Shields, nose tackle B.J. Raji, outside linebacker/defensive end Mike Neal, fullback John Kuhn, tight end Andrew Quarless and running back James Starks.
In the draft, the Packers selected Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to try and help shore up their weak secondary that went from ranking 8th to 27th in passing yds per attempt from 2012 to 2013. I am not a fan of Alabama defenders drafted high as historically very few have made big impacts under Nick Saban. At a minimum if Dix can be just a solid contributor that should help the secondary overall. Defensively, the Packers really struggled last season, ranking 27th in the NFL in allowing first downs per play, so the ability to retain some of their key defensive players and adding some young talent should help. Their 2nd round pick, Davante Adams, is a decent WR although I prefer either Allen Robinson or Cody Lattimer. Adams will help replace the loss of James Jones who left via free agency and Rodgers can make any WR look good so he should fit in well.I thought the Packers needed a TE more desperately than the 3rd round where they selected Richard Rodgers out of California. With Jermichael Finley’s career in doubt, having a solid replacement that can split out wide, like Jace Amaro, would’ve been the route I would’ve gone either in the first round or potentially in a trade up situation in round 2. I absolutely love the selection of WR Jared Abbrederis later in the draft and I think he ends up being Rodgers’ security blanket on 3rd downs in the future. He runs really crisp routes and can return punts.
This Packer team went 6-2 with Rodgers in the lineup while Eddie Lacy was still getting traction. In fact, Lacy was hurt and didn’t play in two of Rodgers’ first 7 games. With a healthy ARod1 and a legitimate running game for the first time in his career, this Packer offense should rank in the top 3-5 in the NFL. If the defense can somehow avoid the rash of injuries they have seen in recent years, Green Bay is once again a top contender for the division and the Super Bowl.
Re-signed: DE Everson Griffen, QB Matt Cassel, RB Matt Asiata, WR Jerome Simpson, G Joe Berger, DT Fred Evans, G Charlie Johnson.
Veteran additions: LB Jasper Brinkley, FS Kurt Coleman, CB Derek Cox, G Vladimir Ducasse, WR Lestar Jean, DT Tom Johnson, DT Linval Joseph, CB Captain Munnerlyn, TE Allen Reisner, DE Corey Wootton.
Veteran subtractions: DE Jared Allen, LB Desmond Bishop, TE John Carlson, CB Chris Cook, QB Josh Freeman, RB Toby Gerhart, DT Letroy Guion, LB Erin Henderson, LB Marvin Mitchell, OT J’Marcus Webb, WR Joe Webb, DT Kevin Williams, CB A.J. Jefferson.
Draft picks: 1a-Anthony Barr (OLB), 1b-Teddy Bridgewater (QB), 3a-Scott Crichton (DE), 3b-Jerick McKinnon (RB), 5-David Yankey (G), 6a-Antone Exum (CB), 6b-Kendall James (CB), 7a-Shamar Stephen (DT), 7b-Brandon Watts (OLB), 7c-Jabari Price (CB).
2013 Offensive Rankings: 1st down/play: 16th, Pts/Gm: 15th;
2013 Defensive Rankings: 1st down/play: 26th , Pts/Gm: 32nd.
TA’s offseason grade: B+.
Analysis: Minnesota was a scrappy team in 2013 and was in many games. Their 5-11 record didn’t indicate how competitive the Vikings really were as they went 2-4-1 in games decided by 3 points or less. They also did a nice job outperforming Vegas’ expectations, going 9-7 ATS including a 5-1 ATS streak to end the season. Where Minnesota really struggled was defending the pass, ranking 23rd in yards per attempt, and that along with a weak pass rush was their main emphasis in the off season. The Vikings re-signed Everson Griffen to a large contract, who has recorded a respectable 17.5 sacks the past three seasons. Retaining Griffen was important after losing Jared Allen to the Bears and it sounds as if new Head Coach Mike Zimmer will stick him in Allen’s old right end position on the DL. The secondary needed an overhaul as well and brining in veterans Kurt Coleman, Derek Cox and Captain Munnerlyn at least can help stabilize the group in the short term to help mentor youngsters Xavier Rhodes and Josh Robinson. Opposing QBs put up the 3rd best passer efficiency rating against the Vikings secondary last season. In a division with Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler, Matthew Stafford and a schedule that includes Tom Brady, Matt Ryan and Drew Brees, securing some help in the secondary was a must.
In the draft, Minnesota selected Anthony Barr and hopes he can utilize his speed on the outside in that dome. There were many critics of Barr heading into the draft with people wondering if he was aggressive enough and had the desire to be great. That remains to be seen but if one coach can coax that out of a player it’s Zimmer. With their second first round pick, after a trade up, the Vikings selected their QB of the future in Teddy Bridgewater. I am a huge fan of his and in Norv Turner’s offense to go along with a great run game and good offensive line, he should do well right away. No matter what criticisms are out there on Bridgewater, the one attribute that can’t be denied is his aversion to mistakes. Teddy threw 58 TDs to only 12 INTs the last two seasons at Louisville. The Vikings continued their strategy of adding depth to their secondary by drafting three defensive backs in the latter rounds of the draft. I have no idea if any will be able to contribute but you have to give the Vikings credit for trying. 3rd round selection, Jerick McKinnon, is an interesting pick and will replace Toby Gerhart who left for Jacksonville. McKinnon came out of Georgia Southern and rushed for 125 yards in only 9 carries in the big upset of Florida last season. Amazingly, McKinnon saw action at RB, QB and even defensive back during his time in college and has the chance to be a really nice change of pace threat for Minnesota.
The reason I gave Minnesota a higher grade than most is due to drafting their QB of the future in Bridgewater and hiring Zimmer. NFL owners refused for years to hand the reigns over to Zimmer but he finally gets his chance. There is no way in the world players will not want to play their hearts out for him and seeing as how he got the likes of Burfict, Atkins, Michael Johnson and others to play lights out in his scheme while being lower draft picks, or not drafted at all, I have faith he can at least stabilize the defense. Every season there are 1-2 teams that surprise and make the playoffs with the combination of new HC and new QB, and the Vikings are a real candidate to be included on the list this season.
Re-signed: CB Rashean Mathis, TE Brandon Pettigrew, LB Julian Stanford, DT Andre Fluellen, WR Kevin Ogletree.
Veteran additions: FB Jed Collins, SS James Ihedigbo, QB Dan Orlovsky, LB Darryl Tapp, WR Golden Tate, CB Cassius Vaughn, DE Vaughn Martin.
Veteran subtractions: K David Akers, WR Nate Burleson, FS Louis Delmas, TE Dorin Dickerson, OT Jason Fox, C Dylan Gandy, QB Shaun Hill, DE Israel Idonije, LB Rocky McIntosh, WR Micheal Spurlock, FS John Wendling, DE Willie Young.
Draft picks: 1-Eric Ebron (TE), 2-Kyle Van Noy (OLB), 3-Travis Swanson (C), 4a-Nevin Lawson (CB), 4b-Larry Webster (DE), 5-Caraun Reid (DT), 6-T.J. Jones (WR), 7-Nate Freese (K).
2013 Offensive Rankings: 1st down/play: 12th, Pts/Gm: 12th;
2013 Defensive Rankings: 1st down/play: 12th , Pts/Gm: 15th.
TA’s offseason grade: D-.
Analysis: How does a team go 7-9 when they rank 8th in net first downs per play (only team in top 9 to miss playoffs) and outscore their opponents by 19 pts on the year? Well, by being an undisciplined, sloppy team with a terrible coach running your squad. It’s the same team that finished 29th in turnover margin, 24th in penalties, 28th in defensive sack percentage and went 2-5 in games decided by 3 points or less. Those are amazing stats for the talent on this roster but it shouldn’t come as a surprise if you’ve watched this Lions team play for the last few seasons under Jim Schwartz. The good news is that he is gone, the bad news is his replacement, Jim Caldwell, may be an even worse coach. Amazing how inept this Lions management could be.
The Lions didn’t do much in FA to improve their weaknesses, mainly pass defense and putting pressure on the QB. The Detroit pass defense ranked 23rd in passing yards allowed and were routinely carved up in the secondary. So what do the Lions do to shore this up in FA? Absolutely nothing outside of signing part time CB from the Colts, Cassius Vaughn. The only real difference maker signed was Golden Tate to play opposite Calvin Johnson at WR. He should be a nice fit in that offense because he has great hands and can be a reliable safety blanket for Matthew Stafford. They also re-signed the inconsistent TE Brandon Pettigrew to a one year deal, which I guess is ok.
If you are a Lions fan you’d just assume that since they re-signed Pettigrew and signed Tate in FA, while ignoring the secondary, then surely their top draft pick would go towards either a pass rusher or more importantly a defensive back. Well unfortunately you thought wrong. With the likes of Kyle Fuller, Darqueze Dennard, Ryan Shazier and Jimmie Ward staring them in the face the Lions decide to draft a TE in Eric Ebron. The same Ebron who has shown inconsistent hands, just like Pettigrew, the guy they re-signed in the offseason. In round 2 they actually took a guy I like in Kyle Van Noy but again they ignore their secondary. In fact, the Lions completely ignore the secondary until taking 5’9″ CB Nevin Lawson in round 4 out of Utah St, whom NFL.com projected as a 7th round/undrafted prospect. Completely head scratching. I absolutely hate this draft for the Lions.
As mentioned above, the Lions posted excellent net first down per play figures but that did not translate into a winning percentage that you would expect. In fact, the Lions should’ve won at least 9 games if you correlate their net first downs per play to a historical win percentage.It should be noted, however, that many teams that have underperformed in one season typically increase their win total the following season. Since 2006, 88% of teams that have underperformed their win expectation by at least two games have increased their win total the next season an average of three games. In addition, at least one team that underperformed their win expectations by at least two games has made the playoffs the following season. In 2012, Philadelphia, Kansas City and Detroit fit the above trend and in 2013 all three teams either met or exceeded their three win improvement expectation. Detroit improved by three, Philadelphia by six and Kansas City by nine wins. Based on the trend, the Lions are expected to win at least 10 games this season and should have a shot at the playoffs. My D- offseason grade is based on not addressing their biggest needs and hiring the inept Caldwell. At the end of the day it may not matter if their stars play up to expectation and the team just slightly improves their discipline.
TA’s Projected Order of Finish
What I did in projecting the order of finish is to take each team’s schedules and assign my own point spread to each game, corresponding to an expected win percentage. I then add up all the expected win percentages to come up with an expected 16 game win/loss record for each team.
1. Green Bay Packers 10-6
2. Detroit Lions 9-7
3. Chicago Bears 8-8
4. Minnesota Vikings 7-9
- Aaron Rodgers. TA got me there too. [back]