2013 NFC North: Four Questions, Four Analysts
There’s not long to go now before the meaningful action begins with the start of the 2013 NFL season. To give you an idea of what our team is thinking heading into the season we’re asking four of them four questions, for every division.
It’s our Four Analysts, Four Questions season preview.
The analysts are Khaled Elsayed, Sam Monson, Steve Palazzolo and Ben Stockwell, so let’s see what they’re looking forward to seeing heading into the year.
1. Which player from the division do you see having a breakout year?
Khaled: He’s teased us before but I think this might be the year that Willie Young actually delivers on his pass rushing potential. It may just be in a rotational role, but with teams focusing so much on that destructive duo in the middle I like him to build on his +8.4 preseason grade.
Sam: Recently, the more I see of Alshon Jeffery the more he looks just like Brandon Marshall. He and Cutler seem to be developing some of the same kind of trust that Cutler and Marshall have had from the get go, and if the Bears can get him the ball they’ll have two huge, physical monsters at wideout. I think Marshall will still see the bulk of the work, but Jeffery will become a much bigger part of that offense and a viable alternative when Marshall isn’t feeling it this season.
Steve: I’m a huge Alshon Jeffery fan, but since he’s already been picked, I’ll go with Everson Griffen. He came on strong at the end of last season grading at +11.8 in his last two regular season games as the Vikings got creative moving him around the defensive line. He’ll find some snaps rotating in with Brian Robison at left end, while kicking inside to DT on passing downs. If he continues to progress, the Vikings look extremely stout up front.
Ben: A supremely talented and well rounded tight end is a rare thing in the NFL these days, but Kyle Rudolph is one of the few players that I think can be an approximation of Rob Gronkowski. I’m not saying he’s going to be that good, but there aren’t many players who have the blend of athleticism, strength and technique to be a devastating threat to the middle and seams of a defense, as well as an extremely proficient run blocker. Rudolph has shown well in each area his first two seasons but hasn’t “exploded” yet and shown his full capabilities. I think this year Rudolph will take a big step toward doing that — if he does, Rudolph will help take the pressure off Adrian Peterson as well as giving him quality blocking on the edge to spring him for some big runs.
2. The over/unders are Chicago 8.5, Detroit 8, Green Bay 10.5 and Minnesota 7.5. Which team would you put your theoretical $100 on?
Khaled: Unlike Ben I back my quarterbacks. That means when there’s a guy I have absolute faith in and he’s surrounded by some semblance of talent, he’ll push his teams closer to 12 wins than 10. Packers on the Over for me.
Sam: I don’t think the Detroit Lions are nearly as good as some of the hype. Vegas has them at eight wins, and I don’t see them getting much beyond six. The defense, at least up front, should be vastly improved, but I think far too much is being made of the magical powers of Reggie Bush and Matthew Stafford. Sure Megatron makes things easier on both guys, but I don’t see it being enough to turn them into the juggernaut everybody seems to be forecasting.
Steve: Picking the over for the Vikings is tempting given the emergence of their defense and some of their offseason additions, but Christian Ponder’s inability to develop is too risky. I’ll go with the Packers who I have pegged for the Super Bowl again. Having the best quarterback in the league helps, but they also added a number of young pieces to the defense a year ago. They should definitely go over 10.5 wins.
Ben: I’d be pretty confident about the Packers topping 10.5 wins simply based on the presence of Aaron Rodgers, but that’s a pretty steep win total to top for any team. Instead, I’m looking at the Bears and I reckon they top 8.5 wins this season. They were close last year and this year’s team looks as good if not better than last year’s. It was a matter of inches for the Bears last season and even though they’ve got a first-year (NFL) head coach at the helm I think they should get close to matching their win total for last season and hover around the 9/10 win mark again.
3. Which rookie are you most looking forward to seeing in regular season action?
Khaled: Cornerback is a tough position to adapt to when you make the move from college to the NFL, so I’m curious to see what Darius Slay gets up to. The team aren’t looking shy about putting him to work straight away.
Sam: I was a huge fan of Cordarelle Patterson from the moment I saw his first game at Tennessee. He looked like an in-built replacement for Percy Harvin in that he can return kicks, feature as a receiver, and even run the ball from the backfield, but he can also get down the field in ways the Vikings never felt Harvin was suited to. I think he can be an exciting player if he’s not hampered too badly by Christian Ponder throwing the ball to him.
Steve: There are a number of intriguing rookies in the division but I’m really looking forward to seeing Jon Bostic play middle linebacker in Chicago. He’s had his ups and downs during the preseason, making plays in coverage and getting people’s attention with some big hits, but he’s had some issues in the running game and certainly has his moments where he looks like a rookie. Perhaps unfairly, he’ll often be compared to retired MLB Brian Urlacher, but I’d like to see how he creates his own fit for the Chicago defense.
Ben: With the Vikings taking so many high picks we’re really spoiled for choice in the NFC North this year, but I’ll go for a Packer and go for Datone Jones. I always enjoy watching the Senior Bowl practice week and Jones absolutely tore it up this year. That was one-on-one’s, practice. I want to see how Jones converts that into on the field performance for the Packers.
4. Who will make the playoffs and can they win it all?
Khaled: It’s the Packers division, but I don’t think they have the defense to dispose of both the Seahawks and the 49ers. If any other team is to make it I have a sneaky feeling the Lions are going to do better than expected. That said, I don’t think they’re better than the runners-up of any of the other divisions.
Sam: Green Bay is still the class of this division, even if they have some problems. The presence of Aaron Rodgers alone should guarantee they take the division. Chicago, I think, is the next most likely challenger, but the best they can hope for is a wild card berth. Minnesota and Detroit will need their quarterbacks to stand up and play legit football if they have any hope to contend.
Steve: Since I’m picking the Packers to win the Super Bowl, I’m taking them to win the division as well. It could be a close battle for second, however, as the other three teams have talented rosters but uneven quarterback play. I think it might come down to whoever plays the best out of Jay Cutler, Matthew Stafford, and Christian Ponder to determine which of their respective teams compete for a wild card spot. If the Lions can play with more discipline, their front four on defense could be scary good. Keep an eye on them.
Ben: This is the Packers’ division for the taking and unless injury befalls Aaron Rodgers they will take it and be in the mix when the playoffs get underway in January. Behind them any of the three teams could compete for a playoff spot, but could also fall away. The Lions to me look like they’ll go 11-5 or 5-11, I don’t really see much middle ground for them and I’m leaning towards the latter. For the Vikings, they’ll compete but the pressure is on Adrian Peterson to repeat one of the great seasons in NFL history, a 1,600 yard season would be an exceptional follow-up but probably not enough to carry the Vikings to the playoffs again. I don’t think I can back Peterson to repeat what he did, and that leaves the Bears to scrap for, but ultimately lose out on, the sixth seed to the Saints.