2016 NFC North Previews & Predictions

When news of Teddy Bridgewater’s injury surfaced on social media, you knew it was bad. To cancel practice and there were Vikings players visibly getting ill the question arose: Will Teddy Bridgewater ever suit up again for the Minnesota Vikings?? For once there was no video and our collective imaginations ran with what we pictured based upon eye witness accounts like a long begone era. How bad was this knee / leg injury??

Clay buries Cutler

Clay buries Cutler

Speaking of knee injuries, a one Jordy Nelson comes back to the Green Bay Packers to give Aaron Rodgers his full arsenal of receivers. However he hasn’t cut on that reconstructed knee in a meaningful NFL game in nearly 2 years. Will he have his full range of motion and agility?? Before his injury this was one of the best overall receivers in the NFL based on quickness in and out of his cuts. He can also get deep. Will he have the full confidence to run on that knee with the reckless abandon as before??

Statues of Vince Lombardi & Curly Lambeau

Statues of Vince Lombardi & Curly Lambeau

2016 NFC North Predictions

Green Bay Packers 12-4**

Minnesota Vikings  9-7

Detroit Lions 6-10

Chicago Bears 3-13

The regular season is just a dress rehearsal for Green Bay to exercise dominance over this division. Last year Aaron Rodgers needed miracle Hail Mary’s to pull off victories in Detroit than again against the Cardinals in the wildcard round. This was important in his evolution since he rarely brought the Packers back from behind in the past. Now they are never out of a ballgame. His 347 of 572 for 3,821 yards for 31 TDs was solid considering he was missing his #1 weapon all year. He learned to trust all of his receivers as evidenced with TE Richard Rodgers (58 rec. 510 yds 8 TDs) and Devante Adams (50 rec. 483 yds 1TD) having career years and these are the and 5th options with Jordy back.

The Packers should lean more on the short pass and their rushing by committee a little more. Last year he was sacked 46 times and Green Bay just released 3 time Pro Bowl G Josh Sitton. Rodgers has to get James Starks (601 yds 2 TDs) and Eddie Lacy (758 yds 3 TDs) running forward to keep defenses honest. By midseason Starks should emerge as the man with Lacy’s up and down weight and performance taking it’s toll on the staff. Eddie will start to break down with the accumulative hits as well without being able to avoid contact. Keep your eye on this going into the 2nd half of the season.

Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer watches his team during an NFL mini camp in Eden Prairie, Minn., Tuesday, June 17, 2014. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)

(AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)

With :22 to go in last year’s NFC Wildcard Tilt with Seattle, the Vikings were readying themselves for a trip to Arizona. Head Coach Mike Zimmer’s squad had improved from 7-9 to 11-5 with an improving QB in Bridgewater and they were about to vanquish Seattle for the 1st playoff win of the Zimmer/Bridgewater era. Alas Blair Walsh misses a 27 yard kick sending the Vikings home for the season.

Fast forward through Bridgewater’s injury and you have a team teetering on 36 yr old Shaun Hill or journeyman Sam Bradford to quarterback this team back to the postseason. They’ll have to lean on improvement from last year’s 13th ranked defense and an aging but still effective Adrian Peterson ( 1,485 yds / 11 TDs). Pro Bowlers SS Harrison Smith, LB Anthony Barr, and DE Anderson Griffen need to duplicate last year’s success for this team to even think of making the playoffs.

The problem is having an unsettled QB situation when starting 2 of 3 on the road in Tennessee and defending NFC Champion Carolina. Sandwiched between these two games has Zimmer’s crew hosting the Green Bay Packers and an 0-3 start is very possible.

The Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions are both totally rudderless ships. Both teams are incomplete and need to focus on discovering where they aregoing with current personnel. Matthew Stafford should lead the Lions to a few more wins this season than Cutler in Chicago.

Just not enough to offset this year’s Green Bay squad. Thanks for reading and please share the article.

 

 

 

 

 

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2013 Green Bay Packers Preview – Change Has Come To Lambeau

The Packers stand-out linebacker just inked a five year deal worth $65 million.

The Packers stand-out linebacker just inked a five year deal worth $65 million.

The Green Bay Packers filed out of San Francisco’s Candlestick Park in stunned amazement last January. They had just been victimized by one of the most electrifying post season performances in NFL history. Colin Kaepernick’s record setting 181 yards rushing on 16 carries while throwing for another 263 yards for a combined 4 touchdowns suggested the Packers were indeed a bad defense.

Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense for the better part of 2 years masked the Packers defensive deficiencies. Yet they were exposed as needing speed in the secondary and  in need of power on the defensive side of the line. This off-season, gone is Charles Woodson, the game having robbed him of his once great speed through a series of injuries. Linebacker Eric Walden took his talents to Indianapolis. Factor these departures with the medical retirement of S Nick Collins, LB Frank Zombo signing with the Chiefs this offseason, then the run defense having never recovered from DT Cullen Jenkins’ departure and you have a defense in ruin.

This isn’t the team that won Super Bowl XLV in Dallas, February 2011. Now they have lost arguably their best receiver in Greg Jennings to the hated Vikings.  Ted Thompson and Mark Murphy have some work ahead of them in this year’s draft to restock a defense that had been deep. The question is: Will they keep their “Midas Touch” in mining good talent for the Packers coaching staff to mold into a good defense?? Or will this side of the ball let down Green Bay when they face the NFL’s elite?? Did you know the Packers were only 1-4 against playoff teams last year??

If Rodgers continues at this pace, his career statistics could be staggering.

If Rodgers continues at this pace, his career statistics could be staggering.

Quarterback: Suffice to say the Packers are more than sufficient behind center. Aaron Rodgers is in his prime and his last four years have been off the charts comparing him to any quarterback in football history. In contemporary times it is he and Drew Brees that have battled it out as to who is the best quarterback in the NFL. Taylor Blitz Times gives the nod to Rodgers. In the last four years he has attempted 429 less passes than Brees, yet is just behind Brees 142TDs to 156 TDs, while throwing a ton less interceptions with 32 to 66 for the man in the Bayou. By the numbers, if he threw another 429 passes he would be nearly 15 touchdowns ahead of Brees.

In 2012, the Packers won on his right arm as he conected on 371 of 552 attempts for 4,295 yards, 39 TDs and only 8 interceptions. A whopping 7.1  TD to interception ratio and 67.2% completion percentage. Rodgers is up for a big payday, an extension in the neighborhood of $120 million, but will this cripple the franchise by doing so?? https://taylorblitztimes.com/2013/03/30/huge-quarterback-salaries-feast-or-famine/

One thing that has crept up is Rodgers has a tendency to press in close games in the second half. It happened up in Seattle in the 14-12 loss   on Monday Night. We saw it in the loss to the Giants last year in the regular season, the 2011 playoff loss to the Giants and last year’s loss to the 49ers in the playoffs. He’ll miss on some throws that he has hit all year long, especially if he has been hit early in the game.

One game he didn’t was the 37-34 loss in the season finale to the Minnesota Vikings. Despite being sacked 5 times, he threw for 365 yards and 4 touchdowns which included a game tying touchdown to Jordy Nelson. Yet keep an eye out for this with a team with a deficient defense and an offense minus Greg Jennings. The boys in Lambeau are Super Bowl quality at quarterback no question.

Offensive Backfield: This is a spot on this team that is a mess right now. When Aaron Rodgers, who is not a running quarterback is second on the team in rushing with 259 yards, something is definitely wrong. Free agent Cedric Benson failed to pan out with only 248 yards, and a favorite during the Super Bowl stretch two years ago James Starks, rushed for only 255 yards. For us the jury is out on James Starks much as it is on Miles Austin in Dallas. When there are weapons around them… they can surprise. But when those defenses start focusing on them, they turn back into the moderate talents that they were scouted and regarded as. Could be time to cut ties here.

The Packers need to draft a quality back to take some of the pressure off Rodgers. Not a sixth round steal, they need a blue chip talent. Just as we warned before about putting all your money at the quarterback position and not spending to improve other positions, the Packers are at the crossroads. They haven’t gone after any runners in free agency this year. Hopefully they realize this and make some moves this weekend in New York at the draft. This group has a bad ranking until they draft someone better.

Randall Cobb brought a game breaking element to the Packers receiving corps as a rookie.

Randall Cobb brought a game breaking element to the Packers receiving corps in his second year.

Receivers: We mentioned several times already that Greg Jennings departed for the lakes of Minnesota. Now James Jones will have to step up to be “that guy”. Last year he led the Packers with 14 receiving touchdowns (64 rec. for 748 yards) which was due in large part to being the third receiver in four wide formations. Is he polished enough to be a solid X in Jennings place??

At tight end, Jermichael Finley is as solid as they come and should have his best season this year. Last year he hauled in 61 receptions for 667 yards and 2 TDs despite missing two games. The coverage he drew when the Packers were close to scoring is why Jones had so many touchdowns. Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb round out this receiving corps. These are the big play men when it comes to the passing game.

Nelson was nicked by injuries and only started 10 games. He averaged 15.2 yards per catch (49 rec / 745 yds / 7 TDs) and hopes to have a year like 2011 when he reached the endzone 15 times. Cobb is the explosive new element to the Green Bay arsenal. He’s a threat to return a punt for a touchdown or do so after a short pass. Last year he made it on the field as a receiver and had the type of season (80 rec /954 yds/ 8 TDs) that Packers’ brass believed they could let Jennings go. This is a playoff caliber group rather than a Super Bowl group… We have to see if Jones can be as solid as Jennings was as a starter. If not they can go 4 wide and still be effective.

Offensive Line: This is a spot where the Packers could use some improvement big time. If you’re going to pump $120 million dollars to retain the best quarterback in the league, you better be able to protect him. Everyone forgets that Rodgers, during the Super Bowl year, was one concussion from sitting the rest of the year by mid-season. Last year the Packers were second to last with 51 sacks allowed and he was hit an additional 85 times. He will get hit and with no proven depth behind him, his loss would doom the season if he were injured.

Everyone saw the Monday night massacre in Seattle when Rodgers was sacked 8 times and chased all over Qwest Field. In 6 of the first 8 games of this season, they face top ten defenses when it came to quarterback sacks last year. Three of those they play on the road… at Cincinnati, at Baltimore with Elvis Dumervil now, and at Minnesota. They start the season in San Francisco and they can ill afford to get Rodgers hit in that game.Don’t be surprised if the Packers use a high draft pick on the offensive line.

Part of their problem is they practice their passing and can’t provide a push in the running department. The Packers were 22nd in the NFl with less than a 4 yard average. Along with the injuries seen at the running back position, a fleet of runners started for Green Bay last year and not on of them could average 4 yard per carry. The weakness of this offensive front has been covered up by Rodgers and the receiving corps connecting on quick passes. This is a below average group and have to get tougher up front.

Defensive Line: Where do we begin when it comes to this defensive front?? In all reality this group wasn’t one of the reasons the Packers rose to 11th overall in defense. They were still ranked 17th in defense against the run and allowed 4.5 yards per rush to rival ball carriers. This is a need position in the draft. No question…

No player has fallen from grace as far as DT BJ Raji. He was pushed around and bullied in that playoff loss to San Francisco for playing too high. He recorded 0 tackles and 0 quarterback pressures during that game. For the season he recorded 26 total tackles and 0 sacks. Terrible. Fellow inside Defensive Tackle Ryan Pickett also never recorded a sack during the 2012 season. Here is where the Packers should use a draft pick in the next four days when the draft commences on Thursday. How could they not??

We spoke of the Packers inability to stop the run since the departure from Ryan Pickett. This defensive line gets shoved right into the safeties faces. Evidence by Adrian Petersen’s nearly back to back 200 yard games against them. With no transactions during free agency we have to wait and see who they pick in the draft. If they could spend two picks here…it would be beneficial to the defense. right now this group is bad….not below average. They’re making far too many plays downfield after the ball carrier has gained 5 yards.

Desmond_Bishop

The Packers best all around linebacker spent 2012 on injured reserve.

Linebacker: Although Clay Matthews was inked to a long term deal, the best overall linebacker was Desmond Bishop that missed last season on injured reserve.. He led the team with 121 total tackles 5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles in 2011.  He rejoins AJ Hawk who led the 2012 Packers with 120 total tackles and 3 sacks. However Hawk is somewhat of a liability against the pass without a  single pass defensed all year. He can get caught in space against speedy receivers and third down backs at times also.

One question is who will Kevin Greene develop to take Walden’s place at OLB opposite Matthews?? Will they draft a new player or possibly shift present ILB Brad Jones outside or promote Dezman Moses who had 4 sacks in spot duty last season. One position that is solidified is Matthews who is one of the league’s best pass rusher. His new five year deal will keep him in Green Bay until he’s 31. Last year he had 13 sacks and is the focal point of the pass rush. This group had 34 of the team’s 52 sacks. This is a playoff caliber group that is the best part of this defense.

Secondary: This group will have to develop a new leader with the loss of team captain and team favorite Charles Woodson. However they will be better at cornerback with the development of Casey Hayward (6ints) to go along with Sam Shields and Tramon Williams. Hayward led the team in interceptions and passes defensed with 21. Williams was 5th on the team with 61 total tackles and another 15 passes defensed.

New FS Morgan Burnett made plenty of open field tackles with 122 but needs to make a few more plays against the pass. He should improve in his second season as a starter. Right now there are more cornerbacks than safeties in-house and may. They would be better suited to move Burnett to Strong Safety and drafting a more natural ball hawk. Not trying to keep a fading Woodson in the lineup, this secondary could be even better and should be a playoff caliber group.

Casey Hayward,  Morgan Burnett

Hayward’s development gives the Packers three quality young corners.

Overview: Now someone may read that and ask if The Chancellor felt they needed to improve on back  seven yet gave the a playoff caliber grade. The Packers do pressure opposing quarterbacks yet have to blitz to do it. This includes the secondary who contributed with 5.5 sacks themselves. Yet this feast or famine leaves players in coverage too long or provide a Colin Kapernick immense running lanes.

The Packers have been quiet this off-season keeping the team intact and trusting their ability to draft. Over the last few years Green Bay has been able to stock the roster with quality talent. Can they stay ahead of their NFC North counterparts?? This draft will tell the tale. However they have come down from their perch as an NFC heavyweight and looks like they will battle it out just to be a wild card in 2013. Aaron Rodgers and the passing game can cover only so many deficiencies.

Thanks for reading and please

2012 Green Bay Packers Preview

Lambeau Field

As twilight descended upon Lambeau Field, an uneasy hush fell over the sellout crowd. There was no way Packer’s faithful were re-living the nightmare of being upset by the wild card Giants again as they had in 2007. The sense of de ja vu had hung in the air like a dense fog with New York controlling the game.  How did the Packers, who glided through the season 15-1, a record which was best ever for a defending champion, allow this to happen?? Uneasiness gave way to outright anguish, when Eli Manning hit Mario Manningham to balloon the Giants lead to 30-13 with 6:48 to go in the game…and it was over 37-20. One of the biggest upsets in NFL playoff history

Quarterback: Despite that playoff setback, Aaron Rodgers remains one of the league’s best. At times last season he approached playing at a level only few in history have been able to achieve. Just about every Packer passing record fell last year. Ironically two fell when Rodgers sat out the season finale against the Lions. In that game former Packer Matt Flynn upped his worth in free agency with a performance for the ages throwing for 33 of 49 for 480 yards and 6TDs. He came within 74 yards of Norm Van Brocklin’s all time record of 554 set in 1950. His 480 yards and 6TDs are new all time Packer records. Yikes!! With his leaving via free agency, the system seems to be in place for this Aaron Rodgers kid to deliver on some of his draft day promise.

Surely we jest as Rodgers threw for a team record 4,643 yards & 45 touchdowns, to just 6 interceptions while completing on 68.3% of his tosses. He could have bested Tom Brady’s record of 50 TDs had he played that final game against the Lions and he did tie Brady’s all time TD/INT ratio at 9. Yet the question remaining from last year is: “Should he have played??” After sitting out that game and the two week layoff before the top tier playoff teams get underway, he came back rusty and off. Plays he had made all season were just out of his grasp that fateful night. He was his only true enemy last year as he had a season for the ages. As for going into the 2012 season, he is in the prime of his career and this team should have a Super Bowl quality quarterback for at least 7  more years.

James Starks will be the new featured back in 2012.

Offensive Backfield: After jockeying for position with Ryan Grant a season ago, running back looks like it’s going to be James Starks job to lose. Last year he and Grant had identical stats: (Grant 134 car/ 559 yards, 2TDs) (Starks 133 car / 578 yards, 1TD) Yet Grant wasn’t re-signed and the emerging Starks is 4 years younger. He needs to produce more near the goal line and in power rushing situations. Fan favorite John Kuhn made the Pro Bowl for his versatility, having scored 6 times last year (4 rushing / 2 receiving) while providing punch when blocking for Rodgers. One of the last true fullbacks in the NFL. He sees his time limited thanks to Green Bay going with more 3 and 4 receiver sets. Because of Kuhn’s presence running back is only average when it comes to grading them.

This team needs more from it’s running backs in case Rodgers is having an off game, they can carry the day. In last January’s playoff loss to the Giants, the coaching staff didn’t commit to the run when they realized Rogers was off. http://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/201201150gnb.htm With 14 rushes for 78 yards they could have slowed the Giants pass rush down a bit had they been utilized more. Yet the confidence to run the football wasn’t there for one reason or another. Right now, this group is supplementary to say the least.

Pro Bowl receiver Greg Jennings may not be the best receiver on his own team.

Receivers: Funny thing that Pro Bowl voting. Greg Jennings makes it after a 67 catch season for 949 yards and 9 touchdowns. Where the odd man out was Jordy Nelson who tallied 68 receptions for 1,263 yards and 15 scores. Huh?? That has to be the only time in NFL history that a receiver that caught 15 TDs didn’t make the Pro Bowl. This is easily the best starting set of receivers in the NFL.

At 6’3 and 215 lbs, Nelson has come on the national scene and should have been in last year’s gala in Hawai’i. He gained confidence with his play during the 2010 Super Bowl run. In that game he went 9 for 140 yards and 1 TD. Had he not had three drops, one a 40 yarder, he could have broken Jerry Rice’s Super Bowl record of 215. He’s a big target and he can get deep. A 90 reception season for Nelson in 2012 is not out of the question.

In healthy competition with him is the aforementioned Mr. Jennings, fellow wideout James Jones (38 rec. 635 yds/ 7TDs) and soon to be Pro Bowl tight end Jermichael Finley (55 rec. 767 yds / 8TDs). Do you realiz                                                                                                                                     e we hadn’t even brought up Donald Driver yet?? Yikes! This is the most complete set of receivers and all four can get deep and run great pass routes. This might be the best stocked position since the Greatest Show on Turf and these guys are bigger. Unlike many teams of the past where you had one possession receiver and one deep receiver, you knew how to defense them based on that premise. Here it’s pick your poison and with Rodgers throwing them the football this is easily a Super Bowl caliber group. They’re just coming into their prime as a unit.

Offensive Line: The Packers finally released longtime starter T Chad Clifton yet let’s face facts…it was a move that was overdue. Last year the Packers allowed 41 sacks (22nd in the NFL) while allowing their QBs to be hit 73 times which ranked 15th. Rodgers mobility and quick decision making kept that second stat respectable. Many times, blind side pressure forced Rodgers to move his feet to avoid contact. Clifton was past his prime and injuries caught up to him. In the 2011 draft the Packers selected T Derek Sherrod and it’s time for the succession to commence. At 6’5″ 325 lbs, he blocks out the sun and coming from an SEC school he should make the transition facing speed rushers. As a contingency, the Packers have signed four offensive tackles this offseason.

A curious free agency pick up was the signing of former Indianapolis Colt Jeff Saturday who replaced Pro Bowl center Scott Wells who departed for St Louis. Saturday is a veteran who is 7 years Wells senior wouldn’t it have been more prudent to keep the younger player?? Saturday is going into his 14th season and is walking that fine line where he could get old in a hurry. Facing Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley could prove to be a handful. Right now the Packers offensive line has to be viewed as below average.

Defensive Line: The first mistake the Packers made was allowing DT/DE Cullen Jenkins to leave before last season via free agency. He was good against the run and gave an inside pass rush presence to offset the blitzing linebackers. He was missed terribly last season as Ryan Pickett didn’t record a single sack in 14 games and situational rusher Jarius Wynn could only muster 3. Green Bay moved quickly to improve this by drafting DT Jerel Worthy from Michigan St. In the 3-4 defense the ends have to be more stout against the run so Worthy will see time as a DE burrowing into the line allowing linebackers to rush from the outside. Anthony Hargrove, formerly of the Saints was also signed to give the line more juice.

At nose tackle, the Packers are set with Pro Bowl B.J. Raji who can hold ground against the run, and push the pocket as he had 3 sacks last year. However he seemed to disappear in a lot of games. From time to time you would go entire quarters without knowing he’s out there. Last year he only had 24 total tackles on the year….24?? He has to split double team blocks better and should have a bounce back season. He made the Pro Bowl on reputation last year more so than performance. Defensive line is below average until we see this team improve later in the summer.

Steady Desmond Bishop applying pressure in last year’s playoff game against New York

Linebackers: The linebacker that should have gone to the Pro Bowl last year was Desmond Bishop. Overshadowed by Clay Matthews III and A.J. Hawk, Bishop turned in a year worthy of defensive player of the year candidacy. Although he missed 3 games due to injury, he recorded 121 tackles, had 5 sacks and forced 2 fumbles. He’s coming into his prime and helps bolster this defense.

Last year’s Pro Bowl LB Clay Matthews III had a down year. His sack total fell from 10 to 6 a year ago while making just 55 tackles. Most of his issues had more to do with drawing double teams as much as anything else. However he did make several plays with 3 interceptions and 3 forced fumbles. AJ Hawk is still playing some solid football and garnered 86 tackles with 1.5 sacks despite missing two games. This group suffered from teams successfully running the football on them with linemen getting out onto the linebackers. Their own defensive line had a lot to do with that. With the emergence of Bishop this is a playoff caliber linebacking corps.

Secondary: This unit was the negative beneficiary of a deficient pass rush. Yes the Packers amassed 41 sacks which ranked 12th but 22 of those came from blitzing linebackers and secondary personnel. So when they got there, great, but when they didn’t receivers were running wide open. Witness Calvin “Megatron” Johnson and his 11  catch and team record 244 yard performance in the season finale. This team is forced to blitz and exposes their secondary. Yet this team has several good corners and safeties. Injuries forced S Nick Collins to retire. Yet in his absence, new safety tandem Morgan Burnett (109 tackles /3 ints / 1 sack) and Charlie Peprah (103 tackles / 5 ints) made plays on the ball and were 2nd and 3rd on the team in tackles. Just too many they were forced to make in open spaces.

Charles Woodson is showing no signs of slowing down. He had another all around great season.

Cornerback is still solid with All World Charles Woodson still playing at a high level. he recorded 75 tackles, 7 interceptions and 2 sacks in a great all around performance. Tramon Williams and Sam Shields also gathered in 4 interceptions. The secondary is playoff calibur and if the Packers aren’t forced to blitz so much are actually Super Bowl caliber.

Overall: This team is loaded and will be there in the end. However I see a fall from the record of 15-1 a year ago to one of 11-5. They have a tough division with the Chicago Bears making significant moves and the Detroit Lions growing before your eyes. Make no mistake about it when Matthew Stafford came in and threw for 520 yards and 5 touchdowns IN Lambeau Field, they showed they’re a force to be reckoned with. The Packers start their 2012 hosting the San Francisco 49ers. Their defense has to yield far less than 411 yards per game. That was one of the worst in NFL history. The Chancellor isn’t certain they did enough to fortify their lines on both sides. Everyone forgets that in 2010, Aaron Rodgers was a concussion away from sitting out the rest of the season. So offensive line issues and getting him hit can  prove an issue again. The motivation from last year’s playoff loss needs to feed the monster in 2012. Can they return to the Super Bowl?? We think the NFC Championship is about the furthest they can push it in 2012

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Next Up: Detroit Lions