The SportsCrew | "Stromme a Better Way," Facts, Points and Takes: NFC North
The 2016/17 NFC North Breakdown
NFL, Football, NFC, NFC North
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“Stromme a Better Way,” Facts, Points and Takes: NFC North

“Stromme a Better Way,” Facts, Points and Takes: NFC North

Mike Stromme

Predictions:

  1. Minnesota Vikings (12-4)
  2. Green Bay Packers (11-5 Wild Card)
  3. Detroit Lions (7-9)
  4. Chicago Bears (5-11)

Vikings are a young team on the rise with best defense in the division. I believe Teddy Bridgewater takes a step forward, cuts down the turnovers and pushes this team to a second divisional crown. Packers will be better offensively and should maintain the defensive progress made in 2015 with room to grow. It will be a dog fight at the top of this division all season long.

 

Minnesota Vikings:

Contrary to popular belief, the Viking offense was very effective in 2015. Despite finishing with just 2,928 total passing yards, the team had 38.4% of their offensive drives end in a scoring play. That ranked 7th in the NFL last season.

Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater doesn’t inspire confidence in many who follow the NFL, his 28-21 career TD-INT ratio plays in-favour to the haters. But, what if I told you that in 2015, Bridgewater was sacked on 9% of offensive snaps (second-worst in the NFL).

What if I also told you that the Vikings signed veteran tackles Andre Smith and Alex Boone, formally of the 49ers and

Teddy Bridgewater is the key to the success of the Minnesota Vikings (Image from sportingnews.com)

Teddy Bridgewater is the key to the success of the Minnesota Vikings (Image from sportingnews.com)

Bengals respectively? Would that change your perspective?

What if I threw in the notion that Norv Turner’s Air Coryell offense lacked a definitive deep-threat? A void that Mike Wallace miserably failed to fill in 2015. That deep-threat appears to be filled by first-round pick LaQuan Treadwell, who ran a 4.46 40-yard dash and went deep on 23.9 per cent of the routes he ran at Ole Miss in 2015.

Keep in mind that, the Vikings still have Stephon Diggs and Jarius Wright. Both wideouts caught a modest 62.7% of balls thrown their way. Oh, and they also still have the best running back of this generation in Adrian Peterson. Still not believing in this offense?

Okay, maybe they aren’t the Greatest Show on Turf. But, will they be efficient enough to put up (enough) points and sustain drives? Absolutely.

Parlay that with an up-and-coming defense that contains SIX first-round picks (DT Sharrif Floyd, MLB Eric Kendricks, OLB Anthony Barr, FS Harrison Smith and CBs Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes if you’re scoring at home), all drafted in the last four years. This unit is young, but talented and has one of the better defensive minds in football in Mike Zimmer. A Tenacious defence in 2015, this squad has nowhere to go but up.

Either way, this team’s success is predicated on Bridgewater’s ability to take a leap in the positive direction. I believe he can.

 

Green Bay Packers: 

August 23, 2015, Aaron Rodgers’ favourite target from a statistical prospective Jordy Nelson leaves a preseason Super Bowl XLV rematch against the Pittsburgh Steelers with what would later be relieved as a torn ACL. As we all know, Nelson missed the entire 2015 season.

Aaron Rodgers and the Packers finish the season with a grand total of 3,503 net passing yards, ranking 26th among NFL offenses. Rodgers personally finished with a total of 3,821 passing yards, a career low.

In an attempt to fill the void, Randall Cobb finishes 2015 with 79/829/6. His counterpart, Devante Adams finishes with 50/483/1, connecting with Rodgers on just 53.2% of balls thrown his way.

From November 9, 2014 to October 10, 2015, Aaron Rodgers threw a grand total of 2 regular season interceptions. On October 11, he threw 2 against the Rams. He would throw another 6 to round-out 2016.

So, I guess the million-dollar question in Packer-Land is: Just how vital is Jordy Nelson to this offense?

Did Rodgers struggle because he didn’t have a legitimate number one target? Or did his (statistically-speaking) worst season of his career stem from him being sacked on 7.6% on drop-backs?

Jordy Nelson was missed in 2015 (YouTube screenshot)

Jordy Nelson was missed in 2015 (YouTube screenshot)

Realistically, probably a combination of both factors. A healthy Jordy Nelson would have made this offense a hell of a lot better, that’s obvious. But a borderline-porous offensive line and a helter-skelter rushing offense didn’t help Rodgers at all.

Dropping pounds was the major theme of Eddie Lacy’s offseason. He spent the majority of his downtime training with P90X founder Tony Horton, the two are even doing another workout regiment just before training camp. And, it appears to have paid dividends as he is down 15-18 lbs according to ESPN.com. For some perspective, Lacy weighed 260 lbs in 2015, that’s only 40 lbs lighter than his center Corey Linsley.

Outside of drafting Jason Spriggs, a tackle out of Indiana, the offensive line went unaddressed this offseason. All five projected starters played at least 12 games each, none missed significant time and seemed pretty healthy. This is a major factor that may hold this team back from getting over the hump.

In 2015, the Packer defense held this team afloat during the second half of last season. The Packers aren’t considered one of the better defenses in the eyes of the average fan, but they are a strong bunch, especially on the back end. Their secondary, highlighted by Sam Shields, Damarious Randall and Ha Ha Clinton Dix held opposing offenses to just 3,643 passing yards (6th in the NFL). The trio combined for 8 interceptions and 30 passes defended.

They can also get after the quarterback. Veteran linebackers Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers combined for 17.5 sacks and 12 career Pro Bowl selections. As a unit, they sacked opposing quarterbacks on 7.2% of dropbacks, only the Broncos, Texans, Patriots and Lions were better.

Their one weakness defensively was against the run. They allowed 1,905 total rush yards and allowed at least 120 yards on the ground in half of their regular season games (and 119 to Seattle in Week 2). The front office plucked NT Kenny Clark from UCLA with their first pick in May’s draft. However, expect some growing pains from the rookie, interior defensive lineman rarely make an immediate impact.

Will the Packers be an improved team in 2016? No question. Will they be a playoff team in 2016? I believe so. Will they win the division? That remains to be seen. However, it helps that they have one of the easiest schedule in the NFL going into the season.

 

Detroit Lions:

It was really a tale of two season for the Detroit Lions in 2015. The team goes into their bye week coming off a good-ol’ fashion whooping at Wembley Stadium courtesy of the Kansas City Chiefs, finishing off the first half of 2015 with an ugly 1-7 record.

That 45-10 drubbing in England was the final straw, heads rolled King Henry-style within the franchise. Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, general manager Martin Mayhew and team president Tom Lewand also saw their own #brexit from the Motor City. Things were bleak, almost reminiscent of  the Matt Millen era (okay, maybe not that bad, but damn close).

After all that ugliness and apparent dysfunction came big things. The Lions came out of the bye, walked into Lambeau and BEAT the Packers on their turf for the first time since 1990 and then won six of their final eight games. Hell, they had a non-zero shot of making the PLAYOFFS despite losing seven of their first eight. That’s crazy!

Two major factors played into the Lions’ second half success, the introduction of former moonshiner Jim Bob Cooter (probably) as the interim offensive coordinator and the dramatic drop-off in turnovers. In the first half, the Lions turned the ball over 20 times. In the second act, the offense committed just FOUR turnovers the rest of the season.

Fun fact: Matthew Stafford did not throw a red zone interception the entire 2015 season.

Despite losing Calvin Johnson to retirement, the passing game shouldn’t drop off that much, if at all. Megatron spent a great deal of the second half banged-up and when he wasn’t on the sidelines, he was playing hurt. While Golden Tate doesn’t fit the bill as that big, athletic freak, he will still be a major factor. He’s a possession receiver who should come close to 100 receptions.

To fill the depth chart, the Lions brought in Marvin Jones from Cincinnati. While many people see him as Robin to Tate’s Batman, I see them more as a dual threat. This could evolve into more of a 1A and 1B type situation.

Matthew Stafford and Jim Bob Cooter look to continue where they left off (Image from detroitjockcity.com)

Matthew Stafford and Jim Bob Cooter look to continue where they left off (Image from detroitjockcity.com)

When the Lions made the playoffs in 2014, Joique Bell was a major part of their offense. He played the part of a clock-churning power back that kept defenses on their heels and set-up the pass. In 2015, Bell was ineffective to say the least and Ameer Abdullah just wasn’t the back they saw in the preseason. In my opinion, Abdullah doesn’t fit this offense. The Lions need a power runner in order to be complete, could trendy fantasy sleeper Zach Zenner be that guy? Lions fans better hope so.

The 2014 version of the Lions also had one of the league’s best defenses. In 2015, we saw that unit take a considerable step in the wrong direction. Were they the worst? No. The best? No. They were in the middle in just about every category outside of the pass rush, where they ranked in the top five.

In a nutshell, they got after the quarterback, avoided the big plays from the offense, but died at the hands of a thousand paper cuts a lot of weeks, allowing enemy quarterbacks to complete 68.2% of passes and have 38.2 % of their drives end in points. Changes were not made in the offseason, so expect more of the same in 2016.

Could the Lions surprise and challenge the Vikings and Packers for the NFC North title? Crazier things have happened, but I wouldn’t count on it. Expect another .500 season, just don’t expect this one to be as Jekyl and Hyde as the previous one.

 

Chicago Bears:

The Bears are a team that lack a true identity.

The Packers throw the ball and defend the pass, the Vikings run the ball and play a stout defense, the Lions chuck the ball and attack the quarterback. What do the Bears do well? What’s their trademark?

“Smokin'” Jay Cutler is still the face of this franchise and Alshon Jeffery is their one only true star player left, so does this mean that they are a passing offense? Maybe, but they only threw the ball 523 times in 2015. 24 teams threw the ball more than Chicago and 22 teams threw for more passing yards.

2015 first-round pick Kevin White missed his entire rookie campaign due to injury and Alshon Jeffery missed seven games last season. Cutler’s collection of targets get kinda thin after those two, things could get ugly if these two

"Smokin'" Jay returns for an 11th season. (Image from Tumblr).

“Smokin'” Jay returns for an 11th season. (Image from Tumblr).

cannot stay out of triage.

The Matt Forte era has come to an end in the Windy City. In his absence, Jeremy Langford appeared to be the hier-apparent, but something tells me rookie Jordan Howard could factor into some playing time. Even third-year back Ka’Deem Carey could factor into this offense as a between-the-tackles guy. This backfield just screams “committee!”.

While this defense isn’t porous, I don’t think it strikes fear into many offenses. The strong point of this unit is on the back end. 2014 first round pick Kyle Fuller is starting to turn into a productive NFL corner and is destined to have a productive career. Second-year safety Adrian Amos is a hard-hitting DB with a bright future ahead of him as well.

Traditionally, the Bears have had a history of producing Hall of Fame linebackers like no other franchise. Mike Singletary, Dick Butkus, Brian Urlacher, the list goes on. The 2016 incarnation of the Chicago Bears features a renovated linebacker core that has some promise. Pernell McPhee is still there, however Danny Trevethan and Jerrell Freeman have joined him to fill-out the interior. Freeman, formally of the Colts and Trevethan comes over from last year’s Super Bowl Champs. The Bears also spent their first round pick this year on the fourth member of this revamped unit on Leonard Floyd outta Georgia. Floyd was a cover LB in college and ran a 4.60 40-time at the combine.

The Bears won six game last season, four of those wins were 4th quarter comebacks.

Much like 2015, The Bears will play a lot of close games, cover some spreads and probably won’t be a pushover. However, I just don’t think they have the tools to contend for a playoff spot. They should draft in the top half of the draft in 2017, but won’t be a laughing stock.

 

NEXT: 2016 Fantasy Quarterback Rankings

ON-DECK: Facts, Points and Takes: NFC South

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