NFL Wire News

NFL Preview: NFC North

on

The Sports Xchange

One week before the 2015 regular season begins, here is a snapshot of the NFC North teams through the eyes of Sports Xchange correspondents covering each team.

Next week The Sports Xchange will analyze every unit on every team and project order of finish in each division

Teams here are listed in alphabetical order:

CHICAGO BEARS

2014 RECORD: 5-11

DIVISIONAL RECORD: 1-5

COACH: John Fox

1st season with Bears

14th season as NFL coach

127-96 overall; 8-7 postseason

–TEAM STRENGTH: Running back. Not only has Matt Forte looked fluid and able to run in the new blocking schemes, but rookie Jeremy Langford produced highlight-type runs against Indianapolis. In addition, free-agent acquisition Jacquizz Rodgers has been a pleasant surprise both as a third-down type back and on other downs. Senorise Perry made a case for making the team based on his special teams play, but also on his big first preseason game. The odd man out appears to be Ka’Deem Carey, but much can change still — especially if there are injuries.

–BIGGEST QUESTION: Wide receiver. No one has heard from Alshon Jeffery (calf strain) since before preseason games started. Marquess Wilson (hamstring) went out shortly after that, followed by Eddie Royal (hip). So with Kevin White already done until at least midseason, the receiver spot is a huge question mark at least for opening week. Right tackle is a close second, where three or four players still are being considered. The best option appears starting Kyle Long there, and risking Vlad Ducasse at right guard.

THE PLAYERS

QUARTERBACKS: Starter — Jay Cutler. Backups — Jimmy Clausen, David Fales, Zac Dysert.

RUNNING BACKS: Starter — Matt Forte. Backups — Jacquizz Rodgers, Jeremy Langford, Ka’Deem Carey.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter — Martellus Bennett. Backups — Dante Rosario, Zach Miller, Bear Pascoe, Gannon Sinclair.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters — Alshon Jeffery, Eddie Royal. Backups — Marquess Wilson, Josh Bellamy, Marc Mariani, Cameron Meredith, Rashad Lawrence, Ify Umodu, A.J. Cruz. Others: Kevin White (starter, PUP).

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — LT Jermon Bushrod, LG Matt Slauson, C Will Montgomery, RG Kyle Long, RT Jordan Mills. Backups — C Hroniss Grasu, T Michael Ola, T Charles Leno Jr., G Vladimir Ducasse, T Tayo Fabuluje, G Tyler Moore, C Conor Boffeli.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — DRE Ego Ferguson, DLE Jarvis Jenkins, NT Eddie Goldman. Backups — DE Brandon Dunn, Eddie Goldman, DE Will Sutton, DE David Carter, NT Terry Williams, DE Cornelius Washington. Others: NT Jeremiah Ratliff (starter, suspended 3 games).

LINEBACKERS: Starters — RLB Jared Allen, LLB Pernell McPhee, ILB Shea McClellin, ILB Christian Jones. Backups — OLB Sam Acho, ILB Mason Foster, ILB Jonathan Bostic, OLB Lamarr Houston, OLB David Bass, ILB John Timu, ILB Jonathan Anderson, OLB Willie Young, ILB Matthew Wells, OLB Kyle Woestmann.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters — RCB Kyle Fuller, LCB Alan Ball, FS Antrel Rolle, SS Adrian Amos. Backups — CB Tracy Porter, S Brock Vereen, S Sherrod Martin, CB Terrance Mitchell, CB Sherrick McManis, S Demontre Hurst, CB Bryce Callahan, CB Qumain Black, Jacoby Glenn, S Anthony Jefferson.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Robbie Gould, P Pat O’Donnell, LS Thomas Gafford, KOR/PR Marc Mariani, KOR/PR A.J. Cruz.

2015 SCHEDULE

Strength of schedule:

Overall .531; Division .625; Non-Division .475.

All times Eastern

Sept. 13, GREEN BAY, 1:00

Sept. 20, ARIZONA, 1:00

Sept. 27, at Seattle, 4:25

Oct. 4, OAKLAND, 1:00

Oct. 11, at Kansas City, 1:00

Oct. 18, at Detroit, 1:00

Oct. 25, OPEN DATE

Nov. 1, MINNESOTA, 1:00

Nov. 9, at San Diego (Mon.), 8:30

Nov. 15, at St. Louis, 1:00

Nov. 22, DENVER, 1:00

Nov. 26, at Green Bay (Thu.), 8:30

Dec. 6, SAN FRANCISCO, 1:00

Dec. 13, WASHINGTON, 1:00

Dec. 20, at Minnesota, 1:00

Dec. 27, at Tampa Bay, 1:00

Jan. 3, DETROIT, 1:00

DETROIT LIONS

2014 RECORD: 11-6

DIVISIONAL RECORD: 5-1

COACH: Jim Caldwell

2nd season with Lions

11-5 overall; postseason 0-1

5th season as NFL head coach

39-29 overall; 2-3 postseason

–TEAM STRENGTH: Although it was inconsistent last year, the Lions’ pass offense should be their biggest strength this year. As long as wide receivers Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate stay healthy, quarterback Matthew Stafford should be able to generate big plays. With that duo on the outside, tight end Eric Ebron should become a threat over the middle, and all three of the Lions’ top running backs, including rookie Ameer Abdullah, can be dangerous as receivers.

–BIGGEST QUESTION: Will the Lions be able to generate pass rush pressure with their defensive line? After losing tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley and end George Johnson, the Lions have few proven pass rushers, which could result in more blitzes and a secondary that features 31-year-old James Ihedigbo and 35-year-old Rashean Mathis.

THE PLAYERS

QUARTERBACKS: Starter — Matthew Stafford. Backups — Dan Orlovsky, Kellen Moore.

RUNNING BACKS: Starter — Joique Bell. Backups — Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick, Zach Zenner, George Winn, FB Michael Burton, FB Emil Igwenagu.

TIGHT ENDS: Starters — Eric Ebron, Brandon Pettigrew. Backups — Tim Wright, Joseph Fauria, Casey Pierce.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters — Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate. Backups — Corey Fuller, Lance Moore, Jeremy Ross, TJ Jones, Greg Salas.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — LT Riley Reiff, LG Laken Tomlinson, C Travis Swanson, RG Larry Warford, RT LaAdrian Waddle. Backups — T Cornelius Lucas, T Corey Robinson, G/C Manny Ramirez, G/C Taylor Boggs, T Xavier Proctor, G Torrian Wilson, G Al Bond, G/C Braxston Cave.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — DLE Jason Jones, DLT Haloti Ngata, DRT Tyrunn Walker, DRE Ezekiel Ansah. Backups — DE Darryl Tapp, DE Devin Taylor, DE Phillip Hunt, DT Caraun Reid, DT Gabe Wright, DT Jermelle Cudjo, DE Corey Wootton, DE Larry Webster, DT Jerel Worthy, DT Kerry Hyder.

LINEBACKERS: Starters — MLB Stephen Tulloch, WLB DeAndre Levy, SLB Tahir Whitehead. Backups — Travis Lewis, Josh Bynes, Kyle Van Noy, Brandon Copeland, Julian Stanford.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters — LCB Darius Slay, RCB Rashean Mathis, FS Glover Quin, SS James Ihedigbo. Backups — CB Josh Wilson, CB Nevin Lawson, CB Alex Carter, CB Quandre Diggs, S Isa Abdul-Quddus, S Don Carey, S Isaiah Johnson, S Nate Ness, S Brian Suite, CB Crezdon Butler.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Matt Prater, P Sam Martin, LS Don Muhlbach, KOR Ameer Abdullah/Jeremy Ross, PR Ameer Abdullah/Jeremy Ross.

2015 SCHEDULE

Strength of schedule:

Overall .527; Division.500; Non-Division .544.

All times Eastern

Sept. 13, at San Diego, 4:05

Sept. 20, at Minnesota, 1:00

Sept. 27, DENVER, 8:30

Oct. 5, at Seattle (Mon.), 8:30

Oct. 11, ARIZONA, 4:05

Oct. 18, CHICAGO, 1:00

Oct. 25, MINNESOTA, 1:00

Nov. 1, at Kansas City (London), 9:30

Nov. 8, OPEN DATE,

Nov. 15, at Green Bay, 1:00

Nov. 22, OAKLAND, 1:00

Nov. 26, PHILADELPHIA (Thu.), 12:30

Dec. 3, GREEN BAY (Thu.), 8:25

Dec. 13, at St. Louis, 1:00

Dec. 21, at New Orleans (Mon.), 8:30

Dec. 27, SAN FRANCISCO, 1:00

Jan. 3, at Chicago, 1:00

GREEN BAY PACKERS

2014 RECORD: 13-5

DIVISIONAL RECORD: 5-1

COACH: Mike McCarthy

10th season as Packers

10th season as NFL head coach

101-55-1 overall; 7-6 postseason

–TEAM STRENGTH: Pass offense. Take away an all-star receiver for the entire season after he led the team in 2014 with monster numbers of 98 catches for 1,519 yards and 13 touchdowns, and an offense would be destined to scuffle.

Not the Packers, it would seem, never mind that Jordy Nelson won’t be playing until next summer. Aaron Rodgers’ No. 1 pass target sustained a season-ending torn ACL in Green Bay’s second preseason game. That would be a huge hit for most teams, but the Packers still have plenty in hand to continue churning out the yards and piling up the points, led by Rodgers, the reigning NFL MVP.

Of course, the continued success of Green Bay’s prolific offense will be predicated on keeping the rest of its playmakers healthy. That isn’t a given after No. 2 wideout Randall Cobb sustained a shoulder injury that isn’t considered severe in the most recent preseason game last weekend. With the anticipation that Cobb should be OK for the Sept. 13 season opener at the Chicago Bears, the burden will fall on him, the young receiver duo of second-year pro Davante Adams and rookie Ty Montgomery, plus second-year tight end Richard Rodgers to be as reliable and potent on the pass-catching end of Aaron Rodgers’ throws as Nelson has been the last few years.

–BIGGEST QUESTION: Performance of the defense. Even with the big loss of Jordy Nelson on offense, the Packers figure to put up plenty of points more often than not this season. Yet, as the outlook has been going into most recent seasons, there’s no telling whether Green Bay’s defense can keep other teams from keeping pace on the scoreboard. The Packers didn’t have their full starting group on the field for the first time in a preseason game until last weekend after enduring a slew of minor injuries. The outcome wasn’t pretty as the Philadelphia Eagles scored touchdowns on their first three possessions and built a 25-0 lead before the end of the first quarter. An offseason overhaul at inside linebacker likely means more of All-Pro outside linebacker Clay Matthews’ playing in the middle. Throw in adjustments in the secondary with Casey Hayward being promoted to replace the departed Tramon Williams at cornerback and early-season suspensions for starting defensive linemen Letroy Guion (three games) and Datone Jones (one), the Packers could be out of sorts defensively early.

THE PLAYERS

QUARTERBACKS: Starter — Aaron Rodgers. Backups — Scott Tolzien, Brett Hundley.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters — Eddie Lacy, FB John Kuhn. Backups — James Starks, Rajion Neal, Alonzo Harris, John Crockett, FB Aaron Ripkowski.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter — Richard Rodgers. Backups — Andrew Quarless, Justin Perillo, Kennard Backman, Mitchell Henry.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters — Randall Cobb, Davante Adams. Backups — Ty Montgomery, Jeff Janis, Myles White, Larry Pinkard, Jared Abbrederis, Ed Williams.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — LT David Bakhtiari, LG Josh Sitton, C Corey Linsley, RG T.J. Lang, RT Bryan Bulaga. Backups — T/G Don Barclay, C/G JC Tretter, G Lane Taylor, G Josh Walker, C Garth Gerhart, T Jeremy Vujnovich, C/G Andy Phillips, G Matt Rotheram.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — DLE Josh Boyd, NT B.J. Raji, DRE Mike Daniels. Backups — DT Mike Pennel, DT Khyri Thornton, DE Christian Ringo, DT Bruce Gaston. Others: DE Datone Jones (starter, suspended 1 game); DT Letroy Guion (backup, suspended 3 games).

LINEBACKERS: Starters — LOLB Nick Perry, BLB Clay Matthews, MLB Sam Barrington, ROLB Julius Peppers. Backups — OLB Mike Neal, ILB Jake Ryan, OLB Andy Mulumba, ILB Carl Bradford, OLB Jayrone Elliott, ILB Nate Palmer, ILB Joe Thomas, OLB James Vaughters, OLB Jermauria Rasco.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters — LCB Casey Hayward, RCB Sam Shields, FS Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, SS Morgan Burnett. Backups — S Micah Hyde, CB Damarious Randall, CB Quinten Rollins, CB LaDarius Gunter, S Sean Richardson, S Chris Banjo, CB Demetri Goodson, CB Tay Glover-Wright, CB Ryan White, S Jean Fanor.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Mason Crosby, P Tim Masthay, LS Brett Goode, KOR/PR Ty Montgomery, PR Micah Hyde.

2015 SCHEDULE

Strength of schedule:

Overall .529; Division .479; Non-Division .559.

All times Eastern

Sept. 13, at Chicago, 1:00

Sept. 20, SEATTLE, 8:30

Sept. 28, KANSAS CITY (Mon.), 8:30

Oct. 4, at San Francisco, 4:25

Oct. 11, ST. LOUIS, 1:00

Oct. 18, SAN DIEGO, 4:25

Oct. 25, OPEN DATE

Nov. 1, at Denver, 8:30

Nov. 8, at Carolina, 1:00

Nov. 15, DETROIT, 1:00

Nov. 22, at Minnesota, 1:00

Nov. 26, CHICAGO (Thu.), 8:30

Dec. 3, at Detroit (Thu.), 8:25

Dec. 13, DALLAS, 4:25

Dec. 20, at Oakland, 4:05

Dec. 27, at Arizona, 4:25

Jan. 3, MINNESOTA, 1:00

MINNESOTA VIKINGS

2014 RECORD: 7-9

DIVISIONAL RECORD: 1-5

STADIUM: TCF Bank Stadium

COACH: Mike Zimmer

2nd season as Vikings

2nd season as NFL head coach

7-9 overall

–TEAM STRENGTH: Running back Adrian Peterson’s strength will be the team strength because it will provide the foundation upon which quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will use to take a leap forward in his already-promising career. Peterson will be running angrier than ever as he looks to make up for the 15 games he lost a year ago. Teams will have no choice but to focus on him, which will open up the field for Bridgewater to attack deep to wide receiver Mike Wallace, over the middle to tight end Kyle Rudolph or to Peterson out of the backfield.

–BIGGEST QUESTION: Is the offensive line good enough individually and as a unit? The offensive line hasn’t lived up to expectations in some time now. It underachieved in 2013 and was racked by injuries in 2014. This season, there are question marks at all five spots. Will left tackle Matt Kalil bounce back from a horrendous 2014 season? Will left guard Brandon Fusco make the transition from right guard while trying to come back from a pectoral injury that sidelined him for 12 games a year ago? Are the back spasms that knocked center John Sullivan out of two preseason games really nothing to be concerned about, as the team says? Can career tackle Mike Harris be a starter at right guard when he has played guard in only one game in his career? And, last but probably first, will rookie fourth-round draft pick T.J. Clemmings hold up as a 16-game starter with veteran right tackle Phil Loadholt out for the season because of a torn Achilles’ tendon?

THE PLAYERS

QUARTERBACKS: Starter — Teddy Bridgewater. Backups — Shaun Hill, Taylor Heinicke.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters — Adrian Peterson, FB Zach Line. Backups — Jerick McKinnon, Matt Asiata, Dominique Williams, DuJuan Harris, FB Blake Renaud.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter — Kyle Rudolph. Backups — Rhett Ellison, Chase Ford, MyCole Pruitt.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters — Charles Johnson, Mike Wallace. Backups — Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jarius Wright, Isaac Fruechte, Donte Foster, Ryan Whalen.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — LT Matt Kalil, LG Brandon Fusco, C John Sullivan, RG Mike Harris, RT T.J. Clemmings. Backups — C-G Joe Berger, G-T David Yankey, T Babatunde Aiyegbusi, C Tom Farniok, G-C Zac Kerin, G Bob Vardaro, G-T Tyrus Thompson, G Isame Faciane, G-T Austin Shepherd.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — DLE Brian Robison, DT Sharrif Floyd, NT Linval Joseph, DRE Everson Griffen. Backups — LDE Scott Crichton, LDE Leon Mackey, DT Tom Johnson, DT B.J. Dubose, NT Shamar Stephen, NT Chigbo Anunoby, RDE Justin Trattou, RDE Danielle Hunter, DE Greg Hickman.

LINEBACKERS: Starters — WLB Anthony Barr, MLB Gerald Hodges, SLB Chad Greenway. Backups — SLB Brandon Watts, SLB Brian Peters, MLB Audie Cole, MLB Eric Kendricks, MLB Mike Mauti, WLB Edmond Robinson.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters — LCB Terence Newman, RCB Xavier Rhodes, FS Harrison Smith, SS Robert Blanton. Backups — CB Captain Munnerlyn, LCB Trae Waynes, CB Josh Thomas, CB Marcus Sherels, S Shaun Prater, S Antone Exum, S Andrew Sendejo, S Anthony Harris. Others: CB Josh Robinson (backup, PUP), CB Jabari Price (backup, suspended 2 games)

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Blair Walsh, P Jeff Locke, LS Kevin McDermott, KOR Cordarrelle Patterson, PR Marcus Sherels.

2015 SCHEDULE

Strength of schedule:

Overall .539; Division .583; Non-Division .513.

All times Eastern

Sept. 14, at San Francisco (Mon.), 10:20

Sept. 20, DETROIT, 1:00

Sept. 27, SAN DIEGO, 1:00

Oct. 4, at Denver, 4:25

Oct. 11, OPEN DATE

Oct. 18, KANSAS CITY, 1:00

Oct. 25, at Detroit, 1:00

Nov. 1, at Chicago, 1:00

Nov. 8, ST. LOUIS, 1:00

Nov. 15, at Oakland, 4:05

Nov. 22, GREEN BAY, 1:00

Nov. 29, at Atlanta, 1:00

Dec. 6, SEATTLE, 1:00

Dec. 10, at Arizona (Thu.), 8:25

Dec. 20, CHICAGO, 1:00

Dec. 27, N.Y. GIANTS, 11:00

Jan. 3, at Green Bay, 11:00

–Correspondents covering each team for The Sports Xchange contributed material for this report. Next week The Sports Xchange will analyze every unit on every team and project order of finish in each division


About The Sports Xchange

Since 1987, the Sports Xchange has been the best source of information and analysis for the top professionals in the sports publishing & information business