EARLY ANALYSIS: NFC NORTH 2016-7 Forecast - 2018-9 NFL Computer Predictions and Rankings

EARLY ANALYSIS: NFC NORTH 2016-7 Forecast

NFC North Predictions

Detroit Lions: The Lions lost a huge piece of their recent success when star WR Calvin Johnson announced his retirement. Matthew Stafford will have to find ways to move the ball without Johnson. Stafford threw for 4,262 yards and 32 TDs but also had 13 INTs. Young receivers must step up if they want to score points against QBs Aaron Rodgers and Teddy Bridgewater and their offenses. The defense must also step up and improve as they were 18th in total defense last year and 19th in rushing defense, that is not a formula for success against RBs Eddie Lacy and Adrian Peterson. They drafted Ohio State OT Taylor Decker in the first round to help protect Stafford, but they must also address the receivers and run defense if they want to compete in this very competitive division.

Chicago Bears: The Bears can never seem to have success on both sides of the ball at the same time. Under Lovie Smith their defense was one of the best every year, but their offense was lacking and it cost them a Super Bowl in 2006. Marc Trestman improved the offense but the defense was awful, so they brought in John Fox. Fox has brought balance but must see improvement from QB Jay Cutler who threw for over 3,600 yards but also had a mere 21 TDs to 11 INTs. They lost versatile RB Matt Forte in free agency but will have one of the best young WR duos in Alshon Jeffery and Kevin White, a former first round pick. The passing defense ranked 4th in the league last year, but they ranked 22nd in rush defense. They must sure up that front 7 to stop the great RBs in that division. They drafted OLB Leonard Floyd to help improve both the pass rush and their ability to stop the run. The Bears season depends on how much Jay Cutler and the defense improve, the talent is there for a playoff run.

Green Bay Packers: The Packers were one of the most peculiar teams last year. QB Aaron Rodgers lost WR Jordy Nelson for the season and it affected their offense more than people initially believed it would. Nelson was the true #1, which allowed Randall Cobb to play in the slot creating mismatches. Rodgers had a “down year” but still managed to throw for 3,821 yards, 31 TDs and only 8 INTs, which quite frankly shows that Rodgers is still great in down years. The offense was, however, inconsistent and went three and out a lot. RB Eddie Lacy seemed nonexistent down the stretch but has said he has gotten back into shape. The defense is much like the Bears in that they were great in the secondary, but were bad against the run as they ranked 6th and 21st. WR Jordy Nelson will be back healthy which will open up the offense a lot more, and with a QB in Aaron Rodgers, the Packers are always a deep playoff run contender.

Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings are the reigning NFC North champions, and they have improved this off-season. They ranked 29th in total offense and 31st in passing offense last year, so they went and drafted the best WR in the draft in my opinion in Laquon Treadwell. This will help QB Teddy Bridgewater develop and improve from his 3,231 yards with just 14 TDs and 9 INTs a year ago. Treadwell, along with versatile playmaker Stefon Diggs, will take the pressure off star RB Adrian Peterson to carry the load of the offense. The defense ranked 13th in total defense and 12th in pass defense, but went out and drafted CB Mackensie Alexander from Clemson. Alexander is a great all-around CB, but to me he excels in zone coverage and making plays on the ball, which will be critical against the QBs in this division. The Vikings won the division with a weak offense, but they went out and got a lot better on that side of the ball so they should compete in the NFC North this year as well.

[Analysis by NFL expert Preston Rowe]