Saturday, September 12, 2015

2015 NFL preview: NFC North

This is my 18th season projecting NFL regular season and playoff results.  As per my tradition, I select the two teams I expect to win each division and conference after I preview all teams.  Only two times (Super Bowl 34 and Super Bowl 38) was I unable to project at least one of the teams that end up in the Super Bowl.  But on the flip side, the last eleven straight seasons has had a team that has gone from Worst to First to make the playoffs in the NFL and I only projected 4 of those.  So my formula is flawed but oh well, no one is perfect.

Quick cheat sheet to my system

*“Projections” – My resulting win/loss record after going through the full team’s schedule.

*“Plus/Minus Win/Loss differential” – The “plus” is how many more wins they could get, minus being how many fewer wins they could get.  These are based on what I label as “swing” games that could go either way.

Here is my preview of the NFC North:

Chicago Bears
2015 Projected Record: 8-8
Win/Loss Plus-Minus Variable: +1/-2
Make or Break Games: 9/13 vs Packers; 11/1 vs Vikings; 11/22 vs Bronocs; 12/6 vs 49ers; 12/27 @ Buccaneers

Synopsis: Interesting changes have come to the Chicago Bears this offseason with the hiring of new Head Coach John Fox and departure of Pro Bowl Wide Receiver Brandon Marshall.  Fox will be overseeing a team that has talent but some major weak points. The defense is led by a strong group of linebackers with Jared Allen, Jonathan Bostic, and Lamarr Houston. The question is the strength and depth of their defensive line.  The defensive line is very important in a 3-4 defense because those lineman are responsible for engaging the offensive lineman in order for the Linebackers to run free in pursuit of the ball carrier and collapse the pocket around the opposing Quarterback.

The Bears offense does features a Pro Bowl Running Back in Matt Forte along with dynamic Wide Receiver Alson Jeffry. Despite the talented weapons on offense, starting Quarterback Jay Cutler is still an enigma; great physical skills but not the best decision maker. Whether the Bears make the playoffs or not rests solely on whether the offense can avoid making costly mistakes and if the defense can play up to their talent.  

Detroit Lions
2015 Projected Record: 9-7
Win/Loss Plus-Minus Variable: +2/-2
Make or Break Games: 9/13 @ Chargers; 9/20 @ Vikings; 9/27 vs Broncos; 10/11 vs Cardinals; 11/1 @ Chiefs; 11/26 vs Eagles; 1/3 @ Bears

Synopsis: There is no question the Detroit Lions have a talented roster heading into the 2015 season.  A high powered offense headlined by Pro Bowl Quarterback Matthew Stafford and All-Pro Wide Receiver Calvin Johnson are complimented by solid, well-constructed defense that includes Linebacker DeAndre Levy and Defensive End Ezekiel Ansah.

The Lions, though, will have to navigate a difficult schedule if they are to get into the playoffs.  Three of their first three games of the season are difficult matchups away from home (Chargers, Vikings and Seahawks).  Furthermore the schedule they have in December is brutal with divisional rival game versus the Packers followed by two weeks of difficult matchups at St. Louis and at New Orleans.  This team has the talent to be a playoff contender, but their schedule will not make it easy on them.

Green Bay Packers
2015 Projected Record: 11-5
Win/Loss Plus-Minus Variable: +1/-3
Make or Break Games: 9/13 @ Bears; 9/20 vs Seahawks; 10/18 vs Chargers; 11/1 @ Broncos; 12/3 @ Lions

Synopsis: The Green Bay Packers have starting at Quarterback arguably the best player at his position: Aaron Rodgers. I know the Packers will be without their top Wide Receiver Jordy Nelson for the season but this offense is still high octane. Wide Receivers Randall Cobb and Davante Adams are both dynamic playmakers who are complimented by the power running game of Running Back Eddie Lacy. The key will be defensive performance by an underrated unit led by Defensive Lineman BJ Raji and Linebacker Clay Matthews. If the Packers defense can hold up against high powered opponents such as Chargers, Broncos, Lions, and Cowboys than this team can set themselves up for a run at the Super Bowl

Minnesota Vikings
2015 Projected Record: 9-7
Win/Loss Plus-Minus Variable: +2/-1
Make or Break Games: 9/20 vs Lions; 9/27 vs Chargers; 11/8 vs Rams; 12/6 vs Seahawks; 1/3 @ Packers

Synopsis: The Minnesota Vikings enter 2015 with a rested and ready to go Adrian Peterson at Running Back. Peterson is considered the best Running Back in the NFL and will be a great compliment for second year starting Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.  The Vikings have constructed a solid roster on the offensive side to support Bridgewater and I expect the young Quarterback to exceed many expectations this season.

Meanwhile the Vikings defense is an underrated unit that is a solid mix of talented veterans and dynamic young athletes.  This team will be challenged throughout the 2015 season as they will be matching up with six teams boasting high scoring offenses (Lions, Chargers, Broncos, Packers, Falcons, and Giants).  The NFL season is a marathon, not a sprint; if the Vikings can be consistent throughout the year they have a chance at making the playoffs. 

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