Complete NFC North Preview

Here is a look at what you can expect from the Vikes, Lions, Packers and Bears this season…

Minnesota Vikings

When the Vikings gave QB Kirk Cousins the league’s richest and first-ever fully guaranteed multi-year contract, they bragged about being “all in.” Well, the pressure is on. Big time. The Vikings hand-picked the franchise quarterback to pair with the league’s top-ranked defense. If the Vikings stay healthy — a big if given this team’s track record at quarterback the past two years — nothing short of a Super Bowl will be acceptable. There’s certainly enough talent to get the job done.

Green Bay Packers

A few folks inside Lambeau Field wondered aloud after last season if such a painful step backward without QB Aaron Rodgers might be just what this team needed to move forward after NFC Championship Game losses in two of the previous three seasons. A healthy 16 games from Rodgers virtually guarantees a 10-6 finish at minimum — the Packers are 94-46 in games Rodgers started and didn’t leave with a broken collarbone over the past 10 years. Whether Rodgers gets to the second Super Bowl of his career, however, depends on whether his younger teammates elevate their games, and how many contributions the rookies can make.

Detroit Lions

The Lions haven’t won a division title in a quarter-century, and last season’s 9-7 finish felt like another missed opportunity, given the key quarterback injuries in Green Bay and Minnesota. Still, coming off back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since the mid-1990s, Detroit has the talent — and the quarterback — to be a playoff contender. And a playoff-starved fan base is banking on an engaging new coach in Matt Patricia to do what so many others before him couldn’t. Forget about the Patriot Way, he says: “After you have some success, that’s when you start calling it ‘The Lions Way.’”

Chicago Bears

New head coach Matt Nagy seems to be more in sync with GM Ryan Pace than John Fox ever was. This year’s additions in free agency did an excellent job of specifically addressing weaknesses, although Pace’s track record in the market has been uneven at best. Everything revolves around making QB Mitch Trubisky the franchise quarterback, from personnel to staff. Nagy’s presence as an offensive mastermind, along with innovative offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich and holdover quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone, should help. Pass-catching talent was added in free agency, but Trubisky will be throwing to several players with whom he’s never taken a snap in an NFL game. He’ll also be operating in his third system in as many years. That’s a lot to handle for a young quarterback. But the defensive improvement should continue under Vic Fangio, and the Bears should improve on last year’s 5-11 record.

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NFL Football 2017-18 Season

NFC North Division Preview

With the days and weeks of summer ticking by, the arrival of a new NFL season continues to approach. Fans still have to wait until September 7th for Kansas City and New England to kick off in Gillette Stadium, but they don’t have to wait much longer for pre-season football starting August 3rd at FanPicks. To get you ready for the new season, here’s the outlook of NFC North teams.

Chicago Bears

After eight years of teasing with rare flashes of talent but always underachieving, Jay Cutler is gone as the Bears leading quarterback. Mike Glennon is the successor. But Glennon is in a win-now-or-else situation, because the Bears used the second overall pick in the draft on Mitchell Trubisky, who general manager Ryan Pace hopes will become the team’s franchise quarterback. If Trubisky doesn’t deliver, Pace will soon follow Cutler out of town. Glennon got a three-year $45 million deal, but after the $16 million he’s guaranteed this year, just $2.5 million more is guaranteed. The hope is that by 2018, Trubisky will be ready to replace Glennon, or that Glennon plays well enough to keep the rookie on the bench for another year of seasoning.

Chicago lost its best offensive weapon in wide receiver Alshon Jeffery. To replace Jeffery, the Bears added free-agent wide receivers Markus Wheaton and Kendall Wright, both of whom fit best as slot receivers and are young enough to duplicate promising seasons they enjoyed earlier in their careers. They also add some much-needed speed to complement 6’3″ Cameron Meredith, an undrafted free agent in 2015 who had a breakout sophomore season in 2016 with 66 receptions for 888 yards.

The tight end position should be much improved within the Bears organization with the return of talented pass catcher Zach Miller and the addition of ascending, three-down player Dion Sims in free agency. The Bears also used a second-round pick on 6’6″, 277-pound Adam Shaheen, who could also contribute on all three downs provided he can make the jump from Division-II Ashland.

The run game is in excellent hands. Jordan Howard may have been the biggest steal of the 2016 draft after Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott. The fifth-round choice from Indiana rushed for a Bears rookie-record 1,313 yards. He had a higher average per carry (5.2 yards) than Ezekiel Elliott.

Detroit Lions

Quarterback Matthew Stafford is coming off one of his best seasons. He passed for 4,327 yards and 24 touchdowns with 10 interceptions, despite playing the last month with the middle finger on his throwing hand in a splint. Prior to that, he led the team to an NFL-record eight fourth-quarter comeback wins. And he looked comfortable in his first full year with Jim Bob Cooter as offensive coordinator, spreading the ball around in a controlled short passing attack.

What would make him even more comfortable this season would be an improved run game. The Lions ranked 30th in the NFL in rushing and didn’t have a back gain more than 70 yards in a game all season. But starter Ameer Abdullah is back after suffering a season-ending foot injury in Week 2 last season. He could form a dynamic tandem with Theo Riddick, a matchup nightmare out of the backfield. Riddick’s 80 receptions in 2015 tied for the lead among NFL running backs. The emergence of Zach Zenner as a viable fill-in starter provides some depth, but if Abdullah can’t stay on the field, it’ll spell trouble again.

Last year’s big free-agent addition — receiver Marvin Jones Jr. — started fast while trying to fill the cleats of retired star Calvin Johnson. But after a 205-yard, two-TD day at Lambeau Field in Week 3, his per-game averages the rest of the season (three catches for 44 yards) didn’t measure up. That’s one reason the Lions targeted another big wideout in the draft, Northern Illinois’ Kenny Golladay. He’ll compete for the No. 3 role behind Jones and Golden Tate. The wild card remains Eric Ebron, an athletic tight end who may never validate his top-10 draft choice but who has steadily improved.

Green Bay Packers

As quarterback Aaron Rodgers goes, so go the Packers. When he was less than stellar to start last season, the offense sputtered and suddenly critics began whispering about his magic being gone. Then he uttered his “run the table” remark, the Packers won their final six regular-season games and a pair of playoff games, and all was right with the world as Rodgers finished the season on perhaps the best run of his career. In the final seven regular-season games (six wins, one loss), he completed 69.7 percent of his passes with 18 touchdowns and no interceptions (120.0 rating) — reminding everyone that he’s one of the game’s best.

The free-agent additions of tight ends Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks, combined with holdover Richard Rodgers, will create intriguing wrinkles to an offense that still has Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and the emerging Davante Adams at wide receiver. The passing game will have to be its high-flying self, however, given the unproven situation at running back, where two-time 1,100-yard rusher Eddie Lacy left in free agency after last year’s season-ending ankle injury. Converted wide receiver Ty Montgomery is the starter, but with three draft picks at the position, that could change.

Minnesota Vikings

For the first time since 2006, the Vikings head into a season without running back Adrian Peterson as the face of their franchise and the engine that drives their offense. After nine weeks of coordinating a hybrid offense on the fly following Norv Turner’s surprising resignation last November, offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur has an entire offseason to install his own attack. He runs a West Coast system with a heavy dose of the shotgun looks that quarterbacks Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater prefer but Peterson struggled with.

At quarterback, Bradford is the undisputed starter in part because the Vikings believe Bridgewater will miss a second straight full season. as he works his way back from the career-threatening knee injury suffered last August. Bradford was exceptional last season. He arrived eight days before the regular season and set an NFL record for completion percentage (71.6) while throwing only five interceptions. He was durable, quick-minded, smart with the football and steady in spite of losing Peterson in Week 2, both starting tackles by Week 6 and Turner heading into Week 8.

Latavius Murray and Dalvin Cook improve the league’s worst running attack instantly. Murray, a free agent acquisition, is a big back who can pass protect and make people forget last year’s repeated failures in short-yardage situations. Cook is a three-down back with first-round talent who fell into the second round in the 2017 draft. He needs polish in pass protection and ball security, but he’s a home run threat.

Shurmur is a pass-oriented coach but has worked to change the team’s run-blocking schemes to include more outside zone plays that could benefit Murray and Cook. Head coach Mike Zimmer is determined to run the ball to control the game and prevent a repeat of the plethora of three-and-outs that caused his defense to wear out down the stretch last season.

At receiver, the Vikings have two overachievers as starters in Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. Neither has the size of a typical number 1 receiver, so it’s time for the underachiever in the room — 2016 first-round draft pick Laquon Treadwell — to bounce back after an injury-marred season saw him start only one game and catch one pass.

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NFC North biggest needs in the 2017 NFL Draft

All four teams in the division have serious holes that could be filled in the draft

Thanks to what could only be called “widespread mediocrity” across the NFC, the NFC North got two teams into the playoffs this past season. Be that as it may, the division — outside of Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers under center — is full of question marks and teams looking for direction and identities. The Packers remain the team to beat heading into the draft, but the Lions and Vikings are only a piece or two away from dethroning them. The Bears, on the other hand, appear to be in rebuilding mode. Luckily for all four teams, the 2017 NFL Draft has enough quality prospects at every position help them improve immediately. It’s just a matter of making the right choices once the clock starts on April 27th.

 Chicago Bears

It wasn’t good for the Bears last season. Four different quarterbacks took snaps for the team en route to a three-win season. As a result — and to the delight of many Bears fans — Jay Cutler is no longer on the roster. Unfortunately, Alshon Jeffery — arguably the team’s best player over the last couple of seasons — now plays for the Philadelphia Eagles. The lone bright spot heading into 2017 appears to be running back Jordan Howard. The rookie out of Indiana topped 1,300 yards on the ground and found the end zone seven times. Even though they signed Mike Glennon, the Bears are still in need of a long-term option at the quarterback position. Additionally, help is needed at both offensive tackle spots. On defense, they have no real pass-rushing threats.

First-round pick: No. 3 overall

Potential picks: The are whispers here and there that Chicago really likes North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. He’d likely sit behind Glennon most, if not all, of the year if selected. If the Bears don’t pull the trigger on a quarterback and hold onto the pick, they’ll likely go with the best player on the board. In that case, you’re looking at Stanford defensive end Solomon Thomas, LSU safety Jamal Adams or Alabama defensive tackle Jonathan Allen.

 Detroit Lions

The Lions had a bit of a up-and-down season, losing their last four games and backing into the playoffs before getting bounced on wild card weekend by the Seahawks. The good news was that Matthew Stafford seemed to have gotten his groove back, and the offense is only a piece or two away from being one of the most dangerous in the league. As much as they need more big-time weapons on offense, the Lions need even more help on defense — particularly at linebacker. Once they address that need, they could use an upgrade at running back and a bigger receiver for Stafford to target in the red zone.

First-round pick: No. 21 overall

Potential picks: This first-round pick is probably going to be a linebacker. If that’s the case, you’re looking at Temple’s Haason Reddick, Vanderbilt’s Zach Cunningham and Wisconsin’s T.J. Watt as possible options. Don’t be shocked, however, if they try to drop the bomb by landing Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey.

 Green Bay Packers

The Packers battled through injuries and a mid-season slump to win the division and come within a game of playing in the Super Bowl. In the NFC Championship Game against Atlanta, Green Bay’s defense was exposed. The offense proved it has enough pieces in place to score with anyone as long as the defense holds up its end of the bargain. That tells you the direction the Packers are likely to go during the draft. The Packers need help at cornerback, thanks to the departure of Micah Hyde. They also are desperately in need of more depth at inside linebacker and lack consistency in their pass rush.

First-round pick: No. 29 overall

Potential picks: Wisconsin’s T.J. Watt would be a perfect fit in so many ways if he’s still around when the Packers are on the clock. If not, you are likely going to see them take a cornerback first. Look for Washington’s Kevin King or USC’s Adoree’ Jackson to be in the mix.

 Minnesota Vikings

The season started off shaky for the Vikings, as quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was lost for the year dropping back during a practice in the preseason. Sam Bradford stepped in and kept the ship afloat as long as he could, but was eventually done in by one of the worst collective offensive line performances in the league. The end result was a .500 season where four mid-season losses by a combined 17 points cost Minnesota a division title. The guard and center positions on the offensive line need to be addressed. Additionally, some depth and youth is needed at the safety position. It would also be a possibleto see the Vikings draft a quarterback early as a long-term insurance policy to Bridgewater’s serious injury situation.

First-round pick: none

First pick: No. 48 overall

Potential picks: It’ll be hard to avoid drafting a guard or center with the 48th pick. If he’s still on the board, Ohio State center Pat Elflein makes a lot of sense, as does Indiana guard Dan Feeney. If Minnesota decides to gamble at quarterback, Patrick Mahomes II out of Texas Tech could also be in play.

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Vikings (5-1) vs Bears (1-6)

Their perfect record now a thing of the past, the Minnesota Vikings look to get back on track when they visit the Chicago Bears on Monday night in a matchup of NFC North rivals (Enter Contests). The Vikings opened the season with five consecutive wins prior to their bye week but absorbed their first loss in a 21-10 defeat at Philadelphia last week. Jay Cutler, who suffered a thumb injury in Week 2, is poised to return to the starting lineup amid a published report that Bears coach John Fox told friends that he is “done” with the veteran quarterback after this season.

ABOUT THE BEARS

Backup quarterback Brian Hoyer suffered a broken arm and third-stringer Matt Barkley appeared totally overmatched in last week’s 26-10 loss at Green Bay. The Bears will now turn to the inconsistent Cutler, coming back from injury, for stability at quarterback. Ironic right! The issue facing the Bears and Cutler is how to jump-start an offense that is averaging a league-low 15.9 points per game and ranks 25th in the NFL in rush with an average of 87.9 yards. Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery has five TD receptions and is averaging 108.8 receiving yards in his last five games versus Minnesota. Chicago’s defense sits 20th in the league, permitting an average of 24.1 points per game.

ABOUT THE VIKINGS

Injuries to top running back Adrian Peterson and along the offensive line are stagnating Minnesota, which ranks 31st in total offense (299.2 yards) and 30th in rushing (74.3). Quarterback Sam Bradford had six touchdowns and zero interceptions in his first four starts but was picked off once and lost a pair of fumbles last week against his former team. One of his new favorite targets, wideout Cordarrelle Patterson, has 16 receptions and two touchdowns over the last three games but missed practice Thursday with a concussion. Still, the Vikings rely on a defense that is limiting foes to an NFL-low 14.0 points. Minnesota swept the season series in 2015-16 and has won the last three meetings.

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NFL NFC North Fantasy Football Review

FanPicks is proud to bring you this NFC North Fantasy Football Review of the 2015 season. Come enjoy daily Fantasy sports news at Fanpicks.com during this NFL offseason.

Fantasy Football 2015 Season Review

NFC North Fantasy Football

The NFC North division came down to the wire in the last game of the season when the Vikings clinched the division besting the Packers in Green Bay.

 

  • Minnesota Vikings (11-5)

The Vikings won the NFC North for the 1st time since 2009 and captured their 1st playoff berth since 2012. Major improvements were seen on both side of the ball for the Vikings compare to their prior campaign. Adrian Peterson’s 327 carries, 1485 league leading rushing yards and 11 TDs  kept their offense steady and afloat all season.

Stefon Diggs complemented Peterson’s rushing game leading the team in receptions and receiving yardage. He will be a top target for their QB Teddy Bridgewater in the future and Fantasy picks wise.

Their week 6 win against the Chiefs was the 1st of 5 game winning streak, helping them to finish the season winning 9 out of their last 12. They will be looking to bounce back from their heartbreaking loss in the playoffs when their kicker, Blair Walsh missed a 27 yards field goal with 22 seconds game in the NFC Wildcard game.

 

  • Green Bay Packers (10-6)

The last time the Packers entered the playoffs as a wild-card, they won the Super Bowl and ended up winning the division 4 years straight until this campaign. Jordy Nelson’s loss during the preseason due to an injury slowed down their offense.

Despite Aaron Rodgers’ decent numbers, their running back Eddie Lacy struggled to assert himself as the leading rusher splitting the task with James Stark.

They will be a promising contender and favourite to conquer the NFC North throne once again.

 

  • Detroit Lions (7-9)

The Detroit Lions finished their season on a positive note after their terrible 0-6 start. They will also have huge shoes to fill if their superstar receiver Calvin Johnson leaves as rumors are stating. However, this would leave more room to growfor the  22 year old, Eric Ebron a solid fantasy pick for the near future after his impressive season (537 yards, 5 TDS, 47 receptions)

 

  • Chicago Bears (6-10)

The Chicago Bears will have a lot of work to do in the off season. Despite Matt Forte’s season ending injury, the Bears seem to have found their future QB with Jeremy Langford. They will have to recruit more in depth to be a contender for the next few seasons.

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