The pre-season is an optimistic time for all fan bases, even the Bears. Let’s take a look at what could go wrong this season for all four NFC North teams.
The Vikings are the defending champs of the division with a target on their back. They play Arizona and Carolina unlike the other three teams. Minnesota has a top 5 defense and a good running game led by Adrian Peterson and Jerrick McKinnon. However, their offense had issues in the passing game due to offensive line, QB and weapon issues in 2015. The Vikings have made changes with Alex Boones\, Laquan Treadwell and Andre Smith plus return John Sullivan at center. They hope Bridgewater can develop into a good QB instead of a game manager. What Could Go Wrong for Minnesota?
Offensive Line pass protection is the biggest issue for Minnesota. They allowed 40% pressure on Bridgewater and the line might not get better despite the changes. If Bridgewater is pressured at a high amount again, he may never develop.
Kalil is in a contract year and has struggled since 2012 at left tackle. Brandon Fusco had a down year at left guard but hopes to better at right guard. John Sullivan is recovering from an injury but has good depth with Joe Berger behind him. Phil Loadholdt retired and Andre Smith didn’t exactly light the world on fire for the Bengals in 2015 at right tackle. TJ Clemmings struggled as a rookie but is now depth. Mike Harris is dealing with an injury which hurts depth. Alex Boone was a nice upgrade at left guard but has some pass protection concerns as well. If the Vikings offensive line struggles, a lot could go wrong for Minnesota.
The next issue is lack of weapons. Treadwell was a nice pick but it takes time for rookies to develop. Diggs had a nice rookie season but there could be a sophomore slump. Charlie Johnson was non-existent after showing good flashes in 2014. Finally, Kyle Rudolph never can be a consistent productive tight end. The Vikings weapons have a lot to prove which could be hard if the offensive line fails.
Defense should be a top five unit unless massive injuries strike. Everson Griffen and Harrison Smith are two players the Vikings can’t lose on defense. Adrian Peterson is another player the Vikings can’t lose.
Finally, Bridgewater must take the next step if the Vikings want a top 10 offense. Running game alone can’t get them there. Big plays may be needed in the playoffs from a QB.
Finally, Peterson is 30 years old and has a lot of carries. At some point, Peterson could slow down. Will that be 2016?
Detroit has made a lot of improvements under GM Bob Quinn. They have plenty of weapons for Stafford and addressed their tackle and offensive line depth issue. The Jim Bob Cooter scheme gets a full season to be put in place and was successful in the final 8 in 2015. Will the young offensive line gel quickly enough for Stafford to be successful with his weapons? If the rookie Decker and Tomlinson and Swanson struggle, the Lions offense could regress from the 26 PPG they scored with Cooter. The Lions still managed to do well with Cooter and those players with exception of Decker. Decker is better than Ola and we’ll see if he is better than 2015 Reiff at left tackle.
The Lions run game was awful in 2015 but improved under Cooter. Can Abdullah stay healthy and avoid fumbles? Can a power back emerge from Zach Zenner or Dwayne Washington? If Detroit is bottom third in the league in rushing, it makes it harder on Stafford, the offensive line and the weapons. Detroit must prove to have an average run game.
Detroit’s defense improved tremendously in the second half of last season. Nevin Lawson and Quandre Diggs must prove it is not a fluke. If they play poorly in 2016, Detroit could have pass defense problems. Rafael Bush and Tavon Wilson have things to prove at strong safety as well. DeAndre Levy must return to form in coverage as well. Slay, Quinn and Whitehead will cover well as always.
The biggest problem with Detroit is turnovers. Twenty turnovers (12 ints and 8 fumbles) in 8 games and they went 1-7 to start the season. Four turnovers in final 8 games and they went 6-2. Detroit can be its own worst enemy. Detroit was +11 and +6 in 2011 and 2014 and won 10 and 11 games. Detroit was -16 and -17 in 2012 and 2013 and won 4 and 7 games. They live and die by the turnovers.
Detroit can’t afford an injury to Matt Stafford, Ameer Abdullah, two of their six top weapons, Riley Reiff, Ziggy Ansah, Haloti Ngata, Darius Slay or Glover Quin.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers offense was average in 2015 after the Jordy Nelson injury despite a very strong first 6 games. Jordy Nelson is off PUP but he must prove he is the same player. This is not a given. What could go wrong for the Packers?
Davonte Adams and Randall Cobb must step up their game and Ty Montgomery must do more than the flashes he showed in the first 6 games in 2015. The Packers have talented weapons but the production just wasn’t there in 2015. We’ll see if it’s a trend and how much it is dependent on the Jordy Nelson of old returning, if he even does return.
The Packers defense was above average with a good secondary in 2015. The run defense had issues in 2015 and is still very unproven. The young ILBs and nose tackle have a lot to prove for the Packers. Damarius Randall and Quentin Rollins must avoid sophomore slumps and the depth is gone with Hayward bolting for the Chargers. Hyde is an average slot guy but is also backup safety. Average can be attacked in this league. Burnett has some down years in coverage as well and sometimes Shields gives up big yards. Shields also seems to miss a few games each season.
The hype is there for Eddie Lacy to return to 2014 form. Will it happen is the question? Less weight could help or it could hurt his ability to break tackles.
Aaron Rodgers must get back to his 100+ QB rating form. His weapon issues and 35% pressure allowed from the offensive line hindered him. Can Green Bay improve enough to allow Rodgers to shine?
Speaking of the offensive line, the depth took a hit with Corey Linsley’s injury (PUP) and promotion of JC Tretter to offensive starter. Bryan Bulaga had some struggles in 2015 and Bakhtiari has penalty and run blocking woes. Can Green Bay get back to sub 30% pressure for Rodgers? Can they help Lacy be a 4.5 YPC or at better running back?
The Packers can’t afford injuries to Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson, Sitton/Lang, Randall Cobb, Julius Peppers, Clinton-Dix, Clay Matthews or Mike Daniels.
The Bears have offensive line problems and an injury to Kyle Long. They are in trouble if they can’t protect Cutler or run the ball. They lost Grasu to injury as well and Ted Larsen isn’t very good. Leno struggled in 2015 at left tackle and Massie was average for the Cardinals at right tackle. Cody Whitehair is a rookie which takes time to develop. The Bears could have major offensive line issues.
Jay Cutler had his best season in 2015. Unfortunately for him, it was only a 92 QB rating. The Bears lost OC Adam Gase and this could hurt Cutler. If Cutler regresses to a mid-80s QB with high interceptions, the losses will pile up for Chicago.
The Bears running backs are so unproven with a poor offensive line. If they can’t run the ball it makes it harder for Cutler, his line and his weapons.
The Bears secondary has many young players and Kyle Fuller is hurt. Chicago could get torched through the air this season despite major improvements in the front 7. Bears fans must hope their pass rush is strong enough to mask the secondary. Pernell McPhee being hurt doesn’t help matters.
There are a lot of things that could go wrong for every North team. Which ones will go wrong is the question? Who will be hurt? Which deficiencies can be masked and what areas will be fixed? The season is a few weeks away and we’ll find out soon enough.