2015 Division Preview Series: NFC North
Chicago Bears (5-11 in 2014, 4th in NFC North)
How will new offensive coordinator Adam Gase handle the Bears’ offense?
In Denver, Gase had a ton of success, leading the Broncos to top-five finishes in yards per game in both his seasons. Skeptics will say that much of Gase's success has to do with having Peyton Manning along with an extremely talented and deep group of receivers.
Working with the Broncos, Gase loved to throw the football and worked almost exclusively out of three wide receiver sets, seldom putting in heavier blocking packages for run plays. Not to say the Broncos didn't run the ball, but it was an offense clearly designed to play to the obvious talent in the passing game.
With the Bears, the bigger intrigue might not be how Gase brings in the passing attack, but how he uses Matt Forte and the running game. In his two seasons as Broncos offensive coordinator, Gase never had the kind of feature back the Bears have had in Forte.
Who will emerge as a defensive playmaker for the Bears?
Looking at the numbers for the team, the Bears defense was awful a year ago. Looking at the individual numbers, the Bears were not entirely devoid of playmakers, but there are lots of questions entering this season.
The Bears will rely heavily on veterans Jared Allen and Antrel Rolle, but both players are well into their thirties and their effectiveness will certainly be in question. On the flip side, rookies like Eddie Goldman and second year corner Kyle Fuller have talent, but still could face a learning curve early in their pro careers.
Meanwhile, Lamar Houston and Willie Young are both coming off torn ACL and torn Achilles, respectively.
2015 Prediction 6-10, 4th in NFC North
Detroit Lions (11-5 in 2014, 2nd in NFC North)
As great as the Stafford-to-Johnson connection has been, both have seen regressions in their game. Johnson missed some time with an ankle injury last year while Stafford has seen his passing yard totals steadily decrease over the last few seasons.
Detroit is hoping that 2014 first round pick Eric Ebron lives up to his top-ten selection. Meanwhile the Lions rush attack was horrific and Joique Bell was underwhelming last year. Hopefully rookie Ameer Abdullah will provide some spark to the Lions rushing game.
What’s life without Suh?
The Lions opted to let Ndamukong Suh, the most dominant defensive tackle in the league for the last several years, go to Miami. In his place is former Raven Haloti Ngata, a talented tackle in his own right. However, Suh was a force on both runs and pass that he opened things up for many other players.
Aside from Ngata, the Lions will rely heavily on Ziggy Ansah, who will likely draw much more attention from teams in Suh’s absence. Added pressure will also likely be placed on the linebacking corps as Suh often commanded double teams allowing the linebackers an easier time taking on ball carriers.
2015 Prediction 9-7, 3rd in NFC North
Green Bay Packers (12-4 in 2014, 1st in NFC North)
Can the offense keep up its excellence?
The biggest move the Packers made this offseason to address the offense was spending a draft pick on receiver Ty Montgomery. As lame as it sounds, there is so little to question about the Packers offense it is almost unfair. Maybe if Randall Cobb had left there would be some some issue with receiver depth, but that is not the case. As long as Aaron Rodgers stays healthy, the Packer offense should be exceptional once again.
What’s going on with the back seven?
Ted Thompson used three of his five selections on a linebacker or a defensive back in April. At linebacker, Clay Matthews is the only impact player, although Julius Peppers might provide some sort of a pass rush. Late round rookie Jake Ryan could see some playing time, but the Packers are still very thin at linebacker.
In the secondary, rookies Quinton Rollins and Demarious Randall figure to see significant playing time after the Packers lost two starters in Tramon Williams and Davon House to free agency. Safeties Morgan Burnett and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
should still be solid as the Packers’ starting safeties.
2015 Prediction: 13-3, 1st in NFC North
Minnesota Vikings (7-9 in 2014, 3rd in NFC North)
How good can the Viking offense be this year?
At last the VIkings have found their quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater, who arguably had the best season amongst rookie passers despite having no Adrian Peterson, his best receiver being a declining Greg Jennings and an offensive line that surrendered 41 sacks.
The offensive line hasn't really been addressed but Adrian Peterson is back and Jennings is gone in favor of Mike Wallace, thus likely spelling improvement for Bridgewater and the rest of the Viking offense.
Will defensive newcomers make the defense an elite unit?
The Vikings spent their first three draft picks on defensive players to upgrade each of the three layers of defense. Trae Waynes for the secondary, Eric Kendricks for the linebackers and Danielle Hunter for the defensive line. All three should see the field pretty early.
Last year the Vikings defense was actually pretty solid, ranking in the top-15 in several statistical categories all while getting some good play out of their defensive line. If the newcomers can perform at a high level, the defense could make the Vikings a playoff contender.
2015 Prediction: 9-7, 2nd in NFC North