With the Position Breakdown series in full swing, the next division under the microscope is the NFC North. Here’s an offensive position-by-position breakdown of the division, with “the best” at each position followed by “the rest” in descending order.
Check out the defensive breakdown here.
NFC NORTH BREAKDOWN BY POSITION: THE OFFENSE
The Best: GB
The Rest: DET, MIN, CHI
What can you say about the reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers that hasn’t been said before? He is the best quarterback in the league let alone the division. Rodgers threw for 4,381 yards, 38 touchdowns and only five interceptions in 2014. He is an elite quarterback at the height of his game, and barring injury he will help make the Green Bay Packers hard to beat.
Detroit Lions quarterback Matt Stafford suffered a down year in 2014, perhaps due to a change in coaching, and if he is unable to regain his form, questions will start to be asked about the team’s long term health on offense.
Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater surprised many with his ability to acclimatize to the NFL and help the team win through adverse conditions. Many analysts have said they believe Bridgewater will shine in his second season with the Vikings.
Jay Cutler, the quarterback of the Chicago Bears, is somewhat of an enigma. The 2014 season was statistically one of his better years at quarterback, but he still somehow managed to lose games, and at one point was benched.
The Best: MIN
The Rest: GB, CHI, DET
Adrian Peterson has had an interesting year to say the least. He accrued only 75 yards rushing during the 2014 season before legal trouble cost Peterson the remaining 15 games. At 30 years old, it would be expected that Peterson would start to dip in form, but, as many know, you should never underestimate Adrian Peterson.
Green Bay’s Eddie Lacy is right on Peterson’s heals, and a drop in the Vikings running back’s production would allow Lacy to top this list. Rushing for 1,139 yards in 2014, he averaged 4.6 yards per carry, finally bringing stability to the Packers ground game.
Chicago’s Matt Forte had a down year in 2014, only averaging 3.9 yards a carry, and he is fast approaching the infamous 30th birthday. It remains to be seen if Forte can bounce back or if he has entered his decline.
Detroit has invested a lot to improve their run game by drafting a guard and a running back early in the 2015 draft. The Lions cut Reggie Bush and they will enter this season with Joique Bell and second-round pick Ameer Abdullah as their running backs. The Lions ranked 28th in the league in rushing yards per game in 2014, and while they might improve in 2015, they still appear to have the weakest run game in the division.
The Best: CHI The Rest: MIN, DET, GB
Chicago Bears tight end Martellus Bennett boasted the most receptions by a tight end in 2014. The 6-foot-6, 265 pound tight end caught a team record 90 passes for 916 yards and six touchdowns. Bennett has become one of the more reliable targets in Chicago’s passing offense.
If Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph can stay healthy this season, the Vikings could have one of the strongest units in the league. But that is a pretty big if. Rudolph has missed 15 of the team’s last 32 games, and another injury marred season could see his contract come into question.
The Lions were left wanting with Eric Ebron’s performance in 2014, and they are hoping that he improves in his sophomore year. Brandon Pettigrew has become a more traditional blocking tight end over the last three seasons and he may be looking for a new team in 2016.
Uncertainty rules at tight end for Green Bay. Andrew Quarless may face league punishment for discharging a fire arm in public over the Fourth of July weekend. Richard Rodgers showed flashes towards the end of last season, but in such a pass heavy system you would expect more from the tight end position.
The Best: GB The Rest: DET, CHI, MIN
With such a great quarterback, receivers tend to have great games, and Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson both posted over 1,000 yards receiving last season. This made them the best receiver duo in the NFC North, and as long as Rodgers is passing to them it is unlikely to change in 2015. UPDATE: With Nelson’s injury, Green Bay have to hope Davante Adams can step up and perform like he did in the playoffs.
Detroit’s Calvin Johnson suffered a down year in 2014, only playing in 13 games due to injury. In his absence Golden Tate had a career year catching 99 passes for 1,331 yards, and the only blemish on Tate’s record is that he only found the end zone four times.
Chicago traded Brandon Marshall to the New York Jets during the offseason and then invested a first-round pick on six-foot-three receiver Kevin White. Alshon Jeffery has been a continuous threat down the field since joining Chicago in 2012, and with Marshall gone, the Bears need White to recover quickly from surgery.
Minnesota has a lot of talent in their receiving corps, but this talent has not translated to results on the field. After acquiring Mike Wallace from Miami, the Vikings hope that he can become the deep threat Teddy Bridgewater needs. Time will tell, but this unit could improve quickly and move up this list.
The Best: GB The Rest: DET, CHI, MIN
Green Bay made sure that they kept continuity along the offensive line by re-signing Bryan Bulaga early in the offseason. The offensive line has done a relatively good job keeping Rodgers upright. They allowed 28 sacks during the 2014 campaign and ranked second on Pro Football Focus’ pass efficiency table. The unit has also improved in run protection, averaging 119.8 yards per game in 2014.
Detroit has invested heavily to protect Matt Stafford and improve their run game, including drafting guard Laken Tomlinson with their first pick in this year’s draft. Tomlinson joins a unit that is one of the youngest in the NFL after several veterans were let go during the offseason.
Chicago had one of the more lackluster offensive lines of 2014, and the unit was unable to stay healthy as they gave up 41 sacks. The addition of Will Montgomery and rookie Hroniss Grasu at center are welcome, and the team hopes that Pro Bowler Kyle Long continues to improve.
Minnesota gave up a staggering 51 sacks and allowed 94 hits on the quarterback last season. This unit was decimated by injury, with only left tackle Matt Kalil and center John Sullivan playing the entire 2014 season. The team hopes that a move from right to left guard for Brandon Fusco will help better protect their quarterback. But the loss of Phil Loadholt is a big concern.