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GZL14 | NFC North | Balance in the Black 'n Blue Division?
By Matt Spencer
Special to gzl-football.com

GZL DIVISION PREVIEW
NFC North
Thursday, January 10th, 2014
Matt Spencer, GreenZone Media Committee



Green Bay Packers

Key Additions:
FB Mike Tolbert | WR Larry Fitzgerald
DE Robert Mathis | OL Davin Joseph
OL Charlie Johnson | QB Matt Cassel
P Craig Tate

Key Losses:
LB DeMeco Ryans | QB Alex Smith | RE Cullen Jenkins
SS Nick Collins | FB Oren O'Neal | DT Jay Ratliff
SS Adrian Wilson | LG Khalif Barnes

Strengths:
The Defensive front seven of this team is one to be reckoned with. The linebacking crew is a murderer's row of Mingo/Poz/Lawson/Matthews which is probably the best group of linebackers in the league. The beef up front starts with Dontari Poe and Johnny Jolly, two very athletic big men. The acquisition of Robert Mathis to play on the edge is yet another way this front seven can wreak havoc on opposing offenses. This should be a unit that is very tough against the run, and if they indeed get after the Quarterback like they can, should help a young but developing secondary.

Weaknesses:
I'm still not sold on Jimmy Claussen, and I don't think that General Manager Kevin Mullendore is either. That's why he brought in veteran Matt Cassell to challenge the youngster to bring his game to the next level. The team also brought in veteran stud WR Larry Fitzgerald to see if that could help kickstart the passing game.

MVP:
WR Larry Fitzgerald - Fitz should help take a lot of the pressure off the young Jimmy Clausen, if he's the starter. Clausen had a horrific season in 2013 and the presence of a veteran receiver such as Fitz will bring his numbers to a more respectable level as well as keep the offense rolling. If Cassell wins the job, then expect the two to hook up for plenty of touchdowns this year.

Prediction:
9-7 | After settling for an 8-8 record while their Quarterback threw for 26 interceptions, I expect to see an improvement from that position. I really like the looks of the front seven on defense and think that it will help cover up some holes in the secondary.


Chicago Bears

Key Additions:
HB Chris Johnson | WR Braylan Edwards | MLB Bryan Keith

Key Losses:
HB Matt Forte | HB Darren McFadden

Strengths:
Tell me where you've heard this before. If the Bears can keep Jay Cutler upright and off the trainer's table, this should be one of the more explosive offenses in the league in 2014. Cutler has a couple of new weapons in Chris Johnson and Braylan Edwards that can bring the big play ability back to Chi-Town. Many were displeased with GM Zach Clarkson for dealing Forte for CJ2K, but Johnson has never carried for less than 4 YPC and his game-breaking ability could be the difference in a few games a year.

Weaknesses:
The offensive line of the Bears doesn't include any stud-muffins. They are all ho-hum, nothing special and nothing too pitiful, but as a collective group they leave us wanting more for this offense. Cutler could be in line to face more pressure than he has in years past, which could be conducive to fewer touchdowns and more interceptions.

MVP:
QB Jay Cutler - He's the guy. He's the guy to get the ball to Edwards and Knox on the outside, Gates and Olson over the middle. Cutler had a very good year in 2013, and for the Bears to compete, he'll have to have a repeat performance.

Prediction:
8-8 | There just wasn't enough movement here to predict anything else. CJ for Forte, a wash. Braylan Edwards? How much impact could he truly have. I see a lot of grass being stuck in Cutler's helmet this season, which could derail a potentially historic offense.


Detroit Lions

Key Additions:
C Olin Kreutz | WR Mohamed Massaquoi | SS Major Wright
FB Brit Miller | HB Lamar Miller | FS Aaron Rouse

Key Losses:
WR Greg Jennings | C Eric Heitmann | TE Tony Scheffler
FB Patrick DiMarco | SS Antrel Rolle | CB Fabian Washington

Strengths:
Matt Stafford to Calvin Johnson. If both stay healthy, expect big years from both once again. They have two 1600 yard backs on the roster. The Lions also have a sneaky good front seven led by none other than Ndamukong Suh and Allen Bailey. Jimmy Smith can shut down anybody and suddenly we're looking at a team with plenty of strengths and has won 9 games for three consecutive seasons. The NFC's Super Bowl representative from 2013 looks to have some good pieces lined up for the 2014 season.

Weaknesses:
There aren't a ton of holes on the roster so we'll nitpick the secondary a little bit. I'm very unimpressed by the group of safeties, even if there are some big OVR numbers that try to jump out of the screen and say otherwise. Also, besides Jimmy Smith, there's not much to love at the Corner position either. Brandon Flowers is a great player but his size is so detrimental to his game that even the big interception totals are kind of washed away when looking at the catches he allows.

MVP:
WR Calvin Johnson - Some might say Stafford is the man who makes it all work, but there's no matching what CJ can do for an offense. He'll make opposing defenses gameplan around him and open things up underneath for the possession receivers and the running game.

Prediction:
11-5 | This is my pick for division winner so long as GM Tom Riddel doesn't go all New York Jets on the roster and continues to spend half his days gameplanning. Big years for Stafford and CJ and a surprisingly good defense.

Minnesota Vikings

Key Additions:
SF Sherrod Martin | SS Devin Ford | DT Shariff Floyd
C Mike Golic Jr.

Key Losses:
LG Steve Hutchinson | DT Albert Haynesworth | DT Kevin Williams
C Olin Kreutz | SS Corey Webster |

Strengths:
Another strong passing attack lies within the division, making it 3 out of 4. The Vikings' is a little more controlled, dink and dunk almost with Colt McCoy leading the way. Last year's rookie of the year finalist, David Wilson leads a very well designed running game. On the defensive side of the ball, Brandon Graham and Pierre Allen are an awesome combination on the Ends, but the losses of Haynesworth and Williams in the middle may allow teams to double to the outside instead of the inside in years past. There is also a lot to like about the combination of Derek Cox and Chris Cook at the Corner position as both stand above 6'1" and have good athleticism.

Weaknesses:
As was just mentioned, the loss of two freakish DT's in the middle may have a trickle effect on the rest of the defense. The Vikings can no longer count on those two taking up 3 or 4 blockers per play and could allow other teams to have big offensive days on the ground. There are also worries on the other side of the ball in the same area as Kreutz and Hutchinson move on, who will be there to step in and fill those shoes?

MVP:
Hmmm....tough one here. I think it's a toss up between HB David Wilson who keeps the offense on time, in down and distance and DE Brandon Graham who has just played outstanding defensive football for the past three seasons. He's the continual motor that every GM covets in a defensive end. It will be interesting to see if his sack numbers plummet after the loss of his two buddies on the interior of the line.

Prediction:
8-8 | We will likely see a step back for this team as it deals with replacing some figureheads along both sides of the trench. I truly believe that teams will be able to run much more freely on them.

Hope you enjoyed and stay tuned for the next edition as we flip conferences and tackle the AFC South.

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