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A conversation on the 2015-16 NFC North

September 12, 2015

We're nearing the end of the off season. Previously we've discussed the following divisions: AFC East, NFC East, AFC West, NFC West, AFC South, and NFC South. What  follows from here is a look at the NFC North:

Is that you, Teddy Bridgewater? I hardly recognized you in your state of Kafkaesque turmoil.
Minnesota Vikings

Dan Brody: I think they could end up being the second best team in the division.

Bryan Harvey: Really?

Dan Brody: Take that as you will.

Mike Langston: From an outsider’s perspective, as in someone who has nothing at stake in this division, this doesn’t look like a team that is just one or two pieces away like they were a few years ago. They’ve definitely moved backwards and not forwards.

Bryan Harvey: I might be with Mike on this one. I also could be under the sway of noticing one of their backup quarterbacks has the last name Kafka, which has me imagining the whole team undergoing either an absurd trial or a grotesque metamorphosis. Maybe these things have even happened already. Anyway, I foresee a Viking season full of intense introspection and Adrian Peterson achieving redemption through farce.

Dan Brody: No one knows what you’re talking about, Bryan. And regardless, this team really does stand a shot at being the second best team in the division. Teddy Bridgewater could end up being a solid starter.

Bryan Harvey: If that happens, I just see it driving Washington fans even further to the brink. Pretty much every time a quarterback drafted in the last couple years makes it, they’ll be driven even further to the brink.

Mike Langston: And?

Bryan Harvey: And it’ll be Kafka-esque. Anyway, what makes you think Bridgewater is the answer?

Dan Brody: I don’t know. Just the more I read about him and the more snaps he takes. He’s moving towards being a legit NFL quarterback. His weapons are also better. I like his having Mike Wallace at receiver this season, and I like what Minnesota has at the tight end position in Kyle Rudolph.

Mike Langston: And Peterson’s back. That’ll make the biggest difference between his first and second year.

Dan Brody: Who else was drafted with Bridgewater?

Bryan Harvey: Paul Simon.

Dan Brody: It was the draft with Bortles and Derek Carr. Who am I forgetting?

Bryan Harvey: Johnny Manziel.

Dan Brody: The advantage he has over Manziel is that he’s actually a pocket passer. Everyone knew Manziel was a future bust.

Mike Langston: Not Jerry Jones.

Dan Brody: His rookie numbers were solid. He threw for almost 3,000 yards. He completed 14 touchdowns. He had only 12 interceptions. The team’s record was 7-9. He seems like a building block.

Bryan Harvey: I do think there’s something to Bridgewater being overly criticized his last year in college. Maybe there’s the possibility that his career could end up having a Drew Brees-like trajectory. If not Brees in New Orleans, then at least Brees in San Diego.

Mike Langston: What do you guys think about the defense?

Dan Brody: Vikings tend to be solid on defense.

Bryan Harvey: It does seem to be a foundational aspect of Viking identity. When I was a kid, I remember my uncle always talking about Fran Tarkenton and the Purple People Eaters. I also remember fearing John Randle and his Batman eye make-up. Then there was the heyday of Jared Allen. This unit seems destined by legacy alone to be at least passable as a respected unit.

Mike Langston: This team could go for eight wins, but not much more. There’s also a part of me that wonders whether or not it would have been better to move away from Peterson and into a clear rebuilding process around Bridgewater.

Bryan Harvey: They really should adopt Simon’s “Like a Bridge over Troubled Water” as their anthem. Anyway, eight wins would be one more than last year. Will it be good enough to make good on your prediction, Dan?

Dan Brody: It won’t hurt.

"I could fire you so fast." "I could throw it over the middle & have you killed."
Detroit Lions

Dan Brody: Goodbye, Suh. Hello, Ngata.

Bryan Harvey: I always thought Suh was somewhat overhyped. If not in talent, then in what his talent could do for a team’s overall performance.

Dan Brody: I’d agree with that.

Mike Langston: I think it’s hard to spin any positives out of his departure.

Bryan Harvey: Maybe his departure isn’t positive, but I’m not sure it’s necessarily a negative either. I think it just is.

Dan Brody: There will be no more stepping on people in the NFC North.

Bryan Harvey: Exactly. Over the course of a year, he just seemed to negate himself.

Dan Brody: Ngata will be switching from a 3-4 scheme to a 4-3.

Bryan Harvey: Will playing in a 4-3 be easier for him?

Dan Brody: It’s still different.

Bryan Harvey: They also lost Fairley from Auburn. That nightmarish line dissipated quickly.

Mike Langston: Can you think of another team who twice had arguably the best of his generation and twice had nothing to show for it? First, they had Barry. And now, they have Calvin.

Bryan Harvey: A deep groan full of a pain beyond football just rose from Detroit’s empty streets.

Dan Brody: I think this is an 8-8 team .Stafford will be Stafford. He’s Cutler without the attitude.

Bryan Harvey: I wish Stafford being Stafford was a compliment. Instead, he seems fine, until he predictably isn’t. .500 could be a possibility, unless Stafford is better, which is to say, consistent. I wonder if moving to more sets with two tight ends, Ebron and Pettigrew, might cut back on the mistakes he makes due to careless aggression.

Dan Brody: I just don’t see Stafford changing. 

Bryan Harvey: It should be noted that he’s still just 26. He’s started approximately the same number of seasons that Rodgers sat behind Favre. Not saying he’s destined to be Rodgers, but he does have more time and youth on his side than we may realize. Part of me wonders if this is still an issue of image more than anything.

Dan Brody: Speaking of image, the Lions have a guy named Manny Ramirez on the front line.

Bryan Harvey: Ha!

Mike Langston: Can you imagine what Manny being Manny would look like on the football field?

Dan Brody: Yeah, a dead Matthew Stafford.

"And Jay, I'll tell you something else Peyton wouldn't do--"
Chicago Bears

Dan Brody: The Bears are the worst team in the division, and I’m saying that as a Bears fan.

Bryan Harvey: I’ll take your word for it, but I also want to hear why.

Mike Langston: Are you also hoping it's Kafka-esque?

Bryan Harvey: They don't use that term in Chicago. On the shores of Lake Michigan, they say Cutler-esque. 

Dan Brody: It’s simple—the defense will be awful again. A bit better but still awfully bad. They spent a second round pick on Eddie Goldman to play nose tackle, but they’re also going to be counting on old guys like Jared Allen to transition from playing defensive end in a 4-3 scheme to playing outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. It’s not going to work. 

Bryan Harvey: Yeah, that’s a tough transition for a 33-year-old to make, but I guess there’s the outside chance that if Peppers could do it in Green Bay, then Allen can do it in Chicago. Maybe.

Dan Brody: I wouldn’t bet on it.

Bryan Harvey: Okay, so the defense is awful. What about the offense?

Dan Brody: Well, they spent the seventh pick in the draft on Kevin White from West Virginia. An injury was hidden all summer and during camp he had surgery. He’s done for the season. I just don’t see them winning more than five games.

Mike Langston: In an alternate universe, Aaron Rodgers is a Bear, and they’re the most fun offensive team in the league.

Dan Brody: I don’t believe in alternate universes, only this one.

Mike Langston: Well, in this one, they have Cutler, the Jeff George of his generation. Will John Fox be able to wrangle the talent from Cutler’s arm? I mean, that’s their only shot.

Bryan Harvey: The problem is just that. Cutler’s talent rests solely in his arm. Meanwhile, his head is resigned to thinking unhappy thoughts.

Dan Brody: Look the offense is just going to be bland. Cutler will probably even have a better year than last, and Forte will be Forte. Yet Fox’s presence isn’t transforming the Bears into the Broncos. It’ll be bland and, then, some more bland.

Bryan Harvey: Did you see Forte’s jersey is selling better than Rodgers’ in Wisconsin?

Dan Brody: Probably just means he’ll sign there next year.

Bryan Harvey: I thought Alshon Jeffrey would have been better by this point in his career.

Dan Brody: What do you mean?

Bryan Harvey: After watching him at South Carolina, I just thought he was going to light up the NFL.

Dan Brody: Bryan, he’s been a Pro-Bowler.  He’s probably one of the best wideouts in the NFL. Maybe not top ten, but top twenty. He finished fourteenth in yards and thirteenth in touchdowns last year.What more are you expecting out of him?

Bryan Harvey: I guess I just thought he had the talent to redeem Jay Cutler.

Dan Brody: That’s not going to happen, ever.

"My number's gonna get called so much this year."
Green Bay Packers

Mike Langston: This may be the only team with no questions at the quarterback position, making them an easy choice to win the division. However, with arguably the best QB in the league, the goal isn’t just winning the division. Can we expect more from them this year?

Dan Brody: So what do you think, Bryan? 15-1?

Bryan Harvey: I’m thinking something more in line with 11-5 or 12-4. I think they’ll probably lose at home to Seattle, possibly to either Kansas City or San Diego, at either Minnesota or Detroit, and then either to Dallas or Arizona.

Dan Brody: And you think I’m a pessimist? Your team isn’t finishing worse than 13-3. You have games in the loss column I think are definite wins. They’ll run away with the division.

Bryan Harvey: I agree with that, at least as long as they stay healthy. I just don’t know if Jordy Nelson is the last injury they’re going to suffer on offense.

Mike Langston: The loss of Jordy is obviously huge. But the Packers, not unlike the Patriots, always have unknowns become seemingly bigtime contributors.

Dan Brody: They also have unknown knowns. You think James Jones can make up for Jordy Nelson’s absence?

Bryan Harvey: I like that there’s familiarity between Jones and Rodgers. He’ll help. I just don’t know if anyone currently on Green Bay’s roster can presently do what Jordy Nelson could do. I don’t think the offense will do what the offense has done because I think everything will have to exist within a smaller space. Jordy Nelson increases the size of the field, which is tougher for a defense. Now, in his absence, the field will shrink, which means the room for error is less than it was before. Rodgers will need to be even better than in the past.

Dan Brody: You’re also forgetting they still have Eddie Lacy.

Bryan Harvey: He also doesn’t seem to get going until about halfway through the year. Again, they’ll be good this year, but I’m not expecting the offense to be a well-oiled machine, especially at the start of the season.

Mike Langston: What about the defense?

Dan Brody: There’s Dom Capers the genius, and there’s Dom Capers the heartbroken gambler.

Bryan Harvey: I’m optimistic about having BJ Raji back and playing, but I also know deep down that he’s probably somewhat overrated because of the defensive touchdown he scored in this team’s last Super Bowl run. I also don’t know what they’re going to have in terms of consistency at the inside linebacker spot. They’re probably going to end up moving Clay Matthews back forth from the inside to the outside. Last year, the unit was better against the run with him on the outside, but that meant he wasn’t always pressuring the quarterback. I don’t think losing AJ Hawk and Tramon Williams will be that traumatic. It would be nice if guys like Nick Perry, Ha HA Clinton-Dix, and Morgan Burnett would live up to their initial scouting reports.

Dan Brody: Bryan, none of that matters if you’re scoring over 30 points a game.

Bryan Harvey: I don’t know if this team is as high octane as some Green Bay teams in the past.
Mike Langston: Alright, I agree with Dan. You’re being overly pessimistic.

Bryan Harvey: I could be overvaluing Jordy Nelson, which is the same as undervaluing Aaron Rodgers.

Dan Brody: What do you expect ultimately from this team?

Bryan Harvey: Green Bay wins the division and reaches the NFC Championship Game. If that game is in Seattle again, then I think they fall short of the Super Bowl for a second consecutive year. If it’s in Green Bay, I think they could be playing for a second title under Mike McCarthy.

Dan Brody: And how do you have everyone else finishing?

Bryan Harvey: I think Detroit finishes in second, and it’s a toss-up between Minnesota and Chicago for the last two spots.

Dan Brody: Do you have anyone else making the Playoffs?

Bryan Harvey: Only Green Bay.

Mike Langston: Yeah, anyone else is a stretch.

Dan Brody: I agree. I’m picking the following finish: Green Bay, Minnesota, Detroit, and Chicago in last place. After Green Bay, this might actually be the worst division in the Conference.

Bryan Harvey: And I’m the pessimist? 

Dan Brody's places of residence include Chicago, Virginia, Milwaukee, and Pittsburgh. He currently lives in San Diego. Mike Langston lives in Virginia and tweets @LangstonLCB. Bryan Harvey lives in Virginia and tweets @LawnChairBoys


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