2017 NFC South division preview

2017 NFC North division preview

The NFL regular season is fast approaching. In the blink of an eye, Sep. 7 will arrive and the Chiefs and Patriots will be kicking off the 2017-2018 NFL season. In the meantime, Hagan’s Haus will be bringing you the divisional previews and predictions of how teams will finish in their respective divisions. Without further ado, here is the 2017 NFC North division preview.

4: Detroit Lions

2017 NFC South division preview

(Photo Credit:https://images.fantasypros.com)

Last season: 9-7

Strength of schedule: 21

The Detroit Lions made the playoffs on the back of Matthew Stafford and it was barely enough. Detroit’s defense was bad considering the little amount of time they spent on the field. The schedule is relatively easy but the Bears, Vikings and Packers all made vast improvements.

As mentioned previously, the Lions’ defense is bad. They spent the second fewest amount of plays on the field at just 60.2 per game but ranked 13th in points (22.4), 19th in passing yards allowed per game (269.2) and 18th in rushing yards allowed (106.3). Stafford and the rest of the offense kept the defense off the field and they still couldn’t stop a nosebleed.

A great defense starts with a fearsome defensive line. Ezekiel Ansah is not healthy yet and without him, there is no legitimate pass rusher. Haloti Ngata is well past his prime and will not be able to hold down the fort in the middle. The linebacking corp is young and will be starting a rookie linebacker. There is potential but a rookie linebacker isn’t going to turn this defense into a world beater.

Detroit’s secondary is led by Darius Slay and Glover Quin, both are great players who don’t get enough credit for how good they are. The problem is they can’t cover for eternity and without a pass rush something bad will transpire.

With a below average defense, the offense will be expected to carry the team yet again. Stafford proved he could do that but how long can he continue to do so without a running game to balance out the offense? The Lions did not have a running back carry the ball 100 times. None of their running backs ran for more than 360 yards. Opposing defenses won’t have to spend more than five minutes preparing for the Lions’ running game.

The passing attack is missing a true number one receiver. Golden Tate is not a true number one and Marvin Jones is barely a number two receiver. Somehow, Matthew Stafford still makes it work. This year his shoulders will not be able to make up for all the team’s deficiencies. Due to a below average defense, a one-dimensional offense and an improved division, the Lions struggle mightily.

Prediction: 3-13 (0-6), miss the playoffs

3: Chicago Bears

2017 NFC South division preview

(Photo Credit: https://images.fantasypros.com)

Last season: 3-13

Strength of schedule: 19

The Bears were ravaged by injury last season. They also struggled in close games, going 1-7 in games decided by seven points or less. Many believe that had they remained healthy they would have been a better team. Unfortunately for Bears fans, the team didn’t really agree with that because they hit the reset button by moving on from Jay Cutler and signing Mike Glennon and trading up for Mitchell Trubisky. The Bears may be talented but could be in for a rough 2017.

There is no question the Bears possess one of the most talented offensive lines in the entire league. The line is so good it is ranked fifth by Pro Football Focus. Jordan Howard benefited the most from this solid unit, rushing for 1,313 yards in his rookie season. There is no reason the Bears can’t duplicate this success on the ground this season.

The problem with the Bears’ offense is in the passing game. Mike Glennon is not the guy and has looked shaky in the preseason. Mitchell Trubisky has shown some flashes, although it has been against backups and vanilla defenses. Trubisky has also looked best on rollouts in which he only has to read half of the field. Good defensive coordinators will be able to minimize his ability over the course of a 60-minute game. Trubisky may be the guy of the future, but this season the Bears are not in a position to succeed due to their quarterback situation.

Bears’ fans should be optimistic about the defense. They are fast and athletic, a typical John Fox defense. The front seven is good and highly underrated. Leonard Floyd has looked outstanding and will be playing alongside Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Wille Young, Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan, all of which are big time players.

The only question for the Bear’s defense is the secondary. Former first round pick Kyle Fuller seems to be in the doghouse with coaches. Marcus Cooper and Prince Amukamara are the starting corners. Both have been too inconsistent to really know how they will perform this season. The current safety tandem of Adrian Amos and Quinton Demps also have a lot to prove. Eddie Jackson will likely end up in the starting lineup by seasons end.

The Bears are in a tough division with the Packers and Vikings. Chicago may not be admitting it but they are still rebuilding. The defense is coming together but a questionable secondary will hurt them. The bread and butter of the offense will be the running game but quarterback play will leave much to be desired. The Bears are on the right track but will have another long season before getting where they want to be.

 

Prediction: 4-12 (2-4), miss the playoffs

2: Minnesota Vikings

2017 NFC South division preview

(Photo Credit: https://images.fantasypros.com)

Last season: 8-8

Strength of schedule: 27

It is very hard to fathom how the Vikings finished 8-8 considering everything they had to endure last season. Franchise quarterback goes down on a non-contact injury. An injury so bad that Teddy Bridgewater said he could have lost his leg. Adrian Peterson played in two games and his Vikings’ career was abruptly over. Minnesota also lost approximately 500 offensive linemen. Okay, not that many but you get the point.

The Vikings are led by their extremely talented defense. Defensive ends Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter have the talent and ability to combine for 30 plus sacks. Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks can defend the run and the pass due to how fast and athletic they are.

The secondary is led by Harrison “The Hitman” Smith, arguably the most underrated player of the last 20 years. Smith can do it all from playing the pass, coming up and making a tackle in the run game or even blitzing and sacking the quarterback. He is a true swiss army knife that Mike Zimmer gets everything out of.

Xavier Rhodes is also a top three corner and is disrespected around the league outside of Minnesota. I can put countless stats of how good he is, but all that needs to be said is record breaking Odell Beckham Jr. got shut down so badly that he said football wasn’t fun anymore after facing Rhodes.

Minnesota’s defense is a top three unit and anything less would be a huge disappointment to both the fans and head coach Mike Zimmer.

Offensively, the Vikings have some work to do. The offensive line was in shambles last season, paving the way for the worst rushing attack in the NFL at 75.3 yards per game. Minnesota has a new look offensive line with Riley Reiff, Nick Easton and Mike Remmers. Rookie interior lineman Pat Eflein may also get an opportunity to contribute this season. If the offensive line can be an average NFL unit, the Vikings will become extremely dangerous.

Longtime franchise cornerstone Adrian Peterson is gone. Latavius Murray was signed and Florida State’s all-time leading rusher, Dalvin Cook, will look to replace the Viking’s greatest running back. The two are more than capable and Minnesota will have an improved rushing attack.

Football minds outside of Minnesota say their receiving corp is weak but Stephon Diggs and Adam Thielen are more than capable of both topping 1,000 yards. Paired with Kyle Rudolph, the Vikings have more than enough weapons to have a top 15 passing attack. Sam Bradford will continue to protect the football and this offense will be leaps and bounds better than it was last season.

With one of the easiest schedules in the league, a top three defense and a much-improved offense the Vikings will be in contention for a playoff spot.

Prediction: 10-6 (4-2), wildcard candidate

1: Green Bay Packers

2017 NFC South division preview

(Photo Credit: https://images.fantasypros.com)

Last season: 10-6

Strength of schedule: 18

There are two words on why the Packers deserve to be the favorite in the NFC North. Aaron Rodgers. Despite not having a running game and a secondary that most colleges wouldn’t start, Rodgers was still able to carry the Packers to the NFC Championship.

This team goes as far as Rodgers can take them despite their deficiencies. Green Bay has a wide receiver who has converted to running back and will most likely lose his spot to Jamaal Williams during the season. When that happens the Packers offense will improve.

Green Bay is a lock to make the playoffs, they have made the postseason for eight straight seasons and nine of the 11 seasons that McCarthy has been in charge.

Rodgers has been given plenty of offensive weapons to throw the ball to. Jordy Nelson is a top five wideout and Davante Adams had a breakout season in 2016 catching 12 touchdowns. Randall Cobb seems like a forgotten man but is a playmaker with the ball in his hands. Health is the only thing capable of holding him back. The Packers also improved their tight end position by adding Martellus Bennett. Rodgers has been set up to succeed in the passing game and can throw for 5,000 yards and 40 touchdowns.

The Packers Achilles heel is on the defensive side of the ball. Green Bay’s secondary got torched in the NFC Championship game. Davon House, Quinten Rollins, Morgan Burnett and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix have a lot to prove this season.

Nick Perry and Clay Matthews are the known studs at linebacker but Blake Martinez and Jake Ryan are more of the question marks who must step up if this team wants to become a Super Bowl contender.

The Packers will make the playoffs because that is what they do under Mike McCarthy. It helps to have Aaron Rodgers as the quarterback too. Green Bay will make the playoffs, and likely win the division, but must watch out for the Vikings who will be on their tail.

Prediction: 11-5 (5-1), division champion

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Keys to the NFL Divisional Playoffs

NFL fans and media rarely agree on much. However, I think we can all agree that Wild Card weekend did not produce much excitement or competitive football. While it is a little early in the week to pick the divisional playoff matchups, here is a key to each.

 

Seahawks at Falcons- Are the Falcons ready for the big time?

Seattle should have zero concerns about being ready for a game like this. They have played in dozens of them over the last handful of years. Like always, the defense will limit scoring opportunities and the Seahawks will ask Russell Wilson to make a few key throws to get the win.

Atlanta is a different story. Despite Matt Ryan having an MVP worthy season, the Falcons have flown mostly under the radar and have not been placed in the glamorous national TV windows very often. A scenario where Atlanta’s offense simply scores too much for Seattle to keep up is conceivable. However, a scenario where Atlanta folds under newfound spotlight is just as conceivable. With Earl Thomas out, Seattle’s defense is a tad more vulnerable. Given what the Falcons are capable of on offense and their much improved defense, it is now or never for Atlanta.

Texans at Patriots – Houston needs some kind of early break

The Texans are 15.5 point underdogs for a reason. New England shut them out early in the year with a third-string quarterback. Fast forward a few months and now Tom Brady is back in the fold for New England. As ominous as that may sound for Houston, anything is possible. If that was not the case, games like this would never be played.

There are a few things that work in Houston’s favor. First, the coaching staff has numerous ties to New England. There isn’t much the Patriots can do that would surprise the AFC South champs. Also, much-maligned quarterback Brock Osweiler had the best game of his young career last year in Denver against the Patriots defense.

The Texans are here because of its defense. As atrocious as the quarterback play has been, the top-ranked defense has been that good. It will be up to that unit to force a turnover that leads to easy points early in the game and give the massive underdogs some belief. A big play on special teams would also serve the same purpose. Houston cannot fall in a big hole early if they want any chance at all.

Steelers at Chiefs – Steelers pass protection

No matter how good he is at sandbagging his injuries, there is no way Ben Roethlisberger goes from a walking boot to fully healthy in a week. Thus, those trademark Roethlisberger scrambles under pressure to extend plays are likely off the table. It is up to Pittsburgh’s offensive line to keep Kansas City’s pass rushers away from their franchise quarterback.

Photo Courtesy of steelersdepot.com

This will not be an easy task. The Chiefs have three or four guys that are capable of chasing down any quarterback in this league. Their defense is led by a healthy Justin Houston. Le’Veon Bell will not run wild against the Chiefs like he did against Miami last week, but he will need to run well enough to take some heat off of the offensive line as well. Looking back on it, Pittsburgh’s 43-14 early-season blowout of Kansas City is one of the true oddities of the NFL season. This game will be a lot closer one way or the other.

 

 

Packers at Cowboys – Green Bay’s third-down defense

This may be the toughest game of the weekend to call, but it is the easiest to size up. The only way anyone is going to stop Aaron Rodgers and the Packers right now is by keeping their offense on the sideline. Dallas has been near the top of the league in time of possession and third-down conversions all year long.

Photo Courtesy of thelandryhat.com

The Packers defense has struggled to get off the field on third down, raking just 22nd in that category. Dallas will dance with what brought them here. They need to stay in manageable down and distance scenarios with a heavy dose of Ezekiel Elliott. It is up to Clay Matthews and company to ensure that Rodgers gets enough opportunities to work his magic. Here is to hoping at least one of these games is half as good as Monday’s national championship game I fell asleep during.

 

 

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

 

 

Blame for Packers’ Issues is Being Misplaced

Even with their win Monday night, the Green Bay Packers will need to be basically flawless from here on out to make the playoffs. Fans, analysts, and media alike have all chimed in on why the ultra-consistent Packers suddenly find themselves sitting at 5-6. In order to get to the root of the issue in Green Bay, you first have to look at what is not the problem.

I am not sure exactly when the “Aaron Rodgers is no longer any good” campaign got started by fans and media, but it is a joke. In his “off year”, he has thrown for over 3,000 yards, 27 touchdowns, and just seven interceptions through 10 games. He also has a flawed roster (I will get there later) still at least somewhat alive for a playoff spot. My goodness folks, does anyone have any clue how many quarterbacks would take Rodgers’ “off year” as the best of their career?

The Packers have a lot of issues, but Aaron Rodgers certainly is not one of them. With him, they will be playing meaningful games during the last month of the season. Without him, they would be picking in the top five of the 2017 draft.

While Mike McCarthy should not be completely absolved of blame like his quarterback, coaching is also nowhere near the top of the list of problems in Green Bay. Since McCarthy took over as head coach prior to the 2006 season, Green Bay has missed the playoffs only twice. Additionally, McCarthy has an above .500 record in the postseason and has brought home a Super Bowl title. He clearly knows what he is doing.

The whole “he had good players” argument is such a cop out when evaluating any coach. Every good player needs a good coach and vice versa. McCarthy’s record speaks for itself, and if he were let go by the Packers, he would be unemployed for an hour before another team made him their coach.

Also, he did not suddenly become dumb over this past off-season. As Bill Parcells once said, “if they want you to cook the meal, they ought to at least let you buy some of the groceries”. In the NFL, the meal is winning games and the players are the groceries. McCarthy is merely a coach. He has minimal to no control over the composition of the roster.

Packers issues

Photo from rrstar.com

Often times when a team struggles, it is as simple as looking at the head coach and/or quarterback, but this is an exception. In Green Bay, the majority of the blame for the sudden dip in performance should go to one man, General Manager Ted Thompson.

Ever since Thompson took over in 2005, the Packers have been about drafting well and developing their own talent. This approach has and continued to serve them well on offense. Everyone knows about the talent they have at the skill positions, but they are also really good along the offensive line. They have struggled to find a workhorse running back that can stay on the field, but McCarthy gets very creative in order to give the Packers some semblance of a ground game.

However, the same method has failed in grand fashion when building the defense. Prior to Monday night, the Packers had given up 30+ points in four straight games. That had not happened in Green Bay since 1953.

On the Packers website, all but two players on their defensive depth chart were drafted by the Packers. They are 26th in total defense. Quite frankly, I am surprised the ranking is that high after the last month. Their best draft picks like Clay Matthews and Morgan Burnett are closer to the end of their careers than the beginning. The players are giving their best effort, but the vast majority of the secondary and linebacker corps does not belong anywhere near an NFL field at the moment.

Yes, I know the Packers had been hit hard by injuries, particularly in the secondary. The fact is every team in the league deals with a ton of injuries by this time of year. All 53 guys on a roster should be ready to play at the drop of a hat. If the reserves cannot play, that is on the person who put the roster together.

Packers issues

Photo from rantsports.com

Thompson’s approach to free agency is also really starting to hurt the Packers. They are almost allergic to bringing in any sort of noteworthy free agent. In the last handful of years, I came up with only three free agent signings that were designed to make an immediate impact. There are teams who sign that many free agents in a week during the offseason.

Those signings were tight end Jared Cook, defensive end/linebacker Julius Peppers, and defensive tackle Letroy Guion. They are all nice players when healthy, but this roster still has a ton of holes. All this year has done is bring them to light.

I have never been one to advocate breaking the bank in free agency, but you have to look outside your own building for answers more often than the Packers do.

Monday night was a step in the right direction for the Packers. If they somehow sneak into the playoffs, no one will want to face that offense. To blame Rodgers and/or McCarthy for their issues is comical. They are both making the best out of what they have to work with. This franchise will go as far as Rodgers and McCarthy take it for a few more years. In fact, they are the only people keeping it competitive.

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