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2013 NFL Preview: NFC North

Mon., Sept. 2, 2013

Green Bay Packers

NEW FACES

RB Eddie Lacy, DE Datone Jones, LT David Bakhtiari, DL Johnny Jolly, CB Micah Hyde, RB Johnathan Franklin.

KEY LOSSES

WR Greg Jennings, S Charles Woodson, LT Bryan Bulaga.

STRENGTHS

QB, WR, TE.

WEAKNESSES

OL.

EXPECTATIONS

Loss to 49ers in last year’s playoffs raised questions again about Packers’ defense. Then again, Green Bay does have Aaron Rodgers. The key, as always, is keeping Rodgers’ precious right shoulder off ground. He was sacked 51 times last year. Reconfigured line took serious blow when left tackle Bulaga (knee) went down in preseason camp. Bakhtiari, a rookie, now has task of protecting Rodgers’ blind side. With potential of grind-it-out running game with Lacy, third straight NFC North crown appears within reach. But can Packers protect Rodgers and buckle down on defense?

Minnestota Vikings

NEW FACES

WR Greg Jennings, WR Cordarrelle Patterson, LB Desmond Bishop, DT Sharrif Floyd, CB Xavier Rhodes, P Jeff Locke, QB Matt Cassel.

KEY LOSSES

WR Percy Harvin, CB Antoine Winfield, P Chris Kluwe, LB Jasper Brinkley.

STRENGTHS

RB, DL, OL.

WEAKNESSES

QB, CB.

EXPECTATIONS

Vikings zoomed past projections last year with seven-win improvement and spot in playoffs, riding Adrian Peterson’s 2,097 yards rushing that earned him NFL MVP award. With quarterback Christian Ponder still largely unproven, skepticism of repeat in postseason abounds. With Jennings, Patterson and tight end Kyle Rudolph, Ponder will have better chance, even if Peterson proves he’s human and falls short of 2,000. Winfield might be harder to replace than Harvin.

Chicago Bears

NEW FACES

LT Jermon Bushrod, TE Martellus Bennett, G Matt Slauson, G Kyle Long, LB James Anderson, LB D.J. Williams, WR Marquess Wilson.

KEY LOSSES

LB Brian Urlacher, DE Israel Idonije, LB Nick Roach.

STRENGTHS

RB, WR, DE, CB, special teams

WEAKNESSES

OL. Aging defense.

EXPECTATIONS

Five playoff misses past six seasons led to coach Lovie Smith’s firing. Offense appears better – or at least has potential to be better – but defense could take step back, with aging core players such as DE Julius Peppers, LB Lance Briggs, CB Charles Tillman in their 30s. Bushrod, Slauson should be major upgrades on left side of OL, but Bears could be going with rookies on right side in Long, RT Jordan Mills. Even with new additions, unit that ranked among league’s worst remains question mark. Still, Bears gave QB Jay Cutler upgraded line.

Detroit Lions

NEW FACES

RB Reggie Bush, S Glover Quin, DE Jason Jones, DE Ziggy Ansah, CB Darius Slay, DE Israel Idonije, K David Akers, RB Montell Owens, DT C.J. Mosley, OG Leroy Harris.

KEY LOSSES

OT Jeff Backus, OT Gosder Cherilus, OG Stephen Peterman, LB Justin Durant, DE Cliff Avril, DE Kyle Vanden Bosch, DE Lawrence Jackson, K Jason Hanson, WR Titus Young.

STRENGTHS

DT, WR.

WEAKNESSES

OL, CB.

EXPECTATIONS

Detroit’s retooled defensive line with new ends (Ansah, Jones, Idonije) along with perhaps one of NFL’s best tandem of tackles (Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley) makes franchise’s bid to get back to playoffs a possibility. Quest becomes closer to reality if Matthew Stafford has time to connect with Calvin Johnson behind rebuilt offensive line with three new starters, and Reggie Bush has room to run.



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