NFC Central

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by jeff beyel

NFC Central Preview (In Predicted Order of Finish)

The Green Bay Packers saw head coach Jeff Beyel head for warmer weather in Miami and ushered in new coach Tim Wofford.  If Wofford retains the expected two tight-end attack Beyel left behind, Green Bay should contend, yet again, for the Central crown. Dak Prescott is the best QB in the division and RB Dalvin Cook is an elite talent, but the Packers will have to carefully manage their receiving groups with Dede Westbrook and Mohammad Sanu returning as the main starters.  TEs Tyler Eifert, Jared Cook, and OJ Howard will need to fill up the stat sheet for this team to be consistent. The developing offensive line is not top tier but is extremely deep and has enough talent to move the ball.

   Defensively, Green Bay boasts a front four that might be the best in football. Des Demarcus Lawrence and recently acquired Joey Bosa supply a ton of fire power while interior linemen Kenny Clark and Brandon Williams are more than adequate.  The line-backing is very good too where Erik Kendricks, Thomas Davis, and pass rush demon Whitney Mercilus will be roaming.  The secondary is solid but will require some juggling to get through the season.

One team that should challenge Green Bay will be the rival Bears.  GM Calvin Opheim has assembled a lot of talent in the Windy City and has a whole lot more coming next year.  Now, though, it will be time to see if he can coach.  QB Gardner Minshew might not be a sexy option but he should be fine running the show behind, arguably, the league’s best offensive line. There are some injury problems that might crop up from time to time but tackles Terron Armstead and Taylor Lewan, guards Joel Bitonio and Alex Kappa, and center Ryan Kelly form a powerful unit.  Ron Jones, Rashaad Penny, and Alexander Mattison should all benefit from running behind the line. WRs DeAndre Hopkins and DJ Chark are electric along with TE Dallas Goedert but there are injury potentials that could disrupt things on occasion.

   The defensive line is good but has definite injury concerns.  However, the Chicago line-backing is elite with Deion Jones and Devin White in the interior and Harold Landry and Dante Fowler on the outside as the Bears figure to use a 3-4 alignment quite a bit.  Safety Justin Simmons leads a secondary that might not quite be ready for prime time just yet.

Coach Eric Lindner has been one of the winningest leaders in league history but has never gotten to the big dance.  Minnesota should, once again, vie for a playoff spot but making the post-season is not going to be easy.  QB Philip Rivers is back, yet again, to lead the Viking attack. Minnesota revolutionized the running back position by revealing the ability to utilize the back in deeper passing patterns.  RBs Kenyan Drake, Melvin Gordon, Duke Johnson, and especially James White should all figure prominently within Lindner’s offense. The WRs are not all-world but they do possess explosive attributes that mix well with the running backs. Mike Williams figures to be a particularly difficult weapon to keep under wraps.  The offensive line is good enough to get it done being a bit better in pass protection than in the ground game.

   The Minnesota defense has some talent at each level but seems just a notch below Green Bay and Chicago.  DT Grady Jarrett can offer pressure up the middle, LB Jamie Collins is a very good overall player, and CB Kyle Fuller along with S Jimmie Ward can play but, outside those names, the Vikings are just a little lacking in star power.

 The Detroit Lions do not have an illustrious history in the rugged NFC Central but they have been quietly improving each season and now have a very dangerous team indeed.  Coach Joe Perry will lean on QB Jared Goff to take the reins but will really need RB Leonard Fournette to shine.  The bruising Fournette is probably the best over-all back in the division and among the best in the business. WR Jarvis Landry is an excellent target but the Lions lack a true tight end presence.  C Jason Kelce and T Lane Johnson are monsters but the rest of the offensive line is average.

   The Lions’ defense does have some elite players but, quite simply, not enough.  DE Carlos Dunlap is a menace and DE-OLB Za’Daruius Smith is one of the most valuable defensive players in the league while OLB Bud Dupree is an emerging star. Sadly, though, these three players lack a supporting cast that can truly allow their skills to be used to their fullest. The secondary is similar to the front seven: has some talent but not enough.  CB Chidobe Awuzie and S Denzel Ward are good but really need more around them.

The Saints have a long way to go but new coach/GM Gregory Smith seems up to the task. New Orleans began its revival when it drafted QB Joe Burrow this year to become the face of the franchise.  In the meantime, Andy Dalton will hold down the fort.  RB Carlos Hyde is solid and WR John Brown is a viable threat but the offense is lacking too many necessary components. Richie Incognito and Justin Pugh are the best of a weaker offensive line.

   DE Maxx Crosby shows real promise while S Anthony Harris ranks among the league’s top 6 at his position.  At age 29, however, Harris could loom as potential trade material at some point in the early stages of the season.

 

Final Analysis:  The Packers and Bears look like the class of the division but Minnesota and their unique passing attack will be a very tough opponent each week.  Detroit is capable of an upset.  Not likely three teams make the post-season here but two have an excellent shot.