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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.