NFL Preseason: 10 Big Questions in the NFC North

Ryan GuillemetteCorrespondent IAugust 21, 2011

NFL Preseason: 10 Big Questions in the NFC North

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    One of the toughest divisions in the NFL is arguably the NFC North.  The NFC North consists of the Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, and the Minnesota Vikings.  This is a very strong division that has seen a lot of success in the past few years.  

    There are some big questions facing each of these teams, could make or break each teams' season.  Some of these issues deal with quarterback performances, offensive line shifts, wide receivers performing, well and how some teams stack up defensively.  

    At the end of this article there are predictions on  the final standings of the NFC North and how the NFC North stacks up to the rest of the NFL.  Each team has issues to address, and it should be a very competitive season within the NFC North, which should make for a very entertaining year.  

Will Vikings Receivers Be Able to Produce?

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    One of the big questions that is facing the Minnesota Vikings this season is whether or not their wide receivers will produce this year.  The Vikings have struggled to put up a solid receiving corps since the Moss and Carter era.  With the Vikings' leading receiver Sidney Rice now suiting up in a Seattle Seahawks uniform, much of the load will now be placed on Percy Harvin who is entering his third season with the Vikings.  

    Harvin is a good receiver who the Vikings look to lead the team as he progresses.  The problem with Harvin is he is injury prone.  After missing some series last season due to frequent migraines, the Vikings are going to need to keep Harvin on the field if they want to be contender in the NFC North this season.

    Opposite of Harvin as of now is receiver Bernard Berrian.  Berrian struggled last season after taking over for Sidney Rice due to injury.  During that time, Berrian struggled to prove he was a solid receiver.  Berrian dropped passes, missed assignments, and failed to contribute much to the Vikings.  

    Berrian is going to need to fight off  Michael Jenkins and Devin Aromashodu for his job this season.  Jenkins struggles with getting open and creating separation, which will be a key thing to work on during the preseason if he wants a starting job this season.  Aromashodu has shown he can be a key receiver at moments.  Aromashodu is going to need to fine tune his game if he wants to beat out Berrian this season.  He struggles with running routes, but he may be a sleeper who can look to turn the Vikings around this season.  

Will the Detroit Lions Quarterbacks Be Able to Succeed?

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    The Lions have been at the bottom of the NFC North for a while now, and they now have a team who may be able to contend for the North leaders.  In order for the Lions to contend for the top position, they are going to need their quarterback, Matthew Stafford, to lead the team.

    Stafford has played well during the preseason.  Not only has he shown that he can connect with receivers going 6 for 10 and 85 yards against the Cleveland Browns, but he was not sacked either.  

    Stafford released the ball quickly, and by doing so he avoided the sack.  He is going to have to be careful with this technique during the regular season as defenses will soon pick up on this style of play, which could be costly for the Lions as the season goes on.  

    The Lions are going to have to keep Stafford healthy this season if they want to contend.  Stafford only played in 13 of his 32 games during his two seasons, playing only three games last season after a shoulder injury sidelined him.  Stafford underwent shoulder surgery, and while team doctors assure that Stafford will be no more susceptible to shoulder injuries as any other QB, one has to be cautious around someone with a track record like his.   

Will the Green Bay Packers Be Able to Effectively Execute the No Huddle?

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    Former Super Bowl Champions the Green Bay Packers have made their team even stronger putting a no-huddle offense into effect.  The Packers put the no-huddle into use against the Arizona Cardinals after they were down 6-0 in the first half.  The Packers offense struggled to threaten the Cardinals, having only completed four for seven passes for 35 yards in the first two possessions. 

    The Packers went to a no-huddle offense, the tempo began to pick up, and the offense started to click.  Rodgers was able to connect with Driver, Finley, and the running game picked up with Ryan Grant leading the charge.  

    The Packers look good while in the no-huddle, and they are able to execute it properly.  The only problem came with the offensive line.  The Packers still need to find a line scheme that works for them.  Rodgers and Flynn were both sacked twice in the game.  The Pack needs to be careful of this while in the no-huddle because pressure can cause even the most composed quarterbacks to make mistakes, but the Packers should have their line situation settled before the season opener.  

Will the Chicago Bears Be Able to Step Up Offensively?

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    This season the Chicago Bears have made changes to become more run oriented.  Look for the Bears to rely heavily on running back Matt Forte this season.  Forte finished 10th in total yards among rushers last season and was one of five backs to finish with 1,000 rushing and 500 receiving yards as well.  Forte also averaged 4.5 yards per carry last season, which bodes well with the back due to the struggles of the Bears o-line.  Although Forte struggled in goal line situations, and the load was then put on Chester Taylor. The Bears look to rely on Marion Barber in this situation for this season.

    Barber is competing with Chester Taylor as the second running back for the bears this season, and after his debut running for 45 yards with seven carries it looks like the Bears' staff has already made their decision to go with Barber for this season. Barber should take on the responsibilities in the short yardage situations.   

Will Minnesota Vikings New Offensive Line Scheme Be Effective?

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    It is often said that the game is won in the trenches; for the Vikings this will be true this season.  The Vikings are going to need a strong offensive line this year if they don't want a repeat of last season, which left Brett Favre getting pummeled and Adrian Peterson little room to run and create the big offensive plays that he is known for.  

    The Vikings have changed their offense drastically this season as they look to see more success.  Head Coach Leslie Frazier brought in offensive line coach Jeff Davidson to install a more aggressive straight forward blocking scheme rather then the zone scheme that was used in previous seasons.

    The Vikings new left tackle Charlie Johnson hopes he can contribute and be part of a successful season.  The Vikings offensive line consists of left tackle Charlie Johnson, left guard Steve Hutchinson, center John Sullivan, right guard Anthony Herrera, and right tackle Phil Loadholt.  The Vikings are going to need these guys to perform if they want to see success this season.   

Will the Lions Defense Live Up to It's Potential?

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    After drafting defensive tackle Nick Fairly the Detroit Lions' defense was strengthened greatly.  With Ndamukong Suh opposite of Fairly, the Lions' rush defense should be very successful and teams will be weary of running the ball against this team.  

    With safety Amari Spievey having a successful last season, Detroit looks to him to lead the Lions' pass defense to a solid year.  Chris Houston and Eric Wright hope to have successful seasons as well.  

    Look for the Lions to be defensively solid this season as they try to make the playoffs after struggling in past seasons.  

Will Packers QB Aaron Rodgers Be Able to Put Up the Same Numbers as Last Season?

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    After having an incredible last season, Aaron Rodgers should have no problem repeating or having a better season.  Rodgers went without a running back after Ryan Grant was injured in week 1.  With Grant back and his wide receivers returning, Rodgers should have no problem having a better season.  

    With his offensive line struggling to protect him, Rodgers proved he could keep his composure only throwing 11 interceptions in the regular season.  Rodgers also proved his mobility scoring 13 rushing touchdowns in his three seasons.  Rodgers has proved he can lead his team through any situation and come out on top.  

    Another upside to Rodgers is much like his former teammate Brett Favre, Rodgers does not come off the field often.  He has not spent much time on the sideline, which keeps him in the game and allows the Packers offense to be productive.  Look for arguably one of the best quarterbacks in the league to repeat his last season and possibly lead his team to a Super Bowl.  

Will the Chicago Bears Current Offensive Line Provide Enough Protection?

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    The Bears offensive line is going have to provide protection this season if they want to see points go up on the board.  In the Bears preseason game against the Buffalo Bills, the Bears allowed three sacks on four offensive plays over two possessions.  That is unacceptable for a team who struggles when under pressure.

    Quarterback Jay Cutler struggles and makes a lot of mistakes when under pressure.  The key to the Bears' offense is giving Cutler and Forte time to find receivers or a whole that they can work with.  

    Over the course of the game against the Bills. the Bears gave up nine sacks for a total of 48 lost yards.  The starting line played the entire first half and gave up four out of those nine sacks.  The Bears need to find an answer and fast if they want to see success in this tough division.  

What Will the NFC North Standings Be at the End of the Season?

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    At the end of the season look for the NFC North standings to look like this (remember this is all speculation):

    1.) Green Bay Packers: The former Super Bowl Champions should have no problem leading the NFC North into the playoffs this season.  With a strong squad and many returning players, the Packers should go deep into the playoffs and may find themselves back in the Super Bowl.  With Aaron Rodgers leading the team and arguably one of the best receiving crews in the league, the Packers should find themselves on top.  

    2.) Detroit Lions:  The Lions will be a defensive giant with the Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairly duo in place.  They will be tough against the run.  Look for Matt Stafford to have a solid year if he can stay healthy.  With Stafford at QB, Calvin Johnson will be a happy man and the two should have a solid year, which may put them in a wild card position.   

    3.)  Chicago Bears:  The Bears will not have the offensive punch that they need to find themselves in a top seed.  With a struggling offensive line and Matt Forte trying to decide if he wants to stay in the windy city, look for the Bears to have a decent season but not have the final punch to find themselves in a top spot.  

    4.)  Minnesota Vikings:  The Vikings are in a rebuilding year.  With the Vikings' defense not producing big stops like the Vikings of the past and the offense struggling to put up points, look for the Vikings to have a mediocre season with promise towards the future.  The Vikings receivers lack depth and experience, and a shaky offensive line will prove difficult for Adrian Peterson and Donavan McNabb to handle.  

How Does the NFC North Stack Up to the Rest of the League?

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    The NFC North is going to be one of the toughest divisions in the league for years to come.  With solid quarterbacks in Rodgers, Cutler, and Stafford and possibly Ponder, a major upside for this division is that all these quarterbacks are relatively young.  This can also be seen in the running back position.  Chicago, Green Bay, and Minnesota have all had successful seasons when looking back on the last few years: Minnesota in the NFC Championship 2009-10 season, Chicago in the NFC Championship in the 2010-11 season, and Green Bay going on to win last seasons Super Bowl.  Last season the NFC Championship game was between two teams in the NFC North, which is proof that it was one of the best divisions in the NFL last season.  

    The common theme in all of these teams is that they are led by good quarterbacks and a strong cast.  Look for the NFC North to be very competitive this season and in years to come as this tough division looks to make a major impact in this season