Minnesota Vikings (Projected Record: 10-6)
Key Additions: Laquon Treadwell (1st-Round Pick, 23rd Overall), Alex Boone (49ers), Andre Smith (Bengals), Sam Bradford (Trade with Eagles)
Key Losses: Mike Wallace (Ravens), Teddy Bridgewater (Torn ACL, Dislocated Knee)
The Vikings are coming off a 2015 season in which they won the NFC North with an 11-5 record. They addressed their need for a sure-handed wide receiver through the draft with their first round selection of Ole Miss standout Laquon Treadwell. The team’s second round selection of Mackensie Alexander has real potential to be one of the best steals of the 2016 draft. The Vikes still have arguably one of the best running backs in all of football in Adrian Peterson, and a defense led by studs Everson Griffen, Sharrif Floyd, Linval Joseph, Anthony Barr, and Harrison Smith.
The key for Minnesota in 2016: Can Teddy Bridgewater have a breakout year and remove the “game manager” label? He passed for just 3,231 yards 14 TDs, and 9 INTs in 2015, but did complete 65.3% of his pass attempts. Perhaps the key for Bridgewater is to improve upon his 7.23 average yards per completion by looking for the deep ball more often.
Green Bay Packers (Projected Record: 13-3)
Key Additions: Kenny Clark (1st-Round Pick, 27th Overall), Jared Cook (Rams)
Key Losses: John Kuhn (Saints), B.J. Raji (Free Agent/Retirement), Casey Hayward (Chargers), James Jones (Chargers), Josh Sitton (Released – Bears), Sam Barrington (Released – Chiefs)
By 2015 winning percentage, the Packers have the easiest schedule in 2016. The return of Jordy Nelson should have a profound impact on an offense that struggled for most of the 2015 season. Nelson should help Randall Cobb move back into the slot more often, and improve the performance of drop-prone Devante Adams. The receiving core failed to take the top of the defense, and the offensive line simply could not protect Aaron Rodgers down the stretch. I’d like to see Rodgers use his legs more as a scrambler to avoid taking sacks. After his well-documented weight loss, look for Eddie Lacy to have a bounce back campaign in 2016.
The defense has always been predicted on forcing turnovers by creating pressure in a high-risk, high-reward system. The secondary has improved significantly over the last two years, and should actually be a bright spot for the Packers despite losing Casey Hayward in free agency.
Detroit Lions (Projected Record: 4-12)
Key Additions: Taylor Decker (1st-Round Pick, 16th Overall), A’Shawn Robinson (2nd-Round Pick, 46th Overall), Marvin Jones (Bengals), Anquan Boldin (49ers), Stevan Ridley (Jets), Jon Bostic (Patriots), Geoff Schwartz (Giants)
Key Losses: Joique Bell (Free Agent), Stephen Tulloch (Eagles), Calvin Johnson (Retirement)
After losing Calvin Johnson to retirement, the turnover prone Matthew Stafford has even fewer options on offense. Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, Corey Fuller, and Eric Ebron definitely don’t comprise the worst receiving core in the NFL, but this is a group with their work cut out for them. The Lions lack a clear cut option out of the backfield, as Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick, and Stevan Ridley vie for snaps.
The Lions will have to rely heavily on the pass rush created by Haloti Ngata, Ezekiel Ansah, and rookie A’Shawn Robinson to support an amateur secondary headed by Darius Slay. I don’t see them beating the Vikings or the Packers in 2016, and only splitting with the Chicago Bears.
Chicago Bears (Projected Record: 4-12)
Key Additions: Leonard Floyd (1st-Round Pick, 9th Overall), Brian Hoyer (Texans), Kevin White (2015 Injury), Danny Trevathan (Broncos), Jerrell Freeman (Colts), Matt Barkley (Cardinals), Josh Sitton (Packers)
Key Losses: Matt Forte (Jets), Martellus Bennett (Patriots), Robbie Gould (Released)
To be perfectly blunt, I don’t believe Jay Cutler will finish the season as the Bears quarterback. In 15 games last season, Cutler passed for 3,659 yards, 21 TDs, and 11 INTs. He also added 6 fumbles to his campaign to finish with a QBR of 60.7. The Bears don’t have a defined starter in the backfield, and will probably start the season with a two-back system composed of Kadeem Carey and Jeremy Langford.
While the defense should be improved compared to 2015, I don’t think the additions of Danny Trevathan and rookie Leonard Floyd to win the Bears any more than four games. On the bright side, I am looking forward to seeing Kevin White in his first season as a professional alongside Alshon Jeffrey.
Stats courtesy of ESPN