Weather Forecast

Close
Advertisement
USA TODAY Sports Green Bay Packer quarterback Aaron Rodgers works out during training camp in a July 30 file photo at Ray Nitschke Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

NFL: NFC North Preview: Packers will outgun Bears

Email Sign up for Breaking News Alerts
sports Willmar, 56201
West Central Tribune
(320) 235-6769 customer support
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

With a healthy Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, the Green Bay Packers should outgun Chicago’s Jay Cutler and his raft of receivers for the NFC North division title.

Advertisement
Advertisement

That was the opinion in a survey of The Sports Xchange’s football staff, although the Bears did receive support to finish on top.

Despite having the best receiver in football in Calvin Johnson and a formidable defensive front, the Detroit Lions were picked for third and the misery should continue in Minnesota based on the Vikings being picked last by a unanimous vote.

Here is a closer look at NFC North teams as training camp begins (teams listed alphabetically):

Chicago Bears

--TSX Predicts: 2nd in NFC North

--2013: 8-8, 2nd in NFC North

--Training Camp, Dates (rookies, vets report): Olivet Nazarene University, Bourbonnais, Ill., 7/24, 7/24

--2014 Opponents Win Percentage in 2013: Division .438 (T22/32); non-division .531 (T8/32); overall .496 (15/32).

--Primetime Games: 6 (1 Thursday night, 1 Thanksgiving, 2 Sunday night, 2 Monday night)

--STRENGTH: Starting wide receivers. Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery combined for 2,716 receiving yards last year during Jeffery’s breakout year, and unlike last year both enter training camp 100 percent healthy. Marshall last year was coming off hip surgery and took until at least a month into the season before he felt at or approaching 100 percent. Jeffery now has two years’ experience.

--WEAKNESS: Safety. The Bears are hurting at both safety spots. Former Giant Ryan Mundy has been steady enough that coaches are keeping him on the field the longest. The team is playing a regular rotation of safeties with the first team now and last week gave rookie Brock Vereen a chance with the first unit. The fourth-round pick from Minnesota is lining up at free safety, while Mundy was at strong safety.

KEY PERSONNEL MOVES

DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED (RD/OVERALL PICK)

--CB Kyle Fuller (1/14): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

--DT Ego Ferguson (2/51): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

--DT Will Sutton (3/82): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

--RB Ka’Deem Carey (4/117): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

--S Brock Vereen (4/131): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

--QB David Fales (6/183): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

--P Pat O’Donnell (6/191): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

--T Charles Leno (7/246): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED

--T/G Eben Britton: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.

--QB Jay Cutler: Potential UFA; $126.7M/7 yrs, $54M guaranteed.

--C Robert Garza: Potential UFA; $1.5M/1 yr, $100,000 SB.

--K Robbie Gould: Potential UFA; $15M/4 yrs, $3M SB/$8.85M guaranteed.

--CB Kelvin Hayden: Potential UFA; $855,000/1 yr.

--CB Tim Jennings: Potential UFA; $22.4M/4 yrs, $3M SB/$11.8M guaranteed.

--DT Jeremiah Ratliff: Potential UFA; $4M/2 yrs, $600,000 SB.

--G Matt Slauson: Potential UFA; $12.8M/4 yrs, $1.67M SB/$4.9M guaranteed.

--S Craig Steltz: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.

--CB Charles Tillman: UFA; $3.25M/1 yr, $500,000 SB.

--LB D.J. Williams: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED

--DE Jared Allen: UFA Vikings; $32M/4 yrs, $15.5M guaranteed.

--QB Jimmy Clausen: Not tendered as UFA by Panthers; terms unknown.

--C Brian de la Puente: UFA Saints; 1 yr, terms unknown.

--DE Lamarr Houston: UFA Raiders; $35M/5 yrs, $4.95M SB/$15M guaranteed.

--S M.D. Jennings: Not tendered as RFA by Packers; terms unknown.

--TE Jeron Mastrud: Not tendered as UFA by Raiders; 1 yr, terms unknown.

--S Danny McCray: UFA Cowboys; 1 yr, terms unknown.

--TE Zach Miller: FA; $645,000/1 yr.

--WR Josh Morgan: UFA Redskins; 1 yr, terms unknown.

--TE Matthew Mulligan: UFA Patriots; 1 yr, terms unknown.

--S Ryan Mundy: UFA Giants; $3M/2 yrs, $650,000 SB.

--WR/KR Micheal Spurlock: Not tendered as UFA by Lions; terms unknown.

--S Adrian Wilson: FA Patriots; 1 yr, terms unknown.

--DE Willie Young: UFA Lions; $9M/3 yrs, $2M SB/$3.95M guaranteed.

PLAYERS LOST

--LB James Anderson: Not tendered as UFA/Patriots; terms unknown.

--WR Earl Bennett (released).

--RB Michael Bush (released).

--LB Blake Costanzo: Not tendered as UFA/49ers; terms unknown.

--KR Devin Hester: UFA Falcons; 3 yrs, terms unknown.

--LS Patrick Mannelly (not tendered as UFA).

--QB Josh McCown: UFA Buccaneers; $10M/2 yrs.

--DT Henry Melton: UFA Cowboys; $27.5M/4 yrs, $1.25M SB ($24M is in final three years).

--DE Julius Peppers (released).

--P Adam Podlesh (released).

--DE Corey Wootton: UFA Vikings; $1.5M/1 yr, $400,000 SB.

--S Major Wright: UFA Buccaneers; 1 yr, terms unknown.

Detroit Lions

--TSX Predicts: 3rd in NFC North

--2013: 7-9, 3rd in NFC North

--Training Camp Dates (rookies, vets report): Detroit Lions Training Facility, Allen Park, Mich., 7/22, 7/27

--2014 Opponents Win Percentage in 2013: Division .438 (T22/32); non-division .531 (T8/32); overall .496 (15/32).

--Primetime Games: 2 (1 Thanksgiving, 1 Monday night)

--STRENGTH: Wide receiver Calvin Johnson. All-Pro receiver Calvin Johnson remains the Lions’ best and most impactful player. The Lions’ best positional groups are the lines on both sides, but when it comes to affecting the game, nobody on this team comes close to Johnson.

With three straight seasons of at least 1,492 receiving yards, Johnson has proven capable of carrying an offense with an otherwise lackluster receiving corps, but his presence combined with the other additions the Lions made this offseason should give this team hope to contend for the NFC North in 2014.

The Lions signed free-agent receiver Golden Tate and drafted tight end Eric Ebron in the first round, and they will automatically be the No. 2 and No. 3 targets in the receiving game, not including running backs Joique Bell and Reggie Bush.

--WEAKNESS: Cornerback. This remains a sore spot, as it has been for a decade and it is the biggest concern despite worries at kicker, defensive end, and right tackle.

In an NFC North filled with dangerous receivers, cornerbacks are crucial. Reason for optimism is the improvement 2013 second-round pick Darius Slay has shown this offseason. But behind him, there are veterans with questionable upside. Chris Houston, a starter the past four years, struggled last season, and after undergoing toe surgery in May, was released in early June.

KEY PERSONNEL MOVES

DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED (RD/OVERALL PICK)

--TE Eric Ebron (1/10): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

--LB Keith Van Noy (2/40): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

--C Travis Swanson (3/76): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

--CB Nevin Lawson (4/133): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

--DE Larry Webster (4/136): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

--DT Caraun Reid (5/158): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

--WR T.J. Jones (6/189): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

--K Nate Freese (7/229): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED

--RB Joique Bell: Potential RFA; $9.187M/3 yrs, $4.3M guaranteed.

--CB Rashean Mathis: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.

--WR Kevin Ogletree: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.

--TE Brandon Pettigrew: UFA; $16M/4 yrs, $4M SB/$8M guaranteed.

--C Dominic Raiola: Potential UFA; $1.75M/1 yr, $250,000 SB.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED

--S James Ihedigbo: UFA Ravens; 2 yrs, terms unknown.

--QB Dan Orlovsky: UFA Buccaneers; 1 yr, terms unknown.

--DE Darryl Tapp: UFA Redskins; 1 yr, terms unknown.

--WR Golden Tate: UFA Seahawks; $31.25M/5 yrs, $13.25M guaranteed.

--CB Cassius Vaughn: UFA Colts; terms unknown.

PLAYERS LOST

--K David Akers (not tendered as UFA).

--WR Nate Burleson (released).

--TE Dorin Dickerson: Not tendered as RFA/Titans; terms unknown.

--S Louis Delmas (released).

--QB Shaun Hill: UFA Rams; $1.75M/1 yr, $500,000 guaranteed.

--DE Willie Young: UFA Bears; $9M/3 yrs, $2M SB/$3.95M guaranteed.

Green Bay Packers

--TSX Predicts: 1st in NFC North

--2013: 8-7-1, 1st in NFC North

--Training Camp Dates (rookies, vets report): St. Norbert College, Green Bay, Wis., 7/25, 7/25

--2014 Opponents Win Percentage in 2013: Division .427 (24/32); .non-division 550 (T4/32); overall .504 (13/32).

--Primetime Games: 5 (2 Thursday, 2 Sunday night, 1 Monday night)

--STRENGTH: Quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Just what the rest of the NFL needed to hear when Packers head coach Mike McCarthy uttered these words in the final week of the team’s offseason program: “I think Aaron’s had probably his best spring (since McCarthy’s first season in 2006). ... He’s in great shape.”

As he religiously worked out doing yoga the last few months, Rodgers not only limbered up but lost more than 10 pounds. The 30-year-old star should head into training camp in late July at less than 220 pounds, the lightest he’s been in his 10-year career. An extremely fit Rodgers also is fully healed in the upper body after he missed seven games because of a broken collarbone on his non-throwing left side before returning in triumphant fashion the final regular-season game to get the Packers back in the playoffs.

--WEAKNESS: Tight end. Green Bay shut the door on bringing back Jermichael Finley, although his nameplate stayed above the free agent’s locker this offseason. However, the chances of Finley playing football again — and doing so with the Packers — after he sustained a career-threatening bruised spinal cord on a helmet-to-helmet hit last fall are not good.

Minus Finley, the Packers don’t have a formidable over-the-middle tight end on the roster.

KEY PERSONNEL MOVES

DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED (RD/OVERALL PICK)

--TE Eric Ebron (1/10): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

--LB Keith Van Noy (2/40): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

--C Travis Swanson (3/76): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

--CB Nevin Lawson (4/133): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

--DE Larry Webster (4/136): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

--DT Caraun Reid (5/158): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

--WR T.J. Jones (6/189): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

--K Nate Freese (7/229): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED

--QB Matt Flynn: UFA; $970,000/1 yr, $75,000 SB.

--FB John Kuhn: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.

--DE/OLB Mike Neal: UFA; $8M/2 yrs, $2.5M SB.

--TE Andrew Quarless; UFA; $3M/2 yrs, $350,000 SB.

--DT B.J. Raji: UFA; $4M/1 yr.

--CB Sam Shields: Potential UFA; $39M/4 yrs, $12.5M SB.

--RB James Starks: UFA; $3.165M/2 yrs, $725,000 SB.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED

--DL Letroy Guion: FA Vikings; $985,000/1 yr, $100,000 SB.

--LB Julius Peppers: FA Bears; $26M/3 yrs, $7.5 SB.

PLAYERS LOST

--C Evan Dietrich-Smith: UFA Buccaneers; $14.2M/4 yrs.

--TE Jermichael Finley (not tendered offer as UFA).

--DT Johnny Jolly (not tendered offer as UFA).

--WR James Jones: UFA Raiders; $10M/3 yrs, $3.65M guaranteed.

--S M.D. Jennings: Not tendered as RFA/Bears; terms unknown.

--T Marshall Newhouse: UFA Bengals; terms unknown.

--DT Ryan Pickett (not tendered offer as UFA).

Minnesota Vikings

--TSX Predicts: 4th in NFC North

--2013: 5-10-1, 4th in NFC North

--Training Camp Dates (rookies, vets report): Minnesota State University, Mankato, Minn., 7/24, 7/24

--2014 Opponents Win Percentage in 2013: Division .490 (16/32); non-division .469 (T24/32); overall .477 (21/32).

--Primetime Games: 1 (1 Thursday)

--STRENGTH: Running back. Adrian Peterson is the best running back in the league. He is healthy after offseason groin surgery. And he has that same me-versus-the-world mentality going now that people are starting to question his age (29) following what was a down season by his lofty standards.

The last time everyone assumed the worst for Peterson, he ran for 2,097 yards eight months after ACL surgery. The fact he ran for 1,266 yards in 14 games last season - six of them with the groin injury - should be a sign of his greatness, rather than a red flag that he’s on the downside of the traditional career path for a running back.

Peterson also should benefit from his first season under offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who obviously is a significant upgrade over Bill Musgrave. Look for Peterson to have more room to run because of a better conceived attack as well as Peterson’s increased role in the passing game.

Toby Gerhart, Peterson’s dependable backup the past four seasons is gone. But rookie third-round draft pick Jerick McKinnon is the change-of-pace back that Gerhart wasn’t and Turner covets for his passing attack.

--WEAKNESS: Linebacker. If not the weakest position, it will be at least suspect unless or until first-round draft pick Anthony Barr proves himself. Even if Barr does contribute immediately, the unit is thin and so far there are more questions than obvious answers.

Nine-year veteran Chad Greenway is steady and healthy, but can he keep pace and do all of the things head coach Mike Zimmer will ask of him as a three-down player at age 31? Will Barr be able to transform freakish physical tools into a productive NFL linebacker? Can Jasper Brinkley play well enough to fill the gaping hole at middle linebacker? And who among the several intriguing but unproven prospects — Audie Cole, Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges, among others — will step forward to provide reliable depth and/or push Brinkley and Barr?

KEY PERSONNEL MOVES

DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED (RD/OVERALL PICK)

--LB Anthony Barr (1/9); 4 yrs, terms unknown.

--QB Teddy Bridgewater (1/32): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

--DE Scott Crichton (3/72): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

--RB Jerick McKinnon (3/96): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

--G David Yankey (5/145): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

--S Antone Exum (6/182): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

--CB Kendall James (6/184): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

--DT Shamar Stephen (7/220): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

--LB Brandon Watts (7/223): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

--CB Jabari Price (7/225: 4 yrs, terms unknown.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED

--RB Matt Asiata: ERFA; $570,000/1 yr.

--C/G Joe Berger: UFA; terms unknown.

--QB Matt Cassel: Potential UFA; $10M/2 yrs.

--NT Fred Evans: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.

--DE Everson Griffen: UFA; $42.5M/5 yrs, $6M SB/$19.8M guaranteed.

--LG Charlie Johnson: UFA; $5M/2 yrs.

--WR Jerome Simpson: UFA; terms unknown.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED

--LB Jasper Brinkley: FA Cardinals; terms unknown.

--CB Derek Cox: FA Chargers; $780,000/11 yr.

--G Vladimir Ducasse: UFA Jets; $795,000/1 yr, $65,000 SB.

--DT Linval Joseph: UFA Giants; $31.5M/5 yrs.

--CB Captain Munnerlyn: UFA Panthers; 3 yrs, terms unknown.

--DE Corey Wootton: UFA Bears; $1.5M/1 yr, $400,000 SB.

PLAYERS LOST

--DE Jared Allen: UFA Bears; $32M/4 yrs, $15.5M guaranteed.

--TE John Carlson (released).

--WR Greg Childs (released).

--CB Chris Cook: UFA 49ers; 1 yr, terms unknown.

--RB Toby Gerhart: UFA Jaguars; $10.5M/3 yrs, $4.5M guaranteed.

--DT Letroy Guion (released).

--LB Erin Henderson (released).

--OT J’Marcus Webb: UFA Chiefs; terms unknown.

--WR Joe Webb: UFA Panthers; terms unknown.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement