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I served in the US Navy from 2002-08; four of those years were as a Nuclear Propulsion Operator aboard an aircraft carrier. I engage in political activism in various Democratic circles when I am able to. I have a cat, and I am an uncle.

All opinions that I express are my own and do not reflect the views of any organization that I represent.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

2013 NFL SEASON: NFC NORTH PREVIEW



1. Green Bay
2. Chicago
3. Minnesota
4. Detroit



This division starts and ends with Green Bay. The Packers have made the playoffs in four consecutive seasons and very likely will make the playoffs for a fifth consecutive season. It will be a difficult path given that all teams in the division have a strength of schedule over .500.

The Bears lucked out with the weakest strength of schedule among the NFC North with a total record of 128-127-1 or a percentage of .502. Overall it is the 16th strongest in the NFL. There have been many changes in Chicago. Despite closing out the season on two-game winning streak and finishing 10-6, the team did not make the playoffs and fired coach Lovie Smith. The team hired Marc Trestman from the CFL's Montreal Alouettes who amassed a 59-31 record and won back-to-back Grey Cups in five seasons.

One of the biggest roster moves of the NFL off-season was the retirement of linebacker Brian Urlacher. Urlacher has been one of the several faces the Bears franchise, specifically the defense during his 13 seasons in the NFL. In 2012, the Bears ranked in the Top 5 in fewest yards given up and was the number one ranked defense in forcing the most turnovers. 5 of those turnovers came via interceptions in the Week 4 Monday Night game at Dallas. 2 of those interceptions were returned for touchdowns which has been a Bears staple over previous seasons.

Even though the Bears are historically known for their defense, they appear to be turning their focus towards offense. Wide receiver Brandon Marshall set Bears franchise single-season records with 118 receptions and 1,508 yards. It was his first season re-united with quarterback Jay Cutler since they were teammates in Denver from 2006-08.

Both Detroit and Minnesota are similar in that they have playmakers on both sides of the ball, but have glaring holes. For the Lions last season, wide receiver Calvin Johnson set the single-season record for receiving yards with 1,964 on 122 receptions. Though the surprising thing was he only caught 5 touchdowns. This was sharp decline from his 16 touchdown total he had in 2011. But for Detroit in 2012, Johnson's success was overshadowed on how the Lions preformed on the field. This team had some awful losses over the season.

In Week 3 it was an overtime loss at Tennessee where both teams put up Madden type stats on the scoreboard. After the Titans kicked a field goal to lead 44-41 in overtime, the Lions on the ensuing drive drove down the field to either match or win the game. Detroit went for it on 4th and short inside the Titans 15 yard line. Backup quarter Shaun Hill, in for the injured Matthew Stafford, fumbled the snap and Detroit lost the game.

On Thanksgiving Day, Texans running back Justin Forsett ran in for an 81-yard touchdown. The replay clearly shows that Forsett's elbow touched the ground back at the Texans 30-yard line.


NFL rules dictate an automatic review of all scoring plays. Except... Lions coach Jim Schwartz threw the red challenge flag. Not only was the coach assessed a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, but the play was declared non-reviewable and the play stood as a touchdown. The Lions lost the game in overtime.

The following week was a crushing last second defeat at the hands of rookie quarterback Andrew Luck and the Colts.


The Lions ended the season on an 8-game losing streak finishing at 4-12. It was the longest losing streak for the Lions since going 0-16 in 2008. Detroit was 1-8 against 2012 playoff teams last season. If you include the Bears who won 10 games last season, that record goes to 1-10. If the Lions are to roar back into the playoffs, they need to do better in games involving playoff teams. While their schedule involves the Vikings, Redskins, Packers, Bengals, and Ravens, Detroit's schedule is the second toughest in the NFL at .539.

Minnesota is an example of a player carrying a team to the playoffs. Running back Adrian Peterson rushed for 2,097 yards on 348 carries and for 12 touchdowns. This was after a knee injury suffered in 2011 that required offseason surgery. Peterson could have easily been named NFL Comeback Player, but was named league MVP for his efforts. The other player who fell into this same category was Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning as he received the Comeback Player Award.

Needing a win to make the playoffs at home against the Packers in the season finale, Peterson rushed for 199 yards. Peterson ended 9 yards short of breaking Eric Dickerson's single-season record of 2,105 yards set with the Los Angeles Rams in 1984.

Here is something to consider when comparing Dickerson's 1984 season to Peterson's 2012 season. Both players WERE their team's offense in their respective seasons as they both finished 10-6 and ended up as one-and-done teams in the playoffs.

Team
Team leader, rushing yards
Team leader, passing yards
Dickerson 2,105
Kemp 2,021
Peterson 2,097
Ponder 2,935


Team
Total rushing yards
Total passing yards
2,864
2,382
2,634
2,935

Dickerson had more rushing yards that the Rams starting quarterback did passing yards and the 1984 Rams had more rushing yards than their 3 quarterbacks did passing yards. It should be noted that Dickerson did attempt one pass during his 1984 season. It was an incomplete pass.

While the 2012 Vikings displayed better passing yards than their running game, it proved to be their downfall when they went to Green Bay for their playoff game.

Will Adrian Peterson follow up his 2012 campaign with an encore? History says no. Six other players have rushed for 2,000 yards or more in single-season and then followed up with a huge drop off the next season.


2,000-yard season
Next season
Eric Dickerson
2,105
1,234
Adrian Peterson
2,097
????
Jamal Lewis
2,066
1,006
Barry Sanders
2,053
1,491
Terrell Davis
2,008
211
Chris Johnson
2,006
1,364
O.J. Simpson
2,003
1,125

Barry Sanders' 2,000-yard follow up season is the best among the 2,000-yard men. Next is Chris Johnson and then Eric Dickerson. Terrell Davis has the biggest dropoff in part due to missing the rest of the 1999 season caused by a knee injury that effectively ended his NFL career. After his 2003 season, Jamal Lewis rushed for over 100 yards 4 times in 12 games vs. to rushing for over 100 yards 12 times in 16 games. O.J. Simpson played in an era when the NFL season was 14 games plus the Bills were gawd awful.

I don't foresee Peterson petering out as others did after their 2,000-yard season, but again I don't see him rushing for over 2,000 yards in 2013 given the history. The Vikings are going to have to make up that potential in lost production with improvement in their passing game.

And now finally, Green Bay.

Green Bay started the season 1-2 after this:


After 5 weeks, Green Bay was 2-3 and appeared to be sputtering. They won 9 of their next 11 to finish as NFC North Champions.

Even though the Packers were 11-5, the "Fail Mary" Game had a long term impact on their season. San Francisco was 11-4-1. Had the correct call been made, Green Bay would have had a 12-4 record, a bye week, and hosted the San Francisco 49ers instead of going to Candlestick Park. Would have Green Bay beaten the 49ers at Lambeau? Well, the 49ers defeated the Packers in Green Bay in Week 1. The two teams meet each other in Week 1 at San Francisco in a playoff rematch.

I just can't find any reason to think Green Bay can't win this division. Barring a major injury, the Packers will be a playoff repeat team in 2013. The other NFC North teams have serious issues as mentioned before. Green Bay has a quarterback that won a Super Bowl and NFL MVP award in Aaron Rodgers. Despite Donald Driver retiring and Greg Jennings heading west to Minnesota, the receiving corps should be fine with Rodgers under center. Even though Charles Woodson is back in Oakland, they still have linebackers Clay Matthews and A.J. Hawk as their defensive leaders.

Though Green Bay has the toughest strength of schedule among NFC playoff teams, the Packers should repeat as NFC North Champions and one of the teams in the talks of making the Super Bowl.


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