NFL 2014 preview: Packers are the top team in the NFC North

Eddie Lacy
Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy carries the ball against the Oakland Raiders during a preseason game.
(Mike Roemer / AP)

The Green Bay Packers remain the team to beat in the NFC North, as it finally looks like thet have a decent running game to go with quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The Chicago Bears will hold off Detroit and Minnesota for second place.

2013 | 8-7-1, 1st in North
Last year in playoffs | 2013

Going all the way: For years, the Packers have looked to establish a running game to complement the All-Pro play of quarterback Aaron Rodgers. It looks as if they have their answer in second-year tailback Eddie Lacy, who is both bruiser and breakaway threat. If Rodgers and Lacy are at the top of their game, the Packers will be tough to beat.

They’re doomed: Losing nose tackle B.J. Raji for the season to a torn biceps is a huge blow to the defense, which figured to be significantly stronger up front with the addition of Julius Peppers. The offensive line has been reshuffled, so it should take that unit some time to mesh.


Now hear this: “You look at my last year. Was it one of my better years? Probably not, statistically. But if you compare it to a lot of the guys who played last year, it was better than a lot of guys. So, I don’t really think I need to revitalize anything.” — Julius Peppers, who had 7 1/2  sacks for Chicago last season, fewest in six years

2013 | 8-8, 2nd in North
Last year in playoffs | 2010

Going all the way: For once, quarterback Jay Cutler has all the pieces around him in place — a Pro Bowl running back, good receivers, and a line with five returning starters. The defense is looking to be far more like the 2012 version than 2013, and part of that hinges on the conversion of Shea McClellin from defensive end to linebacker. The defensive line is significantly upgraded with the additions of Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston.

They’re doomed: Yes, all five linemen are back, but right tackle Jordan Mills suffered a broken foot in the 2013 finale, and that’s still bothering him. Backup tackle Eben Britton is hobbled by a bum hamstring that has sidelined him at camp. The Bears are groping for answers at both safety spots.


Now hear this: “He’s the first one in the building, last one to leave, his leadership is through the roof. He’s correcting the coaches. I mean, this is his offense.”  — Brandon Marshall, receiver, on Cutler

2013 | 7-9, 3rd in North
Last year in playoffs | 2011

Going all the way: The Lions have the firepower to hold their own in any shootout. In Golden Tate, they’ve got a suitable sidekick for Calvin Johnson. With his 86-yard touchdown run against Jacksonville this summer, Reggie Bush showed he still has that explosiveness. All five starters are back from an offensive line that played well last season, and quarterback Matthew Stafford has a talented stable of tight ends to target.

They’re doomed: Same old story  — the Lions can’t seem to fix their secondary. Darius Slay is so-so, and fellow corner Rashean Mathis is in the twilight of his career. Ndamukong Suh is a dominant defensive lineman, but Ziggy Ansah is coming off shoulder surgery, and Nick Fairley has been a disappointment.

Now hear this: “It wasn’t easy going through it, that’s for sure, but I think coming out of it on the other side we’ll be better for it.” — Stafford on losing six of the final seven games last season

2013 | 5-10-1, 4th in North
Last year in playoffs | 2012

Going all the way: Adrian Peterson didn’t play in exhibition games, but he’s reliably dominant as the NFL’s best back. Tight end Kyle Rudolph comes in 15 pounds lighter and he’ll be a big part of Norv Turner’s offense. Cordarrelle Patterson had a spectacular rookie year, and he’ll be an offensive centerpiece. New Coach Mike Zimmer is going to move rookie Anthony Barr all over the place, and the UCLA standout should ratchet up the pass rush.

They’re doomed: Matt Cassel is the man of the moment, but finding an answer at quarterback is still an issue for the Vikings, who are hoping rookie Teddy Bridgewater ultimately will be that player. Finding a third cornerback is a major issue, and strong safety is up for grabs too.


Now hear this: “If we can get better at that, being unselfish, and allowing other guys to make plays within the play we make, we can be a really good football team.” — Greg Jennings, receiver

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