5 – How will the Lions’ offense look without Megatron?
Since Matthew Stafford became the quarterback in Detroit, he has had an amazing security blanket in Calvin Johnson. How many times have we witnessed “Megatron” come down with catches that were thrown in double and triple coverage? I know I’ve seen many such catches. Now that Johnson is retired, the Lions have a much different look and all eyes are on Stafford to keep the offense going.
What we do know is that the primary receiver will be Golden Tate, the surprising leader in receptions the last two seasons. Marvin Jones left Cincinnati and will start on the other side, and the other move that gets forgotten is the signing of veteran Anquan Boldin. Boldin can play outside or in the slot and is tough enough to come up with big catches, especially on third downs. Once Eric Ebron recovers from his ankle injury, he should be able to provide Stafford with a weapon in the middle of the field.
The running game will be a key into taking pressure off Stafford, led by Ameer Abdullah, who now will get nearly all the carries. Theo Riddick will get carries, but he makes impact as a back who can catch out of the backfield. Riddick was targeted 99 times last season and caught 80 receptions. Not bad for a running back.
If Stafford can get time and the running game is effective, then there is some liklihood that he’ll be able to spread the ball around and function well in this offense. If not, then it’s going to be a long season for the Lions.
4 – Will Chicago’s offense be able to put up points?
In times past, the Bears have relied on Matt Forte to run the ball well in order to set up the passing attack led by Jay Cutler. That attack has worked well, especially when Brandon Marshall, a healthy Alshon Jeffrey, and Martellus Bennett were on the field.
It’s 2016 now and Marshall has been gone two seasons. Forte joins Marshall in New York and Bennett is now a Patriot. So who’s left?
Jeffrey should be back healthy this year, which is a must if the Bears want to compete in any way. He is joined by 2015 first round pick Kevin White, who is back from last year’s season-ending injury.
Second year pro Jeremy Langford has been given the keys to the ground attack and Zach Miller will try to replace Bennett’s production.
At this point, signs point to the Bears struggling on offense, but if Langford is effective and the receivers stay healthy, Cutler should be able to keep this offense afloat.
The defense should be improved as well with newly added linebackers Willie Young, first round pick Leonard Floyd, and Danny Trevathan.
3 – Did Green Bay’s front seven take a step backwards?
Green Bay had a rough season in 2015, but it wasn’t just the lack of an explosive offense. The defense had its share of difficulties as they tried to develop their young talent and plug the big hole at inside linebacker with Clay Matthews, which took away a significant part of the pass rush.
2016 could be different, but it’s hard to tell what direction it will go. On one hand, the inside linebackers could improve with the return of Sam Barrington, Jake Ryan and the emergence of fourth round pick Blake Martinez.
The front line is the most worrysome as B.J. Raji retired, Mike Pennel is suspended for the first four games, and rookie Kenny Clark will be asked to step up in a hurry.
None of this is to say that the front seven won’t be good. Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers are still rushing from the outside and though Peppers is 36, the Packers also have Datone Jones and Nick Perry to spell Peppers and perhaps save some of his snaps for the playoffs. Also, Mike Daniels, the anchor to the whole defense, is still one of the best 3-4 defensive ends in the game.
The question is, as it usually is with the young players GM Ted Thompson likes to insert into the starting lineup, will the young players be able to play at a high level right now? It’s very likely they all develop into good players in a year or two, but that’s not what they need. They need to win NOW. Aaron Rodgers is 33, Julius Peppers is 36, and the offensive line is going to be retooled due to four starters’ contracts being up.
A lot of pressure is on the defense to play at a high level if Green Bay is going to compete for the NFC Championship and that pressure is now on some very young players. Since 2010, the defense has had a lot of trouble in the playoffs against elite teams and if they’re going to win now, it will be up to those young players to play like veterans.
2 – What will the Vikings do without Teddy Bridgewater?
The NFC North champs were looking to stay on top of the hill and their roster did improve. Stefon Diggs emerged as a reliable receiver as a rookie last year and they drafted one of the top receivers in the 2016 class, Laquon Treadwell. Kyle Rudolph is a very good tight end and Adrian Peterson still carries the bulk of the offense on his shoulders.
The skill players, the offensive line and one of the better defenses in the NFL were all ready to take the next step and move deeper into the playoffs, but after the season-ending ACL injury to quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, how will Minnesota recover?
The Vikings’ offense is very run-heavy and expects Adrian Peterson, now 31 years old, to carry the ball a lot. They will have to find someone efficient in a short passing game to take pressure off of Peterson and not lose games, but quarterbacks do not grow on trees.
1 – Will Jordy Nelson’s return be enough to lift Green Bay into a deep playoff run?
The defense has already been discussed, but the story of the 2015 Packers was about how ineffective the passing attack was without their star receiver. With Nelson’s return, the Packers have a deep threat and if newly acquired tight end Jared Cook becomes the great tight end that they’re hoping he’ll be, then all of a sudden, the Packers have one of the top offenses again.
It’s uncertain how Nelson (and Cook) will be in 2016, especially early in the year, but the liklihood is that Nelson gets back to form and Cook at least surpasses his production from his days in St. Louis.
The Packers are all but a lock to win a very poor NFC North, but the question remains as to how far they will go when they face teams like Carolina, Arizona and Seattle.