NFL Nation: 4 Downs -- NFC North
When the 2014 season opens, Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy will be the only coach in the division with more than one season under his belt with his current team. Does the Packers’ coaching stability give them a leg up on the rest of the division?
Some would say it has more to do with Aaron Rodgers than McCarthy, but the coach-quarterback relationship is an important one. Throw in general manager Ted Thompson, and Green Bay has the type of triumvirate that will keep it as a division contender for the foreseeable future.
Will Jim Caldwell be able to harness the impressive amount of talent in Detroit and finally solve the Lions’ late-game meltdowns, turning them into a contender?
Detroit’s offense is loaded, but so is Chicago’s. With Alshon Jeffery emerging as a star receiver, do the Bears have the most potent offense in the division?
In Minnesota, the big question is whether Jared Allen will be back and what impact his departure would have on the team.
NFL Nation’s NFC North reporters -- Rob Demovsky in Green Bay, Ben Goessling in Minnesota, Michael Rothstein in Detroit and Michael C. Wright in Chicago -- tackle all of these topics in 4 Downs.
The Packers' stability in their coaching staff gives them a leg up on the rest of the division.
Rob Demovsky: True, but that's not the biggest thing that does that. Sure, having consistency on the coaching staff is important. The Packers reload -- they don't rebuild -- every year, in large part because of their stability. But more important is having it at the quarterback position. That was evident last season when Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone. The Packers still won the division, but it wasn't easy.
Michael Rothstein: False. Stability helps, sure, but it all comes to quarterback play and talent in the NFL, and this is what makes Green Bay such a difficult out for the rest of the division. The Packers have the best passer and decision-maker in the division in Aaron Rodgers and have the most overall talent around him as well. Randall Cobb, James Jones and Jordy Nelson are all reliable receivers, and Eddie Lacy turned in a performance as a rookie that hints he'll be a consistent rusher for Green Bay. The defense has some holes entering free agency, but this is an offensive league.
Michael C. Wright: True. Obviously there are new coaches in Detroit and Minnesota, and a second-year coach in Chicago. Since the start of 1999, there have been 13 new coaches in the NFC North. None made the playoffs in the first year with the team, and only Mike Sherman had a winning record in his first year. Interestingly, not including Bears coach Marc Trestman (and Ray Rhodes lasted only one season), four of those 13 coaches made the playoffs in their second year.
@RobDemovsky true; coaching stability usually means scheme stays the same...less to learn schematically so players grow more in same system.— Danielle Lewandowski (@hooshouse) February 24, 2014
With Jay Cutler locked up and Alshon Jeffery emerging, the Bears will have the most potent offense in the division
Demovsky: False, but perhaps only because Cutler remains mistake-prone. That's the reason you might say the same thing about the Lions and Matthew Stafford. If Randall Cobb remains healthy and the Packers either re-sign Jermichael Finley or find another capable tight end, then they should have the most potent offense in the division, especially given the emergence of Eddie Lacy.
Rothstein: True (at least for now). This is a pretty interesting question. Every team in the NFC North has a reason to believe it could be the most potent offense in the division, from Minnesota (Adrian Peterson) to Green Bay (Rodgers) to Detroit (Matthew Stafford, Reggie Bush, Calvin Johnson). But the Bears have the most established contingency of stars at each position, be it Cutler at quarterback, Matt Forte at running back and Jeffery and Brandon Marshall as two tall, dynamic pass-catchers. It'll be interesting to see if this holds after free agency and the draft.
Wright: False. It's true the Bears will be in Year 2 of the offense under Trestman, so they should be better. But you've also got to take into account the rest of the division now has plenty of game film on the Bears and will go into 2014 with a good idea of their strengths and weaknesses. If Detroit adds another receiver opposite Calvin Johnson, the Lions are just as dangerous. Also, Green Bay is always potent with No. 12 in the mix.
Jared Allen will leave the Vikings, but the impact will be marginal.
Demovsky: True. We saw that last season against the Packers, a team that he had been dominant against since he came to the Vikings in 2008. In his first 10 games against the Packers, he recorded 14.5 sacks. In the two games last season, he had none. Both times, he was shut out by rookie left tackle David Bakhtiari. That said, the Vikings still have a capable pass-rusher in Brian Robison.
Rothstein: True, but with a contingency. This statement has nothing to do with Allen's production, which was still pretty good in 2013 with double-digit sacks (11.5) and 52 tackles. As long as Minnesota is able to bring back Everson Griffen -- another unrestricted free agent -- he should be able to pick up the production Allen provided during his time in Minnesota. Between Griffen (if he returns) and either a free-agent signee or drafted prospect, they should fill similar roles to what Allen and Griffen filled last season.
Wright: False. If Allen leaves, the impact definitely won't be marginal from a standpoint of production on the field and leadership in that locker room. Allen accounted for 28 percent of Minnesota's sacks last season. If you thought the Vikings were horrible on defense, just think of what that unit would've been in 2013 without him in the mix.
@GoesslingESPN False. Allen was overpaid, yes, but he took up a double-team every snap and that kind of edge production is hard to replace.— Jake (@jakeallen47) February 24, 2014
Jim Caldwell will fix the Lions' late-game meltdowns and guide Detroit to a division title.
Demovsky: True. There's too much talent on that team for it to continuously underachieve. Caldwell will instill the discipline necessary for the Lions to finally break through and seriously contend for the NFC North title. With a dominant defensive front and a playmaker like Calvin Johnson, the pieces are in place. Caldwell inherited a good situation.
Rothstein: False. Caldwell will likely fix the late-game meltdowns -- if he doesn't, his time in Detroit might end up being short -- but winning a divisional title will be difficult for Detroit as long as Aaron Rodgers is around. Even when Green Bay has off seasons, like the Packers did in 2013, they still find a way to end up in the playoffs and often with a divisional title. The Lions will have a lot of talent, but until the draft and free agency transpires, they feel like a team one or two pieces short of knocking off Green Bay. But a playoff berth is a definite possibility entering 2014 with the offensive and defensive talent Detroit has.
Wright: True. Well, sort of true. With Caldwell at the helm, I think the Lions can eventually win the division. But I'm not expecting that in 2014. I think Caldwell will work wonders for Matthew Stafford, and overall I think he'll be able to quell some of the disciplinary issues the Lions have been plagued with over the years. Hey, if Peyton Manning endorses Caldwell, I believe he's the real deal.