Given that the NFC North Division took a steep dive in 2013 from being considered one of the toughest divisions in all of the NFL at the beginning of the season to one of the worst, record-wise, there is only one way things can go – that’s up – and that includes the future for all four teams, including the Green Bay Packers.
This past week, we’ve seen two new head coaches, Mike Zimmer for the Minnesota Vikings and Jim Caldwell for the Detroit Lions - come on board as the head guys for their respective organizations. With the addition last year of Marc Trestman in Chicago, that makes three out of the four teams with coaching changeovers in the past year or so.
So, what does this mean for the Green Bay Packers?
Well, it means that McCarthy, Ted Thompson and their staff will have a bit of a learning curve. Not only will they be competing next year against coaches who are unfamiliar, most likely the teams they will see on the field will be playing new brands of football – new schemes and new personnel as the new coaches establish their own brands.
This could go one of two ways – Detroit and Minnesota could show growing pains and lose games because players and coaches are finding their comfort zones or they could show vast improvements with a surge in energy and enthusiasm – factors that can sometimes ignite teams.
We all know what we have in Chicago – Trestman has turned that team’s offense around to be one of the best in all of football. However, on the flip side, the defense is still a work in progress and one of the focuses of that team’s offseason will be to address a unit that was one of the worst in the league.
In Minnesota, the Vikings have brought in Zimmer, who last served as the defensive coordinator with the Cincinnati Bengals. With Minnesota’s leaky defense, the message was clear in this one – it’s time for that team to become defensive in a division that has the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler and Matthew Stafford leading the opposition teams.
In Detroit, Caldwell is another offensive guru who steps into a system with the blocks already in place for another run at offensive records. When you’ve got Stafford pitching to all-world receiver Calvin Johnson, their message in hiring an offensive-minded coach is also pretty clear – they want to score points and they want to score a lot of points.
For the Packers, this offseason will also most likely mean trying to bolster its inconsistent and leaking defense. Addressing the defense up the middle will be crucial. The Packers must look at revamping its defensive line, its inside linebacking positions and its safeties. Competing with the likes of those Bears and Lions offenses is a huge task that only gets more difficult as their offensive-minded coaches look for even better players.
If there’s one team that’s the furthest from competing, it’s the Vikings. However, should the team move ahead and finally land an NFL-caliber quarterback, all hell could break loose in the division. The Vikings already have a solid offensive line, they have some developing receivers who could make noise next season and, of course, they’ve got Adrian Peterson.
With a defensive-minded coach in place, their defense will get better – we can count on that. It may take a season, but we can probably be guaranteed to see the Vikings become a force within a season or two.
To keep pace, the Green Bay Packers have their work cut out for them once again. Of course, when the team has a healthy Aaron Rodgers and a pounding running back like Eddie Lacy in the fold, the team has a chance to win week-in and week-out.
The Lions and Vikings have made things interesting with their coaching selections and most certainly have made the division better – at least for now on paper.
But that’s why they play the games.
2014 could be a watershed season for the NFC North. We could see this division once again rise to the level where everyone thought they might reside in 2013.