Good News/Bad News (2013 NFC North)

By Russell S. Baxter

Pro Football Guru

We are halfway there.

It may technically still be the offseason, but there’s never a bad time when it comes to reminiscing NFL-style.

Here’s the fifth of our eight divisional reviews of the 2013 season, in which we look at the positives and negatives for all 32 teams, with a twinge of recent history and trends as well. We’ve already taken a look at the NFC West, the AFC West, the NFC South and the AFC South.

Next up on the list is the only division that didn’t have at least one 10-win team in 2013: the NFC North.

Green Bay Packers (8-7-1)

Good News: The resiliency of this organization remains impressive, one reason the Packers are tied with the New England Patriots for the longest-current streak in the league in terms of playoff appearances (5). Green Bay has also won the NFC North each of the last three years despite the fact that the team has gone from 15-1 in 2011 to 11-5 in ’12 to 8-7-1. Hats off to head coach Mike McCarthy, who watched his team go through four different starting quarterbacks in 2013 and still finished with the league’s third-ranked offense in terms of yards gained…

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers continues to put up astounding numbers, most notably over the past two seasons. The Green Bay signal-caller, who threw 45 touchdown passes and just six interceptions during his 2011 league MVP season, followed that up with 39 scores and just eight interceptions in 2012. While the Super Bowl XLV champion signal-caller made just nine starts in 2013 (6-3), Rodgers has now thrown 101 touchdown passes compared to only  20 interceptions in his 40 regular-season games dating back to '11--throwing for three or more scores in 21 of those contests)…

Green Bay’s ground attack got a big boost from 2013 second-round pick Eddie Lacy, who finished eighth in the league with 1,178 yards rushing this past season, running for 11 touchdowns. As a team, the Packers ran for 1,558 yards (97.4 YPG) in 2011 and 1,702 yards (106.4 YPG) in 2012…

Bad News: After winning Super Bowl XLV as a wild card team with a 10-6 regular-season record in 2010, the Packers are 34-13-1 since 2011 and have won the NFC North each season but have not reached the NFC Championship Game. Green Bay is just 1-3 in its last four playoff games since winning the franchise’s league-record 13th NFL title…

The Pack has not gotten back to the business of opportunistic football. In their last 32 regular-season games dating back to 2012, Mike McCarthy’s club has forced just 45 turnovers. During the first three seasons under defensive coordinator Dom Capers (2009-11), the Packers totaled 40, 32 and 38 takeaways, respectively, in three seasons…

Chicago Bears (8-8)

Good News: The emergence of wide receiver Alshon Jeffery in his second season was hard to ignore this past season. After playing in just 10 games and catching only 24 passes for 367 yards and three touchdowns as a rookie, the former second-round pick hauled in 89 receptions for 1,421 yards and seven scores in 2013. Jeffery also helped make life easier for Brandon Marshall, who actually caught more touchdown passes this past season (12) than he did in 2012 (11) when he totaled 118 receptions and the rest of the team caught 169 passes, 10 for scores…

Last offseason, the Bears made a concentrated effort to get better on the offensive line and the mission was accomplished in 2013. The free-agent additions of left tackle Jermon Bushrod and left tackle Matt Slauson and the drafting of right guard Kyle Long and right tackle Jordan Mills added up to Chicago quarterbacks Jay Cutler and Josh McCown were sacked a combined 30 times this past season. In 2012, the Bears allowed a whopping 44 sacks…

Bad News: The Bears’ recent woes when it comes to starting strong and fading late continued in 2013 under first-time head coach Marc Trestman, whose team dropped eight of its last 13 contests after a 3-0 start. Like the previous two seasons, injuries were a major factor. In 2012 under Lovie Smith, Chicago finished 10-6 and missed the playoffs. Smith’s club finished 3-5 after they had won seven of their first eight games. And in 2011, the Bears were an 8-8 team following a 7-3 start…

The franchise’s long-time identity, defense, took a year off in 2013. Only the Minnesota Vikings (480) gave up more points than the Bears (478) this past season, 201 more points (277) than the club allowed in 2012. Chicago also allowed the most rushing yards in the NFL, surrendering an astounding 1,971 yards on the ground in the final 10 games alone. All told, 23 of the other 31 clubs allowed fewer than that total in 16 games this past season…

Detroit Lions (7-9)

 

Good News: How’s this for a nice career? How about 206 receptions for 3,452 yards and 17 touchdown receptions in a mere 30 games? Actually, those are the last two seasons for Lions’ wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who didn’t approach his NFL-record 1,964 receiving yards from 2012 but “settled” for 1,492 yards on 84 receptions in 14 contests this past season. Johnson also scored a dozen touchdowns in ’13, seven more than his total (5) in 2012…

In his first season in the Motor City, running back Reggie Bush continued his second career. For the third straight season, the previous two with the Dolphins, Bush totaled at least 200 carries and over that span with Miami and Detroit, the veteran performer has racked up 3,078 yards rushing on 666 attempts (call it a good omen) and 16 scores. In his five seasons with the New Orleans Saints and in a much-different role, the second overall pick in the 2006 NFL draft totaled 524 carries for 2,090 yards and 17 touchdowns. Bush continues to be his versatile as they come. His 54 catches with the Lions this past season was his best total since 52 grabs with the Saints in 2008…

Bad News: Remember when the Lions were 5-0 in 2011? That seems like a long time ago in a galaxy far away. Since that start and including the team’s playoff loss in New Orleans more than a year ago, Detroit is 16-28 in its last 44 games. And just how rough of a stretch has it been for the Men from Motown for the last decade or so? Dating back to the league’s realignment in 2002, the Lions are either last or tied for last in the league in terms of total win-loss record (58-134), home record (38-58, tied with Browns), road mark (20-76) and divisional record (18-54, tied with Browns)…

Looking for a reason the Lions went from a 6-3 team in November to a club out of the playoffs for the 13th time in 14 years? After committing just 13 turnovers in its first nine contests, Detroit gave up the football 21 times during its 1-6 finish, three or more times in all but one of those outings…

Minnesota Vikings (10-6)

Good News: Last April, the Vikings became the first team since the 2001 St. Louis Rams to select three players in the first round of the draft.  And in terms of immediate impact, wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson provided the biggest bang for the buck. The 29th overall selection in 2013 totaled 2,020 combined yards in his rookie campaign, scoring a combined nine touchdowns rushing (3), receiving (4) and on kickoff returns (2). In his final five games of the season, Patterson totaled 375 yards from scrimmage and scored six touchdowns…

Bad News: It’s safe to say that there’s still some work to do on defense when it comes to this club. The Vikings allowed a league-high 480 points in 2013 and for the second time in three seasons, allowed the most touchdown passes (37) in the NFL. Minnesota allowed multiple scores through the air in 12-of-16 games this past season and has now allowed two or more touchdown passes in 30 of their last 48 regular-season contests…

The latest decade has not been kind to the Purple Gang, a team that won consecutive NFC North titles from 2008-09, forged a 22-10 record in those two seasons and reached the conference title game in 2009. Over the last four seasons, the Vikings are a combined 24-39-1 and 10 of those two-dozen victories came in 2012 when they reached the playoffs as a wild card team…