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Last updated: August 29. 2014 2:12AM - 272 Views
By Mark Bell Spectator’s Eye



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If there’s any such thing as a one-man team in the NFL, it is Aaron Rodgers and his Green Bay Packers. Give Eddie Lacy a nod as a terrific back, but when Rodgers went down last year, the team went 0-5 in November. It was only the ineptitude of Chicago and Detroit that left them with an open door to the post-season.


It’s very hard not to pick the Pack to win the division again since they’ve done it four years in a row, but three consecutive early exits from the playoffs has got the specter of doubt growing in the heads of the franchise as well as among its huge and passionate fan base.


The slow decline of this team’s prospects can be tied to the continued deterioration of its defense, and acquiring 34-year-old Julius Peppers from Chicago is hardly the sort of move that will change results to the point of more wins.


Offensively, they remain a solid match for any team they face, but post-season success will depend on how much defensive coordinator Dom Capers can get from tweaking his scheme because the team’s talent lode is elsewhere. The prediction here is a second place finish.


Nobody trusts the Detroit Lions. Who in their right mind can question the skepticism? From the depths of Rod Marinelli’s 0-16 season to the dregs of last year’s 7-9 Jim Schwartz collapse, this team has done precious little for 60 years except strive to reach mediocrity, only to descend into chaos soon thereafter.


There’s so much talent on this team, it’s hard to fathom how they have failed to learn time after time that it’s their own lack of discipline that has kept them down. This is the one team that Pogo understands because self-inflicted wounds exist everywhere you look.


The offense can be a veritable scoring machine, but Matthew Stafford, with all the ability in the world, has a head that turns to mush when the pressure’s on. Everybody talks about how good that defensive front is, right about the same time they talk about all the unnecessary penalties they collect for dumb plays. Nobody talks about the team’s corners, not without holding their nose anyway.


OK, enough of the bad-mouthing. New head coach Jim Caldwell will bring a calm and steadying influence, but he had better mind his questionable clock-management skills more closely because they will be in some tight ones.


Here’s guessing once again that the only thing Detroit needed was an attitude adjustment brought along by its new coaching crew. After all, it’s not like they are going from worst to first.


Meanwhile up in Minnesota, Vikings new head coach Mike Zimmer is everyone’s candidate for the “It’s About Time Award” and he’s not about to blow it. Bringing in Norv Turner as offensive coordinator pretty much guarantees a pass-first philosophy on offense, which fits in nicely with the rest of the division’s defensive weaknesses.


All-world rusher Adrian Peterson coming off a down year slowed by injuries still gained over 1,200 yards. He may look forward to finding bigger running lanes if the passing game starts to come together. Choosing Matt Cassel as the starting quarterback is hardly a bold move, but it looks as though the coaches are going to focus on steady progress and not attempt to make gains by leaps and bounds. Don’t be surprised if Louisville product Teddy Bridgewater is starting under center before the season’s out, though.


On defense, Zimmer is the man, leading a top-10 defense in Cincinnati four out of the last five years. He loves blitzing, when he has the ability to do so. Once they get control of this team, Zimmer and Turner have the potential to be a great combination. This year, they’ll make improvement but probably still wind up in last place.


Lastly, don’t forget that this team will be playing outdoors at a college stadium for the next two seasons while their new complex is being built. Viking football returns to the great outdoors and that should make for a really fun environment for divisional games in December.


It’s hard to recall a time when a team’s identity changed so drastically so quickly than did the Chicago Bears’ between the 2012 and 2013 seasons. In a bid to become more effective offensively, they totally came apart on defense. I mean, the Bears with no defense?! That’s like Santa with no reindeer.


The front office absolutely cleaned house up front and it’s a mixed bag. Jared Allen may be a quality pickup at defensive end, but being on the high side of 30 doesn’t have a lot of upside when you’re in the trenches. The team will still struggle to stop the deluge of scoring headed their way (and that’s just inside the division) because the secondary still stinks and the linebackers are a shaky bunch.


Jay Cutler’s years of cheesing people off with his sourpuss attitude will finally catch up with him this year if the results on the field leave the team home in January once again. Whether or not it’s his fault, he’s the one to get the blame. When you sign for $126 million, you darn well better be worth it and third place again is definitely not worth it.


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