All the numbers that come after players’ names represent how they were rated on ESPN’s Free Agent Tracker
GREEN BAY PACKERS
LOSE: WR Greg Jennings (83), S Charles Woodson (79), RB Cedric Benson (72), RB Ryan Grant (70), LB Erik Walden (70), TE Tom Crabtree (66)
RE-SIGNS: LB Brad Jones (69)
DRAFT: 1st round: DE Datone Jones, UCLA 2nd round: RB Eddie Lacy, Alabama 4th round: OT David Bukhtiari, Colorado G J.C. Tretter, Cornell RB Johnathan Franklin, UCLA 5th round: CB Micah Hyde, Iowa DT Josh Boyd, Mississippi State 6th round: OLB Nathan Palmer, Illinois State 7th round: WR Charles Johnson, Grand Valley State WR Kevin Dorsey, Maryland OLB Samuel Barrington, USF
SUMMARY: The Packers had one of the quietest offseasons in the league, as they were one of only two teams not to sign anyone during free agency. However, they did lose some people. They lost two of their starting runningbacks in RB Cedric Benson and RB Ryan Grant, and also lost some veteran leadership in WR Greg Jennings and S Charles Woodson. They did well in the draft, selecting two talented stars in RB Eddie Lacy and RB Johnathan Franklin. They also selected DE Datone Jones in the first round and he is projected to start opposite DE B.J. Raji. The Packers still have an elite quarterback in Aaron Rodgers, but Green Bay must do a better job with protection this year. Last year, the Packers allowed 51 sacks, second-most in the league. Things are already not looking so hot for the offensive line, as starting LT Bryan Bulaga tore his ACL and will be out for the year. 4th round pick OT David Bukhtiari has been tasked with taking his place, but if Bukhtiari can’t handle it, Rodgers will be getting hit from behind once again. The running game must get better for this team after finishing 20th in rushing last year. The most run production they had last year was against the New Orleans Saints. Departed RB Benson ran for 84 yards in the game. The last time the Packers had a 100-yard rusher was when RB James Starks ran for 123 yards against the Philadelphia Eagles in the January 9, 2010 wild card match-up. In case you forgot, it’s 2013. Whoever is the starting runningback this year must step up to the plate. Few teams can succeed with a one-dimensional offense and even fewer can win a championship with such an offense. If the running game makes great strides at improvement, the defense performs, and Rodgers stays healthy, this team will not only win the NFC North despite a tough schedule, but become a serious playoff threat.
SCHEDULE PROJECTED RECORD: 10-6
Week 1: @ SF Week 2: vs. WSH Week 3: @ CIN Week 4: BYE Week 5: vs. DET Week 6: @ BAL Week 7: vs. CLE Week 8: @ MIN Week 9: vs. CHI Week 10: vs. PHI Week 11: @ NYG Week 12: vs. MIN Week 13: @ DET Week 14: vs. ATL Week 15: @ DAL Week 16: vs. PIT Week 17: @ CHI
GET: WR Greg Jennings (83), QB Matt Cassel (69), CB Jacob Lacey (69)
LOSE: CB Antoine Winfield (77), LB Jasper Brinkley (75), WR Michael Jenkins (69), WR Percy Harvin (trade)
RE-SIGNS: OT Phil Loadholt (79), LB Erin Henderson (75), WR Jerome Simpson (74), S Jamarca Sanford (71)
DRAFT: 1st round: DT Sharrif Floyd, Florida CB Xavier Rhodes, Florida State WR Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee 4th round: OLB Gerald Hodges, Penn State 5th round: PT Jeff Locke, UCLA 6th round: G Jeff Baca, UCLA 7th round: ILB Michael Mauti, Penn State G Travis Bond, North Carolina DT Everett Dawkins, Florida State
SUMMARY: RB Adrian Peterson’s MVP season led the Vikings to a playoff appearance despite a 31st overall finish in passing and 24th overall finish in pass defense. The Vikings did great in the draft, selecting either offensive lineman to protect AP in the future or defense. The signing of WR Greg Jennings is a big help to QB Christian Ponder. Hopefully he will be able to show improvement and take advantage of a better receiving core. The secondary is a little weaker after the loss of CB Antoine Winfield, but the strength of the front seven of this team should help counter that. The Vikings had 44 sacks last year, good for fifth-most in the league. If they perform like they did last year, they will definitely be in the hunt for a wild card spot.
SCHEDULE PROJECTED RECORD: 9-7
Week 1: @ DET Week 2: @ CHI Week 3: vs. CLE Week 4: vs. PIT Week 5: BYE Week 6: vs. CAR Week 7: @ NYG Week 8: vs. GB Week 9: @ DAL Week 10: vs. WSH Week 11: @ SEA Week 12: @ GB Week 13: vs. CHI Week 14: @ BAL Week 15: vs. PHI Week 16: @ CIN Week 17: vs. DET
GET: LB D.J. Williams (80), OT Jermon Bushrod (76), LB James Anderson (75), TE Martellus Bennett (74), OL Eben Britton (69), DT Sedrick Ellis (retired)
LOSE: LB Nick Roach (74), C Chris Spencer (74), G Lance Louis (72), DL Israel Idonije (70), TE Kellen Davis (68), TE Matt Spaeth (68), LB Geno Hayes (68), CB D.J. Moore (67), OL Gabe Carimi (trade), LB Brian Urlacher (retired)
RE-SIGNS: DT Henry Melton (79)
DRAFT: 1st round: G Kyle Long, Oregon 2nd round: ILB Jonathan Bostic, Florida 4th round: OLB Khaseem Greene, Rutgers 5th round: OT Jordan Mills, Louisiana Tech 6th round: DE Cornelius Washington, Georgia 7th round: WR Marquess Wilson, Washington State
SUMMARY: After starting 7-1, the Bears finished 3-5 in their last eight games, missing the playoffs despite a 10-6 record. The face of the franchise, LB Brian Urlacher, retired, and in a surprise move, the Bears fired coach Lovie Smith. Smith was 81-63 in his nine years in Chicago and led the Bears to 3 playoff appearances, including a Super Bowl loss to the Indianapolis Colts. Those stats don’t look that good on paper, but the defense was stellar under Smith. Last year, the Bears finished 8th against the pass and against the rush, led the league in takeaways, and finished third in points allowed. The Bears struggle on the offensive side of the ball though. While RB Matt Forte was able to lead the Bears with a 10th best rushing attack, QB Jay Cutler’s struggles continued, as the Bears finished 29th in passing. To try and fix that, the Bears picked up TE Martellus Bennett in free agency, but aside from that, have done nothing to solve the problem. They lost a lot of players during the offseason but did well filling the holes. LB D.J. Williams should be a suitable replacement for Urlacher and OT Jermon Bushrod and 1st round pick G Kyle Long should help out in pass protection and on the rush. This is also a big year for Cutler because a lot of potential franchise quarterbacks will be coming to the draft next year. Cutler has failed to perform and this might be his last chance to do so. I think once again the offense will be on the shoulders of WR Brandon Marshall and Forte and it will struggle once again. Only the strong defense will allow this team to contend for third place with the Detroit Lions.
SCHEDULE PROJECTED RECORD: 7-9
Week 1: vs. CIN Week 2: vs. MIN Week 3: @ PIT Week 4: @ DET Week 5: vs. NO Week 6: vs. NYG Week 7: @ WSH Week 8: BYE Week 9: @ GB Week 10: vs. DET Week 11: VS. BAL Week 12: @STL Week 13: @ MIN Week 14: vs. DAL Week 15: @ CLE Week 16: @ PHI Week 17: vs. GB
GET: RB Reggie Bush (77), S Glover Quin (76), DE Israel Idonije (70), DE Jason Jones (64), S Chris Hope (61), QB Thaddeus Lewis
LOSE: DE Cliff Avril (84), DE Kyle Vanden Bosch (77), LB Justin Durant (77), OT Gosder Cherilus (76), G Stephen Peterman (72), CB Drayton Florence (69), CB Jacob Lacey (69), RB Jahvid Best
RE-SIGNS: CB Chris Houston (77), S Louis Delmas (75), LB DeAndre Levy (75), S Amari Speivey (71)
DRAFT: 1st round: DE Ezekiel Ansah, BYU 2nd round: CB Darius Slay, Mississippi State 3rd round: G Larry Warford, Kentucky 4th round: DE Devin Taylor, South Carolina 5th round: PT Sam Martin, Appalachian State 6th round: WR Corey Fuller, Virginia Tech RB Theo Riddick, Notre Dame 7th round: TE Michael Williams, Alabama ILB Brandon Hepburn, Florida A&M
Summary: Last year, I picked this team to take one of the NFC wild card spots. I was clearly mistaken. This team has a lot of promise despite their lack of a running game but that should change this year with the signing of RB Reggie Bush. QB Matthew Stafford led the Lions passing attack to a second place finish while the running game crawled to a 23rd place finish. The defense was 14th against the pass and 16th against the rush, but they finished 27th in points allowed. They also had the 3rd-worst turnover differential at -16, only ahead of the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs. The Lions got 17 takeaways and had 33 giveaways. The Lions have got to improve those numbers if they want to have a chance at winning this division, which in my opinion is the second-hardest division in the league behind the NFC South. The loss of both of their starting DE’s, especially Cliff Avril, will hurt, but hopefully 1st round pick DE Ezekiel Ansah will prove to be an explosive force and help lessen the blow. The linebacking core is slightly weaker after the loss of LB Justin Durant, who I thought had a lot of potential. Receiving depth is a concern but if the running game can get going and the Lions can be even half as productive as they were last year in passing, this team has a chance to overtake the Bears for third.
SCHEDULE PROJECTED RECORD: 6-10
Week 1: vs. MIN Week 2: @ ARI Week 3: @ WSH Week 4: vs. CHI Week 5: @ GB Week 6: @ CLE Week 7: vs. CIN Week 8: vs. DAL Week 9: BYE Week 10: @ CHI Week 11: @ PIT Week 12: vs. TB Week 13: vs. GB Week 14: @ PHI Week 15: vs. BAL Week 16: vs. NYG Week 17: @ MIN