It’s that unfortunate time of the year again, where professional football stories are confined to which players are unhappy about their contracts, speculation of which team will go after which free agent in March, and so on. Since there isn’t going to be much of any interest in the NFL realm until Feb. 20, when rookie hopefuls will be strutting their stuff at the Indianapolis combine, now is a good time to look towards the future of the division.
This week I got a chance to sit down with Nick Amatangelo, the sports editor of the Loyola Phoenix at Loyola University Chicago. Amatangelo is also an avid, but level-headed Green Bay Packers fan (a true rarity!) The interview itself went as follows.
Purple Horns: Nick, thank you so much for taking the time to sit down and talk NFC North football with me.
Nick Amatangelo: No problem, I’m happy to chat.
PH: The Chicago Bears finished last season at 10-6 and missed out on a playoff berth due to losing a tiebreaker against the Minnesota Vikings. Do you think that the Bears will be back in the mix in the 2013 season?
NA: That’s tough to say. [New head coach] Marc Trestman wants to bring a big change to the offensive side of the ball, which will require bringing in pieces for Cutler. You could probably expect them to need two drafts to shore up that offensive line and maybe add a weapon or two, so I’d say they’ll probably be back in the playoffs in either 2014 or 2015.
PH: Speaking of the playoffs, the Vikings were one of the surprise teams of the 2012 season. Do you see them replicating their success in 2013?
NA: If [running back] Adrian Peterson does anything like he did this past season and they add a receiver or two, the offense could be a lot more consistent. I do think the Vikings overachieved a little last season, but if they have another good draft, I could definitely see them back in the playoffs in 2013.
PH: The Packers won the division as most expected, but they weren’t as explosive as in 2011. Longtime veteran receiver Donald Driver has elected to retire and signs point to receiving star Greg Jennings leaving for free agency. Will the Packers have enough weapons in 2013 to win the division again?
NA: Absolutely. Randall Cobb is one of the up and coming stars in the NFL and Jordy Nelson and James Jones still offer a strong enough receiving corps for this team to be effective. Plus they have arguably the best quarterback in the league throwing them the ball.
PH: The Lions took a big step backwards last season despite Calvin Johnson having a historic season as a receiver. What will they have to do to get back into the playoffs in 2013?
NA: I don’t know if they can get back to the playoffs next year, or the year after. They definitely overachieved in 2011. The problem is Calvin Johnson is the whole offense and you can’t have an offense built like that. Even if they add some receivers and a good running game, the defense is still a mess. It’s going to take time to fix that club. You have to figure that the days of Coach Schwartz are also numbered.
PH: With three teams with 10 wins or more, is the NFC North the best division in football?
NA: Absolutely. This season, absolutely. Next season might be different though. The Bears and Lions won’t get 10 wins. The Vikings probably won’t get 10 wins. The Packers should get 10 wins, but who knows. From top to bottom, the NFC North is the best division in the NFL, with the rising NFC West being a close second.
PH: Which team in the NFC North will have the best offense in 2013 and which will feature the best defense?
NA: The offense has to go to the Packers at this point. They have the best quarterback in football. If they fix the line up, you’re looking at a very, very good offense. For defense, I actually think the Vikings have a slight edge over the Bears right now. Lots of up and coming stars in Minnesota.
PH: Finally, the question of big debate. Which team has a worse offensive line, the Bears or the Packers?
NA: They’re the two worst offensive lines in football, hands down. I’d say the Packers have the worst, but it’s masked because Rodgers is so good at scrambling and throwing on the run. They’re both awful though.