NFL Offseason: Good News and Bad News for NFC North

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Mar 16, 2013

Pro football guru Russell Baxter looks at a different NFL division each week. You can also see the AFC East, NFC East, and AFC North.

By Russell S. Baxter Frozen Tundra Analyst (@baxfootballguru)

Free agency is in full swing around the National Football League and so is Cold Hard Football Facts’ look back at each division.

This week, it’s the NFC North, which boasted three teams with 10 or more wins and playoff participants in the Green Bay Packers and (surprisingly) the Minnesota Vikings.

Meanwhile, the Chicago Bears finished 10-6 and were on the outside looking in when it came to the playoffs.

That’s certainly a little humbling when you consider that each of the last three Super Bowl champions (the 2010 Packers, 2011 Giants and 2012 Ravens) all won 10 games or less during the regular season.

Regular readers know the drill by now. Be it recently or historically, there’s always some interesting numbers that we all find fascinating in terms of trends, one of the many aspects that makes the National Football League the game we all love.

Now to the fun stuff…


Green Bay Packers (11-5)

The Good News: 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.

That adds up to an incredible 84 touchdown passes and just 14 interceptions in his last 31 games, with Rodgers throwing three or more touchdown passes in 18 of those 31 contests . This past season alone, NFC North rival quarterbacks in Detroit’s Matthew Stafford (17), Chicago’s Jay Cutler (14) and Minnesota’s Christian Ponder (12) all threw at least a dozen interceptions...

The Bad News: The Packers were better on the defensive side of the football in 2012 than they were a season ago, but that’s not to say that there weren’t issues. Even with Matthews and safety Charles Woodson missing time, Green Bay finished 11th in the NFL in total defense and totaled 47 sacks.

But the usually opportunistic Packers totaled only 23 takeaways during the regular season and were just 17th in the league in rushing yards allowed. And in the playoffs, Dom Capers’ defense allowed 490 yards rushing;  241 to running backs and an astounding 249 to quarterbacks…

After winning Super Bowl XLV with a 10-6 regular-season record in 2010, the Packers are 26-6 the last two seasons combined and haven’t reached the NFC Championship Game…

Minnesota Vikings (10-6)

The Good News: Give credit to head coach Leslie Frazier and the Vikings, who won at least 10 games and reached the playoffs for the first time since 2009. The previous two seasons, Minnesota was a combined 9-23, including a dismal 3-13 in 2011.

Also worth noting that the Vikings entered last season having lost 11 straight games vs. their NFC North rivals.

Frazier’s club finished 4-2 vs. divisional foes in the regular season in 2012 and defeated each of their rivals (Packers, Bears and Lions) at least once…

Running back Adrian Peterson rushed for 2,097 yards this past season, the second-highest single-season total in NFL history.

The Vikings’ workhorse ran for 100-plus yards in 10-of-16 games and was named the league’s Most Valuable Player, the first non-quarterback to win the award since Chargers’ running back LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006…

The Bad News: It was a tale of three seasons for quarterback Christian Ponder, who would finish the season with 18 touchdown passes and just 12 interceptions.

But Ponder threw for four scores and zero picks in his first four games and 4 touchdowns and zero interceptions in his final three contests. But in the middle of the team’s playoff season the former first-round pick served up 12 interceptions compared to only 10 scores in his other nine outings…

There’s still some work to do on defense despite some subtle improvement. In 2011, the Vikings allowed an NFL-high 34 touchdown passes despite tying for the league lead with 50 sacks.

This past season, Minnesota totaled 44 sacks but still gave up 28 scores through the air. The Vikings have now allowed two or more touchdown passes in 18 of their last 32 regular-season contests…


Chicago Bears (10-6)

The Good News: The O in Chicago could stand for opportunistic as the Bears led the NFL with 44 takeaways in 2012. Interesting to note that the last time this team led the league in this category was Chicago’s Super Bowl season of 2006, when the Bears also totaled 44 takeaways.

When it was all said and done, these “Monsters of the Midway” allowed just 19 touchdown passes while returning eight interceptions for scores (the NFL record for interception returns for touchdowns in a season is nine by the 1961 San Diego Chargers)…

Hats off to wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who’s reunion with quarterback Jay Cutler helped him put up monster numbers. Marshall totaled 118 catches for 1,508 yards and 11 touchdowns this past season.

But it should also be noted that the rest of the Bears combined for only 169 catches, good for 1,788 yards and 10 scores…

The Bad News: While some questioned why longtime head coach Lovie Smith (right or wrong) lost his job after the team posted a 10-6 finish but missed the playoffs, keep in mind that the Bears had won seven of their first eight games before a 3-5 finish.

The loss of Cutler for roughly a game and a half was certainly a factor in the second half of the season, one which saw Chicago limited to 17 or fewer points in five of their final eight contests, all losses.

Smith wound up coaching the Bears for nine seasons and posted 84 overall wins, third in franchise history to “Papa Bear” George Halas (324) and Mike Ditka (112). But the Bears made only three playoff appearances in nine seasons under Smith, including just one (2010) since the team’s Super Bowl season of 2006…


Detroit Lions (4-12)

The Good News: What can you say about Lions’ wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who not only set a new NFL record for receiving yards in a season (1,964), more than 100 yards better than San Francisco’s Jerry Rice’s mark in 1995 (1,848) but Johnson’s total of 11 100-yard receiving games in a single season 2012 tied another record set in ’95, that by Cowboys’ wideout Michael Irvin…

It was a bounce back year for defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who finished second on the team with 8.0 sacks and wound up back in the Pro Bowl for the second time in three seasons. In 2011, the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2010 led the Lions with 10.0 sacks…

The 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 a mere 9-19 in its last 28 games and enters 2013 riding an eight-game losing streak.

And during the winless second half of the season, the Lions allowed 31 or more points in five of those eight setbacks…How rough of a stretch has it been for the Men From Motown?

We’ll just go back to realignment in 2002, where the Lions are last in the league in terms of total win-loss record (51-125), home record (34-54), road mark (17-71) and divisional record (14-52). Last season, the Lions were both 2-6 at home and on the road and went winless (0-6) vs. their NFC North rivals…

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