New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees (Photo via Getty Images)
Cleveland Browns HC Hue Jackson (Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports)
Ryan Lipton’s NFL Week 16 picks against the spread!
Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ryan Lipton’s NFL Week 15 picks against the spread!
Photo via Matt Ludtke/AP
Ah the NFC North. This division has always reminded me of the most history in one division. Yes, the New England Patriots have more championships than every other team, but a division that has the former head coach that the Super Bowl trophy is named after? I mean come on, if that’s not history I don’t know what is.
Lambeau Field, Soldier Stadium that’s history for you. Two iconic fields where some of the best teams of all time have played. The Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions both have beautiful indoor stadiums with Minnesota’s US Bank Stadium, a beautiful indoor arena, being opened for the first time in 2016.
Beautiful fields and storied franchises, those are just a few of the characteristics of the NFC North.
[irp posts=”13088″ name=”NFC West preview: Can anyone challenge the Seahawks?”]
Green Bay Packers
Yes, the Green Bay Packers still have who many believe is the best quarterback in the NFL. I know, not Tom Brady but Aaron Rodgers. Last year, the former-Cal standout said his team would run the table when they were 4-6 and you know what? They did just that.
Rodgers was absolutely incredible last year, but some of the Packers issues remain clear. Did the defense do enough in the offseason to get better? Will wide receiver-turned running back Ty Montgomery be able to have another productive season rushing the ball? These are questions that remain to be answered.
The Packers finished ranked No. 22 in the league in yards allowed last season and drafted former UCLA defensive tackle Kenny Clark and recently signed linebacker Ahmad Brooks to improve their pass rush.
The offensive line will be among the best in the game since the team signed Jahri Evans and re-signed Don Barclay to ensure that Rodgers has all the protection he needs.
Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, and Davante Adams all still create a good arsenal of receivers for Rodgers and you better believe he’ll use them all well.
[irp posts=”13013″ name=”NFL predictions: Raiders improve despite decline in 2017 win/loss record”]
The Lions a year ago, made it into the playoffs only to lose to the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field during Wild Card Weekend to extend their playoff losing streak to nine consecutive games, the longest streak in NFL history.
Detroit has a very solid quarterback in Matthew Stafford, but he hasn’t shown he can win playoff games. While Detroit’s offense was solid in 2016, at No. 13 overall, Stafford might need more help in 2017.
Insert Ameer Abdullah. This speedster out of Nebraska has the talent to be a clear no. 1 running back, but hasn’t been able to stay healthy. If he can assume the role of a three-down running back, with Theo Reddick there to help in pass-catching situations, the running game could be a key to winning in 2017.
Golden Tate and Marvin Jones are going to be relied on heavily in the passing game, but the emergence of tight end Eric Ebron will be important as Stafford looks to have three solid options.
[irp posts=”12984″ name=”3 takeaways after Raiders’ preseason loss to Cowboys”]
The Vikings were expected to be good ever since Teddy Bridgewater looked like he could be the franchise quarterback, but after tearing his ACL a year ago, the team hasn’t been the same.
Bridgewater has been put on the PUP list to start the season and will be out at least the first six games. Sam Bradford will take his spot as the QB1.
Stefon Diggs has what it takes to become one of the elite receivers in the game. The running back group is as deep as any team with the starting running back looking like it will be assumed by rookie Dalvin Cook, while the team also signed free agent Latavius Murray in the offseason who ran for 12 touchdowns in 2016.
The defense had a great 2016 finishing third in overall defense. With Everson Griffen, Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Harrison Smith, and Xavier Rhodes, it shouldn’t regress very much in 2017.
Watch out for Minnesota if Bradford can just be a solid game-manager until Bridgewater, hopefully, is healthy to return.
[irp posts=”13055″ name=”Celtics G Kyrie Irving has nowhere to go but up”]
The Bears signed a very good backup quarterback in Mike Glennon to become their starter. 22 million. That’s how much they paid for a quarterback who’s never thrown for 20 touchdowns in a single season.
Also, they traded with the 49ers for the No. 2 overall pick taking quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. They gave up way too much for the pick, considering all the information pointed to San Francisco not having any interest in the former-UNC quarterback.
Jordan Howard had a phenomenal first year and is primed to have a complete season as a top-10 running back.
Unfortunately, Chicago just lost wide receiver Cameron Meredith to a torn ACL and this means they will have to rely on Kevin White, who is very talented but has been injured for much of his short career. White’s success will play a large role in the Bears trying to move the ball down the field, no matter who’s under center.
While the defense wasn’t terrible, it was just average and won’t be a big factor in the Bears taking big strides this season.
[irp posts=”1439″ name=”Cam Newton might never be the same”]
Division Champion: Green Bay Packers
The Packers have to be the clear favorite to win the NFC North in 2017 despite the fact that their defense still has major questions. With that being said, it is possible both the Vikings and Lions could take advantage of any struggles.
Aaron Rodgers is the only reason Green Bay is the favorite. He and Tom Brady both have the capability to dominate games. Moreover, Rodgers is still in the middle of his prime, unlike Brady.
Ty Montgomery will be a huge key for the Packers, with few questions in the passing game. Montgomery should be expected to have a very good year as the starting running back.
However, questions still surround the secondary and if they will be able to improve in 2017.
Regardless of the form the defense is in, the offensive line is one of the best in the NFL and they will help Rodgers lead the Pack to another division title.
[irp posts=”6667″ name=”ESPN choosing brand over star power will lead to inevitable decline”]
Dark Horse: Minnesota Vikings
This year, the Minnesota Vikings are intriguing. Bradford has never fully realized his potential but if he can help the Vikings to a winning record before Bridgewater can come back, the rest of this team has the ability to be elite.
Dalvin Cook could easily be the offensive rookie of the year. With Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon also in the mix, the Vikings don’t need star-production out of their quarterback.
The defense is ferocious and should be one of the NFL’s best in 2017. Look out for the Vikings as they could easily compete for a wild card spot if not the division.
Rob Werner is a contributing writer for The JR Report. For more news follow him on twitter @robwerner28.
Photo via the Oakland Raiders official website
Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, according to Sports Illustrated’s Monday Morning Quarterback (MMQB), is the No. 10 best quarterback and No. 124 best player in the NFL.
Anyone in the Raider Nation knows how laughable the ranking is as Carr was ranked No. 11 in the NFL Network’s Top 100 players.
The MMQB’s list has Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert ranked one spot higher than Carr. While Carr started in 15 games and was an MVP candidate in 2016, Eifert started in just two games.
Photo via Getty Images
GB @ DET
This matchup is quite interesting not only because of the playoff implications for both teams, but also because of the fact that a tie results in a playoff berth for both teams. With this in mind, there is quite a unique scenario in which both teams attempt to tie the game. However, I stick with my prediction from a few week ago. Rodgers leads his team back to a winner takes all game (division championship), followed up by a win in Detroit.
It’s simple, when both teams are playing at their best, Green Bay is going to win. The ceiling is much higher for Aaron Rodgers than it is for Stafford. The Packers have undoubtedly been playing great football as of late and that is all thanks to Aaron Rodgers, so we know we are going to get him at the top of his game.
Amazingly, Aaron Rodgers is back in the MVP race. I don’t think he deserves to be in the race because he hasn’t had a consistent year with his slow start, but his consideration is a testament to how good he has played over the team’s last 5 games. The Aaron Rodgers from the last 5 games is the Rodgers that will show up and that’s why they get the win. With a better QB and a 5 game winning streak playing a team that has lost 2 straight, it is Green Bay all the way.
NYG @ WAS
Well, this game should have been brilliant. However, New York just doesn’t care enough. They are stuck with the 5 seed no matter what and it doesn’t matter if Washington makes it into the playoffs because they would be the 6 seed. The chances that a 5 seed or a 6 seed face are extremely low and there is an argument to be made that a team would rather play Washington in the playoffs than Green Bay or Detroit.
I don’t think the Giants should play most of their starters the whole game and would be shocked if they did. Therefore, I don’t think there is anything meaningful that can come out of this game for the Giants. However, it is a must win game for Cousins, and as a quarterback that I am skeptical of, a win on Sunday would really help his case for being a franchise QB. On the other hand, a loss would be extremely detrimental: Losing to a team with little to play for on your home field for a playoff bid. It’ll be interesting to see what Cousins is made of because New York is a top tier defense and it won’t be an easy task to make it into the playoffs. Despite this, Cousins is expected to do so.
DAL @ PHI
I don’t know if there is anything interesting outside of the Romo story. The Cowboys have locked up home field and the Eagles are out of the playoffs, so the game doesn’t matter. It is one more game for Wentz to get experience and there is a possibility that Romo plays. Those are the only storylines.
I’d vote for playing Romo. After seeing all these young quarterbacks go down, coaches and GMs will be looking to rest starters and get their backups some reps.
I understand the money side of it. If Romo gets hurt then it is possible that they would be stuck with his contract, but the ultimate goal in sports is to win. Therefore, giving up a chance at extra reps for Romo hurts their chances of winning a super bowl. Give Romo a few extra reps. Not a ton, but enough to get him in a rhythm.
Side note: They also have to be careful if he plays too much because of the fact that if he plays well there will be a QB controversy, the last thing the Cowboys want.
Andrew Dieb/Icon Sportswire/Corbis via Getty Images
NE @ MIA
This is an intriguing game to see what potential the Dolphins have. A few weeks ago they lost their starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill, and their season seemed over. However, they were unfazed and have won every game since. The Dolphins seem like they are a good team, but I am still extremely skeptical and view them as a one and done team in the playoffs. This game Sunday will be a good measuring stick for the Dolphins. They are playing possibly the best team in the league at home in a game that is still important to both teams. Everyone thinks that they will be blown out, but a close game and possibly a win will go a long way for Miami’s confidence in themselves and to prove that the past few weeks have not been a fluke.
OAK @ DEN
A huge game for Oakland that doesn’t matter for Denver at all. The Raiders need to win for a bye and a home playoff game (still have a shot at the 1 seed if the Patriots lose), whereas a loss could drop them all the way to the 5 seed. In addition, Oakland needs to get valuable reps for their current starter, Matt McGloin. It is a perfect warm up game before the playoffs, on the road, against a very good defense in an important game. It will also show the Raiders what they can expect from McGloin, depending on how he plays.
Denver, on the other hand, is treating this game more like a preseason game. Many of their star players are resting because of injury (TJ Ward, Derek Wolfe, Demarcus Ware, and possibly Brandon Marshall). Normally these players would be able to give it a go, but since their season is over, it just doesn’t make sense. They also plan to split reps between Lynch and Siemian, a formula frequently used for preseason games, not when the team is trying to win the game.
Luckily for the Raiders, I think they will come out on top. The team is going to come out aggressive and inspired to get a win for Derek. Their opponents, on the other hand, seem like they might come out flat given that their playoffs hope were just erased and their coaching staff does not appear to be treating this game like they normally would.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports