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The Shadow
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Around the NFCN in 2021
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What will we see in the Division this season?

Will Rodgers end his Drama Queen Tour and swallow his pride and return to Green Bay? Or will this be the start of the Jordan Love era?

With Stafford bailing on the Lions and insisting on a trade out of that disaster in Detroit, what will the Post-Patricia Lions look like? One thing is for sure, their Defense cannot look any worse than it did last season.

Another year of Kirk (Kurt) Cousins led offense achieving yet another season of average play.

What do you have?

The Shadow
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Ranking the Detroit Lions 2021 opponents: Defense

Which defenses will the Lions offense have the battle?

By John [email protected] Jul 15, 2021, 11:30am EDT

It’s hard to find a defense worse than what the Detroit Lions put on the field last season. There were very few positives to be had on the sinking ship helmed by Matt Patricia, every facet struggling in most, if not every, game.

However, things are looking up for Detroit. New coaches and new players will hopefully bring about a much-needed turnaround. The Lions are entering the 2021 season with some optimism, if tempered. While the Lions defense has a new look, many of the Lions opponents also saw improvements on defense this offseason.

Capping off our series on the Lions 2021 opponents, we take a look at the defenses Jared Goff and company will have to navigate if they want to establish some winning ways.

NFCN

9. Minnesota Vikings — Week 5 & 13

2020 Defensive DVOA: 18th

2020 was a rare step back for the Vikings defense, usually a perennial threat to Lions and foes alike. However, the pieces are there for a quick rebound, and head coach Mike Zimmer should be able to orchestrate another good defense. Danielle Hunter missed most of the season, a massive blow to the defensive line, and a healthy return is a welcome sight for Vikings fans. Meanwhile, the Vikings will finally see how free agent Michael Pierce performs, having opted out last year. Anthony Harris will be missed, but Harrison Smith remains a great safety. Questions arise with the cornerback group, however. The team added Patrick Peterson, but his prime days are behind him. Jeff Gladney, their top pick in 2020, is in limbo due to off-the-field issues, so Cameron Dantzler will have to shine yet again.

8. Green Bay Packers — Week 2 & 18

2020 Defensive DVOA: 17th

The Packers defense is a lot of good and a lot of ugly. Jaire Alexander is a top three cornerback in the league, while Adrian Amos, Kenny Clark, Za’Darius Smith, and Darnell Savage are all good-to-great at their respective positions. However, the falloff is steep. Rashan Gary alternates between incredible and poor, but he is still a young talent. The cornerback across from Alexander needs improvement, either from Kevin King or first rounder Eric Stokes. The linebackers are uninspiring too, with neither Kamal Martin nor Krys Barnes having a lot of starting experience. Still, the stars should be able to carry this unit.

7. Chicago Bears — Week 4 & 12

2020 Defensive DVOA: 8th

The Bears have had an elite defense for years now, but we might be looking at the beginning of the end for that unit. Khalil Mack is well worth the money he has been given, and should remain productive for awhile. The pieces around him have suffered, however, and the roster- and cap-juggling of Ryan Pace is largely to blame. Kyle Fuller is a significant casualty, especially for a secondary lacking any dependable corners—Chicago will be trotting out Desmond Trufant, and Lions fans know how that turned out in 2020. Jaylon Johnson has promise, but needs to show improvement in year two. The interior is far better, with Eddie Goldman returning from his opt-out to join Akiem Hicks and Bilal Nichols. The Bears could use some help at linebacker, with Roquan Smith being the lone reliable player. The safety group is in good hands with Eddie Jackson and Tashaun Gipson.

2021  Draft will save or sink Pace and Nagy

Go Bears!

 

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Ranking Every Game on the Vikings' 2021 Schedule By Entertainment Value

Will Ragatz

May 20, 2021

The 2021 NFL schedule was released last week, and with it came the excitement of looking past the long summer ahead to each team's slate of games this fall. No matter how good your favorite team is realistically projected to be, this part of the offseason is a time for optimism for fans.

The Minnesota Vikings are a great example of that. Although there are reasons to be skeptical about a 7-9 team making major leaps in 2021, there are also legitimate reasons to be hopeful. The Vikings should have their vaunted home field advantage back with fans returning to U.S. Bank Stadium, the defense has the potential to be vastly improved, and the team's skill position weapons might finally have an offensive line to work with.

So, as we gaze ahead to this fall, let's take another look at the schedule by rankings all 17 games in order of watchability and entertainment value. There will be no specific formula or anything used here, but these are the factors I'll be weighing:

Competitiveness (how likely is the game to come down to the wire?)

History and stakes (extra points for rivalry games and others with recent history)

Excitement and matchups (how fun to watch are the opponents' star players?)

Let's get to it. Projected lines are via The Action Network.

1. Vikings at Packers, Week 17 (SNF)

Way-too-early projected line: Packers -6.5

Admittedly, there is a lot of forecasting that goes into this one, and thus there are a few reasons why it might not live up to the top spot on this list. But if there's a lot on the line for this game like I expect there will be, whether Aaron Rodgers is still the Packers' quarterback or not (but especially if he is), it'll be as exciting as it gets. A primetime game in the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field during the season's penultimate week between two heated division rivals? Say no more. 

5. Vikings vs. Packers, Week 11

Way-too-early projected line: Packers -2.5

Most of what I said about the Vikings-Packers game at Lambeau is also true for this one, although the stakes might not be as intense and the spotlight will be a little less bright for a noon game. Still, it's the Vikings and Packers. It will have been nearly two full years since Vikings fans had a chance to boo their least favorite team at home. It's gotta be in the top five.

6. Vikings at Bears, Week 15 (MNF)

Way-too-early projected line: Vikings -1

Again, there's no way of knowing what the stakes will be for a game so late in the season. But I'd guess that there's a good chance the Vikings will head to Soldier Field for this one with a lot on the line. That's rarely been good news for a Minnesota team that is 5-16 in Chicago since 2000. This should be the Vikings' first look at Justin Fields in a Bears uniform, which adds to the fun.

14. Vikings vs. Bears, Week 18

Way-too-early projected line: Vikings -5

If this game happens to have a division title or playoff berth riding on the outcome, it'll be one of the most dramatic of the season. But the more likely scenario is that one or both teams will have nothing to play for, whether that's due to having already secured a playoff spot or having already been eliminated. The chance for a win-and-in nail-biter keeps this game from being any lower than this.

15. Vikings at Lions, Week 13

Way-too-early projected line: Vikings -5

Sorry, Lions. There's just not a lot of excitement when these teams meet, particularly now that Stafford is in LA. I think Brad Holmes and Dan Campbell and Penei Sewell might be able to turn this franchise around, but it's going to take a while. The Vikings have won seven straight against the Lions and two-thirds of the games in the all-time series. Still, a trip to Detroit late in the year is a potential letdown spot against Jared Goff and company.

17. Vikings vs. Lions, Week 5

Way-too-early projected line: Vikings -9

The Vikings need to take this one seriously of course, but this two-game stretch of the Lions and Panthers in Weeks 5 and 6 mostly just provides a chance to gain some momentum heading into the bye week. If Minnesota gets off to a 2-2 start, it needs to take advantage of this part of the schedule by winning both of these games.

2021  Draft will save or sink Pace and Nagy

Go Bears!

 

The Shadow
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Re: Around the NFCN in 2021
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Vikings schedule looks really stacked late in the season in the division.

After a week 5 game against the Lions, they have no divisional games until week 11.

Then have almost only Divisional games late in the season, facing the Packer in week 17 and the Bears to end the season in week 18. Could the division be decided in the last two weeks? Could be very interesting by then...or all over before it begins.

2021  Draft will save or sink Pace and Nagy

Go Bears!

 

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Assessing Packers' 2021 schedule by opponent quarterbacks

By Zach Kruse May 13, 2021 9:40 am

By Zach Kruse | May 13, 2021 9:40 am CT

One simple way to assess a team’s schedule – and where the toughest stretches exist – is to look at opponent quarterbacks. You don’t have to subscribe to the “Quarterback Wins” argument to find the value here. No position determines a team’s strength more than quarterback. And for the most part, quarterback situations are fairly easy to assess going into a season.

The schedule for the Green Bay Packers in 2021 provides a manageable early stretch of opposing quarterbacks but gets tough over the final two months or so of the season.

Here’s a breakdown of the likely starting quarterbacks the Packers will face in 2021, with DVOA rank from Football Outsiders and overall grade rank from Pro Football Focus from last season:

Week Opponent      Likely QB                             DVOA              PFF

2         Lions             Goff                                        22                  20

6         Bears            Dalton/Fields                          30, N/A          22, N/A

11       Vikings          Cousins                                  10                   9

14       Bears            Dalton/Fields                          30, N/A           22, N/A

17       Vikings          Cousins                                  10                   9

18       Lions             Goff                                        22                   20

– The Packers will face only two quarterbacks that finished in the top 10 of DVOA in 2020: Patrick Mahomes and Kirk Cousins.

– The Packers will face only three quarterbacks that finished in the top 10 of PFF grade in 2020: Mahomes, Cousins and Russell Wilson.

– The Packers don’t face a quarterback ranked in the top 15 of DVOA or PFF grade from last season until Kyler Murray in Week 8.

– The tough stretch of the schedule is clear: Weeks 8-12. Murray, Mahomes, Wilson, Cousins, Matthew Stafford.

– The Jameis Winston/Taysom Hill quarterback combo is intriguing but also mostly an unknown entering Week 1.

– We have no idea if Bears first-round pick Justin Fields will play or be effective as a rookie.

– The schedule might be forgiving early but it toughens up late. The Packers face eight quarterbacks ranked in the top 15 of PFF grade over the final 10 games.

– The schedule might set up well for first-year defensive coordinator Joe Barry. The new scheme might need time to come together. The Packers defense will get two months of average quarterbacks to get it figured out before the tough stretch hits.

– Nine quarterbacks finished in the top 10 of both DVOA and PFF grade in 2020: Aaron Rodgers, Mahomes, Josh Allen, Deshaun Watson, Tom Brady, Ryan Tannehill, Dak Prescott, Derek Carr and Cousins. Of the nine, the Packers only play Mahomes and Cousins in 2021.

– This is a tough schedule overall for the Packers. They will play 10 games against 2020 playoff teams. But the opposing quarterback schedule is certainly manageable, especially early. If the Packers have Rodgers back, they should be in a strong position – based on nothing more than quarterback advantage – to win a lot of games once again.

2021  Draft will save or sink Pace and Nagy

Go Bears!

 

The Shadow
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Three questions each NFC North team must answer before 2021 NFL season: Is Aaron Rodgers staying in Green Bay?

A survey of the most pressing issues for all four teams

By Cody Benjamin

Jul 21, 2021 at 3:29 pm ET 6 min read

There's arguably no NFL division with more juice entering the 2021 season than the NFC North. Not only does the quartet boast the reigning conference runner-up in the Packers, who also happen to have the league's most dramatic storyline considering Aaron Rodgers' uncertain future. It also features the Bears, who finally have a new franchise quarterback waiting to debut; the Vikings, who are due for a rebound with a restocked Mike Zimmer defense; and the Lions, who are entering an entirely new rebuild.

As we look ahead to the 2021 campaign, here are three questions each of the North's four teams must answer before kickoff:

Who will win the Division?

TOP BET

Minnesota Odds +140 Probability 41.7%

Green Bay Odds +140 Probability 41.7%

Chicago Odds +350 Probability 22.2%

Detroit Odds +1800 Probability 5.3%

 

Bears

How long is Andy Dalton's leash? 

Chicago has made almost as many headlines doubling down on Dalton's job security as QB1 than it did trading up to draft Justin Fields 11th overall. But the Bears need to be honest with themselves going into Week 1: Is this actually Dalton's job to lose, and if so, what will it take for the ex-Cowboys backup to do so? Would an 0-3 start (very possible) be enough? The answer may determine whether the Bears stay in the wild-card mix or enter 2022 with the same staff and front office.

Is the offensive line playoff-caliber? 

The trenches aren't getting enough attention in Windy City. Yes, it's great that the Bears swung big for their QB (even though they're set to play small ball out of the gate with Dalton under center). But Chicago had better have a good read on its starting five, including rookie Teven Jenkins, when making QB plans. If it remains a genuine concern, wouldn't it almost behoove them to roll with the more mobile Fields? Alternatively, perhaps they'd rather not let their prized first-rounder take a beating if he doesn't have to? If this seems almost impossible to answer, that's because a real concern.

How far will Chicago go this season?

Who are the top pass targets (besides you know who)? 

There are other pressing issues on defense (like, who's starting opposite Jaylon Johnson? and, is Robert Quinn awake?). But considering 2021 is all about what happens at QB for this team, it'd be nice to know who's gonna be asked to scare opponents other than Allen Robinson. Bears fans will point to Darnell Mooney, which is reasonable, but the rest of the bunch is awfully uninspiring. Anthony Miller, an unwanted man in town? Marquise Goodwin, who hasn't played in years? Someone needs to show up in camp.

Lions

Does Jared Goff have any chance of keeping the No. 1 QB job?

Maybe it doesn't have to be answered before Week 1, but it'd sure be ideal. We all know Detroit isn't fully committing to the ex-Rams standout with all kinds of future draft picks in its arsenal, but it might be helpful to know, going into 2021, whether team brass actually believes Goff can win a long-term commitment, or if he even has the adequate supporting cast to do it this year. Answering the question does nothing for the Lions' 2021 win total, but it does help frame the bigger-picture movement for a team with its sights set farther down the road.

How far will Detroit go this season?

What is an acceptable win total? 

Again, this almost can't be accurately answered before the season, because you never know how games and divisions and playoff races will actually play out. There's also a difference between a hard-fought 5-12 and an apathetic 8-9. A better question might be, What does Dan Campbell have to do to inspire confidence as a head coach? Detroit isn't concerned with winning in 2021 as much as rebuilding its culture for the long haul, but there's got to be a general benchmark for the trial run.

What is 2021 all about? 

As you can see, none of the Lions' questions have much to do with their roster, save for the QB spot. Because everyone and their mother, including those employed by the Lions, is aware that the current lineup is an unfinished product of an overhaul. But much like it'd be ideal to have a general expectation for the new coach, it'll be key for Detroit to somehow define what it's trying to be -- what it's really trying to accomplish -- entering such a blatant transition year, even if the season itself is unpredictable.

Packers

Is Aaron Rodgers the quarterback? 

Seems pretty important. In fact, there isn't really a more pressing question in the entire NFL. With A-Rod, the Packers are essentially the same team that's come within one win of the Super Bowl in two straight years. Without him, they are ... a total unknown, thrust from the top of the NFC to an alternate dimension, in which apparent Rodgers successor Jordan Love takes over after playing zero snaps as a rookie. If Green Bay hasn't appeased Rodgers by Week 1, whether with a new deal, a new front office or renewed say in his Packers future, it's hard to believe he'll show up at all. So the clock is ticking. Either the Pack can accommodate their man, whatever that means, or they can enter the year with a franchise legend spiting the franchise. But they need to have this settled before the games begin and the NFC North crown is already within reach of rival hands.

How far will Green Bay go this season?

Does the QB have enough support for a title run?

Presumably, if it's Rodgers, the reigning MVP believes Green Bay does have enough firepower to warrant a return. (Or maybe not, considering a new contract or GM might also do the trick.) But whether it's Rodgers or Love or even Blake Bortles (gulp) under center, the Packers have the reputation of an NFC contender; not only that, but the roster. They've sniffed the Super Bowl for two straight years. But is their wide receiver depth -- now featuring rookie Amari Rodgers -- enough to go the distance? And are the new O-line pieces -- namely new center Josh Myers -- trustworthy? If not, the Packers will either need to get creative with some last-minute veteran gambles or adjust expectations entirely. Obviously, Rodgers' situation dictates so much of this, but it also works the other way; if Green Bay, for whatever reason, isn't truly convinced it can win it all with this year's assembly, even with A-Rod, perhaps the move to Love becomes just a little bit easier to swallow.

Who's starting opposite Jaire Alexander?

The Packers don't have a ton of other questions (besides the biggest one in the NFL), but they could stand to have an answer at cornerback. Alexander is a stud, but Kevin King isn't a lock to reprise his role on the outside, nor should he be. That said, can rookie Eric Stokes do enough to steal the job out of the gate? This is a big X-factor for the defense.

Vikings

Is Danielle Hunter fully healthy? 

No one could've predicted the Pro Bowl pass rusher would miss the entire 2020 season with a neck injury. And boy did it hurt Mike Zimmer's defense. Hunter is still underrated as one of the game's most freakishly gifted edge defenders, and his return bodes extremely well for a defensive turnaround. Minnesota had just better hope he's all the way back to form, because the defensive line, while beefed up on the interior, remains relatively thin off the edges.

How far will Minnesota go this season?

Is Christian Darrisaw ready to start at left tackle?

Because the Vikings are banking on that being the case, parting ways with Riley Reiff and spending the 23rd pick on the Virginia Tech product. Darrisaw was arguably a steal at that spot, but Minnesota needs to be sure he's prepared considering how important the line is to both Kirk Cousins' comfort as a play-action specialist and Dalvin Cook's role as offensive centerpiece. The alternative, at this point, isn't obvious, but that doesn't lessen the urgency here.

Do the veteran cornerbacks still have it?

Zimmer's "D" is due for a noticeable rebound, but that's dependent on a couple things: One, Hunter staying healthy up front; and two, the experienced new faces bringing more than just experience. We're talking chiefly about Patrick Peterson and Bashaud Breeland, the safest bets to start throughout 2021 alongside Cameron Dantzler; as well as, to a lesser degree, returning familiar face Mackensie Alexander. If they look just serviceable, the Vikings can enter the year confident.

2021  Draft will save or sink Pace and Nagy

Go Bears!

 

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Jake Browning trying to seize opportunity with Vikings

Posted by Curtis Crabtree on August 3, 2021, 1:37 AM EDT

Jake Browning was left as the only quarterback still standing for the Minnesota Vikings over the weekend when COVID-19 protocols required the team’s other three quarterbacks to be unavailable.

While the situation has irked head coach Mike Zimmer considerably, Browning looked to seize the opportunity it created for himself to show what he can do after two years on the team’s practice squad.

“I think that’s part of being a back-up in this league, you’ve always got to be ready. I’ve been preparing like that for two years, so the opportunity presented itself. I felt like I was ready,” Browning said, via Jeff Wald of FOX9. “Gary Kubiak used to say nobody knows if you’re ready until you just get thrown in there. Try and make the most of those reps and really just take it one day at a time.”

Browning was a high school star and had a strong career at the University of Washington. However, he’s a tad undersized and his arm strength was somewhat lacking when being evaluated for the pro game. Browning went undrafted and has stuck around with the Vikings for two years on their practice squad.

Browning took every snap in practice on Saturday with Kirk Cousins, Kellen Mond and Nate Stanley all unavailable. He did his best to rise to the occasion, having a strong practice for the team and putting himself in the running to earn the team’s backup job.

“He did really well,” head coach Mike Zimmer said, via Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer-Press. “I thought the offensive guys rallied behind him, doing their best to help him in a lot of situations. He took every play.”

The Broncos had to start wide receiver Kendall Hinton at quarterback last year when positive cases in their quarterback room left them without an actual quarterback able to play. Zimmer and the Vikings won’t want to find themselves in a similar situation this year when a positive surfaces just days before a game.

Browning was the only quarterback on the team’s roster that had been vaccinated, which gave him the opportunity to lead the team over the weekend. The fact he will continue to be available if another positive case close to the team’s quarterbacks should occur, makes him a more valuable asset.

Browning seemed to show he’s a real candidate for the job from a football standpoint as well. He’ll continue to get the chance to show it until the rest of the team’s quarterbacks can return.

“Someone in my situation, as an undrafted guy that’s been on the practice squad, those reps are really valuable,” he said.

*****

Zimmer has to be spitting nails! This happened last season to the Vikings. Whole QB room in quarantine.......again!

I keep hoping we see another Kurt Warner appear out of the undrafted pile. That was a good career to watch. Too bad the NFL ditched the NFL-E league. It gave a lot of guys a second way into Prime Time.

2021  Draft will save or sink Pace and Nagy

Go Bears!

 

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