UP Catholic 09 01 2017 E Edition Page 15

www.upcatholic.org THE U.P. CATHOLIC BLACK AND BLUE September 1, 2017 15 Growing to serve you in 5 locations! MANISTIQUE, MI 735 E. Lakeshore Dr. Food for Le$$ 200 Deer Street MARINETTE, WI 1507 Cleveland Ave. 2301 Roosevelt Rd. MENOMINEE, MI M & M Plaza A familiar ring can be heard from afar and its the Green Bay Packers dialing in for another NFC North title. But it wont be easy. The Detroit Lions are on their heels, and assuming they finally find a decent running game and address glaring holes on defense, the Lions are destined to push the Packers for the NFC North Crown. Lets take a closer look at the North. Green Bay: Last year, the Packers climbed their way out of a 4-6 early hole and, following a bold prediction from quarterback Aaron Rodgers, reeled off eight wins in a row before a battered, injury-depleted defense succumbed to Atlanta in the NFC Championship game. Green Bays start again this season wont be easy. Out of the gate, the Packers host Seattle and Cin- cinnati and travel to Super Bowl runner-up Atlanta in the first three weeks. Ouch. Again, the key for Green Bay will be an im- proved defense, which ranked 22nd last year and second to last in passing yards. Adding shut-down cornerback Kevin King should help and linebackers Nick Perry and Clay Matthews are in their prime of their careers. Getting cor- nerback Davon House back is a plus. Adding tight end Martellus Bennet in the offseason gives Rodgers yet another weapon, but the teams success hinges on a leaky defense. Re- cord last year: 12-7. Prediction this year: 10-6. Detroit: Speaking of tough schedules out the gate, the Lions open with home games against Arizona and Atlanta and a road game at the Giants in the first three weeks. That's a tough start. Quarterback Matthew Stafford is entering a contract year and the Lions still have a porous running game that ranked 30th in the league last year. Injury-riddled Ameer Abdullah needs to come back strong from torn ligaments in his foot. Losing offensive tackle Tyler Decker to a season-ending injury was a big blow, but the Lions snagged ex-Packer guard T.J. Lang and brought in right tackle Ricky Wagner from the Colts to help aid the running game. They definitely got tougher up front. Returning eight starters on offense and eight on defense, Detroit appears poised to make a serious run at the division title. Can they bounce back from last year when they went winless in their final three games and blew a two-game lead? Defensively, the Lions improved in the off-season. Defensive end Ziggy Ansah has quietly emerged as one of the league's best and first-round linebacker selec- tion Jarrad Davis should add some pop to the middle. Record last year: 9-8. Prediction this year: 9-7. Minnesota: The Vikings are intriguing. They truly are. They finished 8-8 last year (after a 5-0 start), and in the offseason, spent $100 million on three offensive free agents, and drafted two offensive players in the first two rounds to address an offense that ranked among the worst. Sam Bradford will again be at the quarterback controls and played well in spurts in 2016. With Adrian Peterson jetti- soned to New Orleans, the Vikings will look at free agent Latavius Murray and second-round draft pick Dalvin Cook to provide the nucleus of a running game. Defensively, the Vikings arguably are the di- visions best. Defensive end Everson Griffon is a powerhouse and nose tackle Linval Joseph is among the leagues best. The Vikings have the league's fifth easiest schedule and have one of the leagues top coaches in Mike Zimmer. They play five of their first seven games at home, which could be a defining factor in how well they do. Record last year: 8-8. Prediction this year: 9-7 Chicago: The Bears should hire a construc- tion company to camp out at training camp because the rebuilding project is immense. Coming off a 3-13 season, the Bears are retool- ing with a slew of young players and signed Mike Glennon in the off-season to be their quarterback while promising first-rounder Mitchell Trubisky learns the system. And, to add insult to injury, they let talented wide out Alshon Jeffrey walk in free agency. Coach John Foxs seat is getting hot after having only won nine times in two years. For Chicago to have any chance of compet- ing, it must get big production from a defense that has been plagued by injuries. Outside line- backer Willie Young is solid and second-year pass rusher Leonard Floyd is emerging as a good player. The schedule-makers didnt do the Bears any favors, either. They begin the season with games against Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh and Green Bay. The Bears have some youthful talent, but in this division, it will be difficult to nab more than five wins. Re- cord last year: 3-13. Prediction this year: 5-11. The winner of the NFC North is... And your Super Bowl winner is... BY JIM LAJOIE THE U.P. CATHOLIC The Super Bowl this season is just a hop, skip and a jump away and wouldnt it be great to see an NFC North team represented in Minneapolis? As much as Id like to say the Packers will be heading to Minny, its a stretch, unless of course, defensive coor- dinator Dom Capers magically gets an underperforming defense to dramatically improve. Last year, I picked Arizona to play Cincinnati in the big game. How did that work out, Jim? Dont ask. We all know that New England rallied from what ap- peared to be an insurmountable deficit to knock off At- lanta in the big game. Theres a part of me that wants to say that as long as coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady are with the Pats, they will win every year. Heck, Brady is the modern day George Blanda. Unless Brady somehow regresses and Belichick forgets how to coach, New England appears to be a lock again for the Super Bowl. So, lets get down to it. The division winners in the NFC will be Green Bay (North), New York Giants (East), At- lanta (South) and Seattle (West). The two NFC Wildcards will be Dallas and Tampa Bay. Watch the Buccaneers. The Bucs have been stockpiling talent and Jameis Win- ston is set to emerge as a top-flight quarterback. Adding speedy wideout DeSean Jackson in the off-season makes them legitimate contenders. I have a sneaking suspicion that Dallas drops off in 2017 and not having suspending running back Ezekiel Elliot in the fold for the first six games will be difficult. The NFC championship game will pit Green Bay against the Seattle Seahawks with the Sea- hawks pulling out a narrow victory. The AFC? The Patriots, in adding speedy wideout Brandin Cooks to a corps that has Julian Edelman, Dan- ny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski, are loaded. In the North, Pittsburgh and Baltimore will battle for the title. The AFC West has an Oakland division crown written all over it with the Chiefs nipping on their heels. In the AFC South, Houston should win the division but Tennessee is a team to watch. The wildcards will be Tennessee and Kansas City. The AFC championship game will be New England vs. Oakland. And, although Id like to think the Raiders can dethrone the Pats, it aint happening. With that, the Super Bowl will pit New England against Seattle. The Pats will win again their sixth Lombardi Trophy with a 30-24 win. Dont write this down. It could all change by Week 2 (LaJoie is a member of St. Paul Catholic Church in Negaunee. He welcomes reactions to his column at jla- joie@charter.net). FROM THE SIDELINES Jim LaJoie

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