LIONS INSIDER

NFC NORTH: Week One primer

Posted Sep 3, 2014

Tim Twentyman previews what to watch out for in the NFC North during the first week of the regular season.

Week 1 of the NFL season is finally here. All the talk and speculation surrounding the four teams in the NFC North can finally start to be decided on the field.

So what can we expect and what should we be watching out for during the first weekend of the regular season.

GREEN BAY

2013 record: 8-7-1

Week 1 opponent: at Seattle

Julius PeppersDE Julius Peppers (Photo: AP Images)

The first game of the NFL season pits one of the league's best passing attacks in Green Bay against a swarming secondary in Seattle.

This game is likely to give a good indication on whether the officials are truly serious about calling some of the holding and illegal contact penalties as tightly as they did in the preseason. According to ESPN.com, the combined number of defensive penalties for illegal contact and defensive holding nearly quintupled from 56 in the 2013 preseason to 271 this year.

Seattle boasts a physical secondary and the Packers have a finesse to their passing game. Which one wins out? Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers had a 104.9 passer rating in 2013 and is the only quarterback in NFL history with five consecutive seasons with a 100-plus rating

What to watch: How will the new pass-rushing combo of Julius Peppers and Clay Mathews perform for a revamped Packers defense. If Peppers can make the adjustment from defensive end to outside linebacker, the Packers could have a pretty formidable pass rush off the edge. Peppers is second in NFL with 118.5 sacks since 2002.

Biggest question mark: The offensive line. Aaron Rodgers has been sacked nearly three times per game since 2011.

CHICAGO

2013 record: 8-8

Week 1 opponent: vs. Buffalo

The Bears are confident their defense will be better in 2014. If it’s not, Chicago is in a world of trouble. The Bears ranked among the bottom of every major statistical category on defense last year, including 30th in total defense.

The unit struggled in the preseason, too.

“There’s always concern,” Pro Bowl cornerback Tim Jennings told the Chicago Sun-Times. “But we’re going to have our guys hyped up, ready to go. It’s a full game. We’re not going to play just a quarter here, two quarters there. We’re going to play a whole 60 minutes of football. So this first one is a good test to see where we’re at.”

On the other sideline, Buffalo’s offense struggled to put points on the board all preseason. They failed to score a single point against Detroit in their preseason finale.

Buffalo might be the perfect opponent for this defense to build some early confidence.

If the Bears' defense struggles against Buffalo ... oh boy.

What to watch: Jared Allen played just 29 snaps in the preseason. The All-Pro defensive end was a big acquisition for the Bears in the offseason. Since entering the league in 2004, he leads the NFL with 128.5 sacks. How will the Bears' re-shaped defensive line with Allen, Lamarr Houston, Stephen Paea and Jeremiah Ratliff look?

Biggest question mark: Safety position. That position is so important in today’s NFL and good safety play usually leads to good overall play by the defense. The Bears allowed 59 pass plays of 20-plus yards last year, seventh most in the NFL.

DETROIT

2013 record: 7-9

Week 1 opponent: vs. New York Giants

Detroit has a new coaching staff, two fresh new schemes and more weapons on both sides of the ball -- all of which will be on display at Ford Field for the first time on Monday night.

The expectations are high with so many major changes since the disastrous finish of last year.

The Lions have all the tools to be one of the best offenses in the NFL. Quarterback Matthew Stafford has new coaching and better weapons and this team will compete for the NFC North title if he plays like he did in 2011, when he threw 41 touchdowns to 16 interceptions. The key stat when it comes to Stafford in 2014 is going to be his touchdown-to-interception ratio.

What to watch: Second-year cornerback Darius Slay looks to have made huge improvements from year 1 to year 2. The Lions are expecting a lot from their starting left cornerback. If this defense is going to put more pressure on quarterbacks via the blitz, and be an improved unit overall, Slay will have to play well.

Biggest question mark: Can they cover in the secondary?

MINNESOTA

2013 record: 5-10-1

Week 1 opponent: at St. Louis

There is no quarterback controversy in Minnesota. Matt Cassel beat out first-round pick Teddy Bridgewater in the preseason and he’s the starter. The quarterback position gets most of the headlines these days in Minnesota, and deservedly so, but that offense has some real weapons in Adrian Peterson, Cordarrelle Patterson, Kyle Rudolph and a solid offensive line. Can Cassel get them the ball?

We'll see if the offensive line can keep him upright against St. Louis and the league’s best collection of edge rushers.

What to watch: This offense is still going to run through Peterson, but Patterson is on the rise and tight end Kyle Rudolph could be a big-time sleeper.

Biggest question mark: Remains the secondary. The Vikings ranked 31st against the pass last year and still haven’t named a starting safety alongside Harrison Smith.