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We’re merely 27 days from the start of the 2014 NFL season.
Every day, we have reviewed the top storylines from training camps across the NFL, providing who is impressing, who is disappointing, and any other significant notes from on and off the field.
Given the news coming out of camps, XN Sports will be naming one difference-maker for each team. Thursday marks the AFC North and NFC North, and the rest of the schedule is below.
Aug 6.: AFC East
Aug. 6: NFC East
Aug. 7: AFC North
Aug. 8: AFC South
Aug. 9: NFC South
Aug. 10: AFC West
Aug. 10: NFC West
Here are the difference-makers in the NFC North:
Marc Trestman is an offensive-minded kind of coach, and that reputation held true as the Bears’ defense proved to be absolutely atrocious in 2013. It makes it a tough decision whether the defensive line or the secondary will be the biggest catalyst in 2014.
Let’s side with the line, which anchored the worst run defense in 2013, allowing more than 161 yards per game. The team allowed Julius Peppers to walk and added Lamarr Houston, Willie Young and Jared Allen in free agency.
The Bears’ revamped front four must produce in order to facilitate change on the defensive side of the ball.
The Lions owned the 23rd-ranked pass defense in 2013, but failed to make any significant additions in the offseason. Though their front seven remains very strong, it’ll be a challenge to slow down the passing attacks of Green Bay and Chicago in this division.
With that being said, the Lions offense could be even more dynamic if Joique Bell can have a breakout season. Bell averaged almost four yards per carry and found the end zone eight times in 2013, and is expected to see an expanded role this year.
Bell should be the first- and second-down back, with Reggie Bush filling in on passing downs and as a slot receiver.
Green Bay Packers
Like Detroit, there’s no question that the Green Bay offense will be formidable in 2014, especially with Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb back healthy and the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year poised to build on an outstanding first season. It’s the defense where we’re focusing our attention.
The Packers added a familiar foe this offseason. Julius Peppers comes over from Chicago to rush the passer opposite Clay Matthews. Peppers recorded 7.5 sacks in 2013 at age 34, and adds another element alongside Matthews and Mike Daniels.
The Packers D has a very, very high ceiling.
It seems likely that Teddy Bridgewater will see time under center for Minnesota his rookie season. And if the Vikings ever want to contend with the Packers, Bears and Lions, they’ll need both their quarterback and best playmaker to develop.
Cordarrelle Patterson is popular pick to break out in 2014. He compares favorably to his predecessor, Percy Harvin, but perhaps with more upside as a true wide receiver. He can change the course of the Vikings’ offense in 2014 and beyond, but he’ll need to show signs of that potential more this year.
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