Now that we’ve finished with the AFC, let’s start with the NFC. Here is a preview and prediction for the NFC North.
First: Chicago Bears (11-5)
It’s time for the Bears to be taken seriously as a contender in this stacked division. After trading for arguably the best defensive player in the league in edge rusher Khalil Mack, the Bears look like the most complete team in the NFL. Adding Mack and first-round linebacker Roquan Smith should turn a top 10 defense into a top 5 unit at worse. They have a pass rush and should be good against the run and pass with a strong defensive line, excellent linebacking core, and a good secondary. On offense, the hiring of former Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy as their next head coach should help the offense improve big time. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky struggled last season is his rookie season, but he was put in a position to fail with no one to throw to. Now, with the additions of receivers Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel along with tight end Trey Burton via free agency, and receiver Anthony Miller via the draft, Trubisky has a surplus of targets to throw to. Chicago also has an excellent slash and dash combo with a three-down power back in Jorda Howard and a quick, twitchy receiving back in Tarik Cohen. Their interior lineman is also another strength with the addition of second-round rookie James Daniels. There is no weakness on this team and they have a very easy schedule in the middle of the season that gives them the easiest schedule in the division. They also matchup up extremely well against the teams in this division, which should propel them from last place in the division a year ago to first place this season.
Second: Green Bay Packers (10-6)
The Packers missed the playoffs last season for the first time in eight years, all because Aaron Rodgers missed 9 games with a collarbone injury. With Rodgers back and healthy this season, Green Bay should be able to get back into the playoff fold this season. Rodgers won’t have receiver Jordy Nelson this season, but Green Bay replaced Nelson with tight end Jimmy Graham and drafted three receivers in the draft. They don’t have an actual three-down back, but Jamaal Williams, Aaron Jones, and Ty Montgomery give Green Bay a solid running back trio that they can mix and match. They also have a solid offensive line with two great tackles in David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga. On defense, Green Bay is much improved in the secondary after drafting Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson in the 2018 NFL Draft with their first two picks. They’re also solid on the defensive line, but their weak linebacking core after losing linebacker Jake Ryan for the season is what will hold them back from winning the division over the Bears. As long as they have Rodgers though, they should be a playoff contender despite having the toughest schedule in the NFL.
Third: Minnesota Vikings (9-7)
The Vikings made the NFC Championship Game a year ago and signed quarterback Kirk Cousins in the offseason, but regression should still hit them. They caught a lot of breaks last season, as their division was rather weak. However, with the Bears improving significantly and with Rodgers back healthy for the Packers, Minnesota’s 5-1 division record from a year ago won’t be sustainable. Cousins also may not be a good fit, as while quarterback Case Keenum was a solid game manager who didn’t make mistakes and let his good defense and supporting cast carry him, Cousins takes a lot more risks and is much more turnover prone. Their offensive line is also still a mess, which is a concern considering they now have to play Mack two times a year. Yes, their defense is one of the league’s best, but it got exposed as too thin during the postseason against superior offenses, such as the Eagles and Saints in the playoffs. The Vikings benefited from outstanding luck last season, but will have a reality check this season as their 9-7 record will leave them likely leave them just short of being playoff bound.
Fourth: Detroit Lions (5-11)
This prediction isn’t reflecting the overall talent of the Lions, but rather how brutal their schedule is. Detroit will have to be six games against the top three teams in this division and aren’t guaranteed to win any of those games. That would be bad on its own, but Detroit also has to play the Patriots, Panthers, Rams, and also have to travel to Dallas and San Francisco. That’s too overwhelming for them to compete this year. Quarterback Matt Stafford is still a solid quarterback, while Marvin Jones and Golden Tate are an excellent duo at wide receiver. However, there is still too many questions at running back, and they need to prove that they can establish an effective running game to compete. On defense, their secondary is very thin outside of cornerback Darius Slay and they lack a pass rush outside of defensive end Ezekial Ansah. Considering they have to go up against Aaron Rodgers twice a year, that’s a problem. Yes, there are some good things going for the Lions, but there are too many holes for them to compete in such a tough division under first-year head coach Matt Patricia.