The NFC North is poised to be one of the more competitive divisions this season. The Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers are eyeing a Super Bowl run while the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions should be reinvigorated by offseason coaching changes.
Predicted standings: 1) Vikings, 2) Packers, 3) Bears, 4) Lions
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The Vikings reached the NFC Championship Game last season despite dealing with uncertainty at quarterback and losing their starting running back. After signing Kirk Cousins in free agency, Minnesota’s offense should reach new heights this season, especially with the welcome sight of Dalvin Cook back from an ACL injury to spearhead the running game.
The defense remains elite, they have depth at key positions and Mike Zimmer is among the best coaches in the NFL. Coming so close to the Super Bowl last season should give the Vikings an extra layer of motivation.
Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers is back and the Packers looked like a certain playoff team last season until he got injured. He will be working with a re-jigged receiving corps in 2018. Jordy Nelson has gone, Jimmy Graham is in at tight end and Davante Adams has been elevated to number one receiver. There has already been some grumbling from Rodgers during training camp, and they open the season with two tough divisional games (against the improved Chicago Bears and then the Vikings). A good start is critical.
Defensively, the Packers should be solid if they can avoid the injuries that have derailed them in recent years. New defensive coordinator Mike Pettine will be a difference-maker.
Hopes are high that new head coach Matt Nagy can make the Bears relevant again. A productive offseason has given Mitchell Trubisky a vastly improved supporting cast. Allen Robinson and Trey Burton should be major contributors straight out of the gate, and Nagy will find inventive ways to use Tarik Cohen in the passing game too.
Still, even if the defense remains steady, it will take time for Chicago to close the gap on Minnesota and Green Bay. If Nagy can push the Bears close to a .500 record, that should be considered a success. They finished 5-11 in 2017.
When you combine the settling in period for head coach Matt Patricia, a shaky defense and question marks in the running game, the Lions could be in for a tough year. Matthew Stafford will win some games on his own (he threw for over 4,400 yards and 29 touchdowns in 2017), but it remains to be seen whether receiver Marvin Jones Jr. can repeat last year’s success.
LeGarrette Blount will help convert short yardage situations but the Lions will be asking for a lot from rookie Kerryon Johnson. It is easy to imagine Stafford facing a significant number of long third downs again in 2018. It also does not help that Detroit faces the San Francisco 49ers, the New England Patriots and the Packers inside the first five weeks.