The NFC North has been dominated by Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers for a while now. With big time players moving in-division, the NFC North could be close this year. Here’s a look at what each team did this offseason, and how I believe they will finish in this NFC North preview.
NFC North Preview
4. Chicago Bears
Key losses – RB Damien Williams, WR Jakeem Grant, P Pat O’Donnell, QB Nick Foles, WR Allen Robinson, DE Bilal Nichols, OG Alex Bars, QB Andy Dalton, OG James Daniels, CB Artie Burns, DE Akiem Hicks, OT Jason Peters, DE Khalil Mack
Key additions – HC Matt Eberflus, DT Justin Jones, DE Al-Quadin Muhammad, C Lucas Patrick, WR Byron Pringle, QB Trevor Siemian, OT Riley Reiff, OLB Nicolas Morrow, TE Ryan Griffin, WR N’Keal Harry, CB Kyler Gordon, S Jaquan Brisker, WR Velus Jones Jr.
Re-signed – S DeAndre Houston-Carson (1-year)
Extensions – LS Patrick Scales (1-year, $1.2 million)
After going 6-11 in the regular season, the Bears fired head coach Matt Nagy after four seasons. Matt Eberflus takes over after spending last season in Indianapolis as defensive coordinator. The rookie head coach will try to turn the franchise around with Justin Fields going into his second NFL season.
Fields came in looking like a rookie last season, and it didn’t help that Nagy was calling the plays, as they finished 24th in total offense. They ranked even worse in points, as they were 27th in the NFL. They didn’t do much in the offseason to fill those holes, either.
We’ll have to see if Justin Fields makes the leap in with a new coach, but the offensive line won’t help. They rank in the bottom five of the league in the NFL, and could be dead last. However, David Montgomery is back with Khalil Herbert in the backfield — but I don’t expect much from them.
The last part of the offense is the receiving corps, and it is easily the worst in the NFL. Darnell Mooney is still there and still has potential, but isn’t close to a #1 wideout. Behind him they have Equanimeous St. Brown, Byron Pringle, and Velus Jones Jr. Those three have combined for 37 receptions in a combined six seasons. They can still prove to be weapons on an NFL offense, but I don’t expect it.
With Khalil Mack gone, that leaves Robert Quinn and Roquan Smith as the leaders of this defense. Quinn leads a defensive line that is one of the worst in the league, and will most likely fall lower than their ranking of 23rd against the run last season. Smith will help that cause and newly acquired Nicholas Morrow will fill in nicely next to him. It’s an, at-best, average linebacker group in the NFL.
The final part of this team is the secondary. You’re probably thinking there has to be one good part of this team. Well… there’s not. The secondary is very young with two rookies starting. One of those players is Kyler Gordon, who will be opposite of Jaylon Johnson at cornerback. They can eventually both grow to be a great duo, but are too inexperienced and young right now. Jaquan Brisker is the other rookie starting at safety alongside Eddie Jackson, who is the oldest in the secondary.
I expect another long season for Bears fans with a new regime. I have them going 3-14, and 1-5 against the NFC North. With Nagy now gone, they will be looking to rebuild the right way.
3. Detroit Lions
Key losses – OLB Jalen Reeves-Maybin, DE Trey Flowers, DT Nick Williams
Key additions – WR DJ Chark, CB Mike Hughes, LB Chris Board, ILB Jarrad Davis, OT Kendall Lamm, S Deshon Elliott, RB Justin Jackson, DE Aidan Hutchinson, WR Jameson Williams, DE Josh Paschal, S Kerby Joseph
Re-signed – FB Jason Cabinda (2-years), K Riley Patterson (1-year), LB Alex Anzalone (1-year), S Tracy Walker (3-years), C Evan Brown (1-year), OLB Charles Harris (2-years), WR Kalif Raymond (1-year)
The first season since 2008 without Matthew Stafford went about as you’d expect for the Detroit Lions. They finished 3-13-1, earning the first overall selection in the 2022 NFL Draft. They ended up drafting twice in the top ten and are looking to start moving in the right direction this year in head coach Dan Campbell’s second season.
They’re tied to Jared Goff for a little bit longer, after ranking 22nd in total offense last season. D’Andre Swift looked solid in his second season, averaging 4.1 yards per carry and will look to improve with a top five offensive line. It’s an offensive line that includes three first round picks that Detroit nailed.
Tight end features T.J. Hockenson, who hasn’t lived up to the hype yet, but has still been a quality starter. Amon-Ra St. Brown shined towards the end of last season, and now has some quality counterparts. DJ Chark comes over from Jacksonville and will help open up the field along with rookie Jameson Williams. However, Williams is still recovering from a torn ACL, but should be ready a few weeks into the season.
The defense ranked 29th last year, but is getting a big boost from #1 overall pick Aidan Hutchinson. He joins a defensive line that has potential, but will still be a bottom-ten unit in the league. They won’t be getting a lot of help from linebackers Alex Anzalone and Chris Board, either. Both players have been unable to prove to be quality starters in this league.
The secondary will still rank towards the bottom of the league, but it will be interesting to see if cornerback Amani Oruwariye can build off a good 2021. Jeff Okudah is still coming back from an Achilles injury, so Mike Hughes will be opposite Oruwariye. The safety tandem of Tracy Walker and DeShone Elliott is average, so I wouldn’t expect too much from this defense.
I like the direction Dan Campbell is taking this team, but they need to put some wins up this year. I believe they will, finishing the season 7-10, and 1-5 against the rest of the NFC North.
2. Minnesota Vikings
Key losses – S Xavier Woods, OLB Anthony Barr, OLB Nick Vigil, TE Tyler Conklin, C Mason Cole
Key additions – HC Kevin O’Connell, OLB Za’Darius Smith, DT Harrison Phillips, ILB Jordan Hicks, OG Chris Reed, OG Jesse Davis, TE Johnny Mundt, S Lewis Cine, CB Andrew Booth Jr., OG Ed Ingram, LB Brian Asamoah
Re-signed – CB Patrick Peterson (1-year)
Extensions – QB Kirk Cousins (1-year, $35 million)
The Vikings missed the playoffs for the second straight season, going 8-9 and finishing second in the NFC North. They fired Mike Zimmer and decided to bring in Kevin O’Connell, former Rams offensive coordinator. O’Connell will look to lead the Vikings to the playoffs, and hopefully farther.
Last year’s offense ranked 12th in the NFL, but could take a jump this year. O’Connell is bringing a Super Bowl-quality playbook to help quarterback Kirk Cousins. Cousins is also getting help from amazing offensive weapons. Dalvin Cook is back to take the load off of Cousins’ plate, looking for his fourth consecutive 1,000-yard season.
However, Cook is running behind a below-average offensive line. If Christian Darrisaw can improve off of a good 2021 as a rookie, this line can move to top 15 in the league. The receiving corps is loaded, with Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen starring. Tight end Irv Smith Jr. is looking to make a jump and open up the field for Jefferson and Thielen. It should be a top-10 offense this year with O’Connell at the helm.
The defensive side of the ball struggled last season, finishing 30th in the NFL. They got some help up front with edge rusher Za’Darius Smith and defensive tackle Harrison Phillips. It’s now a top-15 defensive line in the league. Jordan Hicks and Eric Kendricks help create a top ten linebacker corps in the league and will look to fill the lanes.
The secondary is slightly above average after adding two players in this year’s draft. Lewis Cline is one of them who could start along side Harrison Smith to create a nice safety tandem. The cornerbacks feature Patrick Peterson, who is aging, and Cameron Dantzler, who looks to shine this season. It is a much-improved secondary looking to be a top-15 group in the league.
I believe the Vikings did well this offseason and will make it back to the playoffs this season. I have them finishing 10-7 after going 4-2 in the division. Expect a monster season from Kirk Cousins and Justin Jefferson.
1. Green Bay Packers
Key losses – C Lucas Patrick, P Corey Bojorquez, OT Billy Turner, WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling, OLB Za’Darius Smith, CB Chandon Sullivan, ILB Oren Burks, WR Davante Adams
Key additions – P Pat O’Donnell, DE Jarran Reed, WR Sammy Watkins, LB Quay Walker, DL Devonte Wyatt, WR Christian Watson, WR Romeo Doubs, OL Sean Rhyan
Re-signed – CB Rasul Douglas (3-years), Robert Tonyan Jr. (1-year), LB De’Vondre Campbell (5-years)
Extensions – CB Jaire Alexander (4-years, $84 million), QB Aaron Rodgers (3-years, $150 million), LB Preston Smith (4-years, $52 million)
The Packers ran away with the NFC North last year and earned the #1 seed in the NFC all-together. They finished 13-4, before losing in the divisional round to the San Francisco 49ers. They traded away superstar wideout Davante Adams, so we’ll see if quarterback Aaron Rodgers can win his third straight MVP without him.
The offense ranked tenth last year, and is now without its top target from a year ago. Rookie wide receivers Romeo Doubs and Christian Watson will have to step up to carry the load. Tight end Robert Tonyan is looking to shine again after a breakout season with 11 touchdowns, and could help Rodgers make the passing game top ten.
Rodgers will be protected by a top-tier offensive line. There is a minor worry at tackl,e with Elgton Jenkins still working back from an ACL tear. The running back room is phenomenal with AJ Dillon being the bruiser, and Aaron Jones being a quality dual-threat back. This offense will be scary as long as they have #12 under center.
The defense was phenomenal last season, as they ranked ninth in total defense. They lost Za’Darius Smith to the Vikings, but still bring in a great front seven. The defensive line ranks in my top five, while the linebacker unit is in the top ten. De’Vondre Campbell leads the linebackers, alongside rookie Quay Walker. The defensive line includes superstar Kenny Clark, who gets help from pass rusher Rashan Gary.
The secondary could be the biggest strength of this team. With superstar Jaire Alexander, they have lockdown ability along with a top-flight safety tandem in Darnell Savage and Adrian Amos. This defense should be elite this season, as they don’t have a major weakness.
The Packers have the back-to-back MVP, so I don’t expect them to lose this division. I have them finishing 12-5, and 6-0 against the NFC North. Expect a superstar to emerge on that offense.