2017 NFL Preview: NFC North

nfc-northThe NFC North is home to some of the oldest rivalries in the NFL as it is truly one of those original groups that have put some history behind them.

When two of the teams in the division are fast approaching their 100-year anniversaries there is bound to be some history between them and the rest of the division.

That is what makes the last few years tough for the entire division as there has really only been one team that has made any impact on the league from the NFC North.

The Green Bay Packers are the best team in this division and they have been since they won the Super Bowl in 2010.

With a superstar like Aaron Rodgers manning the ship, the Packers have won five of the last six division titles and took the wild card in the one year they didn’t win the division.

They have a Super Bowl and multiple appearances in conference title games as they are consistently one of the favourites to win the division and to make it to a Super Bowl.

Nothing has changed this year as the Packers are still heavy favourites to win the division and some have they headed all the way to the Super Bowl again.

That can be frustrating for the other teams as this is no regular division because every team can be considered a major rival.

Playing catch up is always frustrating but when you are playing catch-up to a team that has constantly been a thorn in your side it gets even worse.

This type of environment leads to a focus for the rest of the teams and that focus is far from winning a Super Bowl.

The focus right now and into the near future is to finally unseat the Packers and end their reign as the top team in the division.

Teams have specifically focused on beating the Packers and like with any good team that means trying to attack their quarterback and bring in their own great QB.

The North teams have done a mixed job of that as all have attempted to build up great pass rushing and all have now drafted their starters.

Eventually, the Packers reign at the top will end but whether it comes after Rodgers leaves or whether it will start right now is going to be the question.

The Minnesota Vikings are the only team to win a division title in the north within the last six years.

That win was a big one as it ended a four-year streak from the Packers but the feeling was short-lived when the Vikings lost in the wild card game while the Packers moved into the divisional round.

The Vikings were the last team to unseat the Packers as they have a lot of young talent that has proven to be good.

They struggle to put everything together in one season though as injuries and holes have sunk them more often than once.football-sidebar

The Detroit Lions were the closest last year, before they lost three straight games, with one of the top quarterbacks in the league, and now the highest paid in Matthew Stafford.

He has all of the talent to compete with Rodgers on the stat sheet but his defences have not been entirely up to par as the Lions continue to pursue their first division title since they won the NFC Central in 1993.

The Chicago Bears are in a little bit of a tougher spot as the biggest rivals to the Packers are resetting again and hoping that this time they can create a serious run.

The Packers meanwhile continue to reload with Rodgers leading the way as one of the best quarterbacks in the league.

This year the North will reignite the rivalries and although many of the teams in the division have tried and failed to take the Packers out they will all enter a new season with some new life.

Green Bay might be the favourites this year but anything can happen and with teams that are looking to some young players the unexpected could be there.

After all the goal for Chicago, Minnesota and Detroit is not really to win a Super Bowl anymore it is simply to beat up on the Packers.

They will all look to do that this year and take their time at the top of the division while the Packers hope to keep up their time on top.

chicago_bears

The Bears have been a team looking for a quarterback since Jim McMahon was leading the team in the 1980s and so far it hasn’t been too successful. There have been good players but there haven’t been any that can truly be considered among the best of their era and for a passing league that means trouble. The latest attempt to find someone is now over as Jay Cutler went into retirement and then signed with Miami. Cutler was chi-statsnever the quarterback the Bears needed though and so moving on made sense, unfortunately, it took them eight seasons to move on and has left the bears now starting over trying to build the team from the ground up after a three-win season. As they attempted to build a contender again they had some interesting moves and not all have gone over well with the fans. The Bears will look to Mitch Trubisky to lead this team in the future but he isn’t quite ready yet and that is why moving up to draft him wasn’t necessarily the smartest move especially when they gave up multiple draft picks to move one spot to get Trubisky. Knowing that Trubisky was probably not going to be ready right away the Bears went out to get a veteran QB to fill the gap for the time being. The big $45-million deal for Mike Glennon was overpaying for a good but not great quarterback as he hasn’t done anything to prove that he is worth the deal. He will also be without their best target as Alshon Jeffrey is no longer in Chicago but it doesn’t mean they didn’t find replacements. The Bears signed Kendall Wright and Markus Wheaton who can fill the gap while Kevin White hopes to have a healthy season after being drafted in 2015 but missing most of the last two seasons with injuries. The running game is in good hands as Jordan Hoard quietly racked up over 1,000 years in his rookie year and is now the sure feature back in the Windy City. The defence has always been a focus in Chicago and although they have had some lean years things are getting better. Akiem Hicks led the defence last year as he did a little bit of everything although there wasn’t much else on the line to cheer about. At linebacker, Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan formed a good duo that the Bears have needed for a while. In the defensive backfield, Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper should provide the upgrade that the Bears need to be more effective. Chicago has been wandering for a number of years without a quarterback that could really carry them and with issues all over the field. They haven’t solved everything but their defence is getting better and they might have found their future QB. They won’t be very competitive this year and changes are sure to be coming to the organization.

detroit-lions

Last year the Lions came so close to unseating the Packers at the top and beginning a new streak where the Packers lost two straight division titles. Then came the collapse as the Lions took three straight losses at the end of the year and it dropped them out of the division lead. They still made the playoffs and were looking to take a run into the playoffs to win their first playoff game since 1991. It didn’t happen though as the Lions det-statswere eliminated immediately as their streak continued. Things aren’t terrible in Detroit though despite their collapse at the end of the year as the Lions are right on track towards becoming a division champion. This year the Lions are heading in the same direction and with a few improvements, they hope to finally capture that elusive division title and their first playoff win. There is no question that the Lions will only go as far as Matthew Stafford can take them and with a brand new mega-contract, he will be in Detroit for the long run. He is one of the top quarterbacks in the league but last year he lost his best receiver in Calvin Johnson and it left a big hole in the offence. That hole was never filled as Marvin Jones started well but faded and Golden Tate never stepped up. The Lions will hope that Kenny Golladay can develop into a top receiver while they look to Tate and Jones to become more consistent throughout the season. The danger last year was also the fact that their running game took a giant step backwards when Ameer Abdullah was hurt. Abdullah is back and the Lions need him to get back to his usual ways if they want to have more success this year. Stafford needs that balance in order to open up the passing game and Abdullah provides that when he’s healthy. The biggest focus on the offensive side in the off-season was on the line where they lost a big guard in Larry Warford but brought in Ricky Wagner, T.J. Lang and Greg Robinson to help protect Stafford.  On defence, the Lions made some improvements which they needed after a terrible year. They drafted the future leader of the defence in Jarrad Davis who seems like he will take over the middle linebacker role and is going to be the linchpin for this defence. In front of him, the Lions are hoping that Kerry Hyder can continue his performance from a year ago while Ezekiel Ansah needs to get back to his 2015 performance.  In the defensive backfield, Darius Slay and Glover Quin lead a young group where changes could happen at any moment throughout the season. The Lions are a team that was close to taking a division title and they still have all of the talent and ability to achieve that goal this year but might come up short.

green_bay_packers

Things have seemingly been easy for the Packers as they have been the top team in the division for years but it hasn’t been that smooth. The Packers have struggled to find a full complement of players on offence and their defence has never returned to their Super Bowl level. Yet every year the Packers continue to make the playoffs and make a run towards the Super Bowl. The team might be one of the best in the league every year but gb-statsevery year since 2010 they haven’t been able to find their way back to the Super Bowl and meet expectations. They continue to fall short and although they continue to be better than most teams in the league they are expected to do more. Their leader on and off of the field knows that as Aaron Rodgers expressed that he needs more commitment from the executives. After a bad loss to the Falcons in the playoffs, Rodgers expressed in the post-game interview that the Packers needed more if they wanted to compete. So Ted Thompson went to work looking to give the superstar what he needed to compete because as good as Rodgers is he can’t carry a team alone to the Super Bowl. The passing attack has been strong for years with Rodgers making most of the difference but Jordy Nelson developing into a true deep threat and Randall Cobb and Davante Adams making two good secondary targets. He gets another target in Martellus Bennett who will continue a tradition of great tight ends in the organization. Behind him is where the real questions come though as the Packers lost their top back in Eddie Lacy and will go with a converted receiver Ty Montgomery who got time at running back last year and will take on the starting role this year. On defence, the Packers have never been the same as their 2010 team and a big reason has been the lack of development with their young guys. Up front, they need Kenny Clark to develop and give Mike Daniels some help up front which might also come with new addition Ricky Jean-Francois. They will need Nick Perry to develop into the rush backer they drafted too as Clay Matthews might be moving around and won’t be able to rush on every play. The late addition of Ahmad Brooks helps them solidify the middle of the defence. Their biggest issues are in the secondary where they have tried replacing players with draft picks but none have really worked out. Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins dealt with injuries last year and the Packers looked to the draft again getting Kevin King and Josh Jones as two more young defensive backs. The Packers do have some holes but if the moves they made fill those holes like they expect a deep run could be ahead.

minnesota_vikings

The Minnesota Vikings were looking like the team to start a new run through the NFC North as they had a young group with plenty of talent and had just ended the reign of the Packers. Then the injuries started and the Vikings lost most of their top talent leaving them with a disappointing season that ruined their momentum. It ended the great momentum that they had built the year before and it sunk their season pretty quickly. min-statsThe Vikings had a lot of promise as they headed into the 2016 but they couldn’t reach their expectations. Now they enter a new season looking to meet those expectations set out a few years ago and they will hope that the talent they have assembled can get them back to the playoffs and in the hunt for the division. The biggest issue for the Vikings a year ago was the loss of their starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. He was the future of the position in Minnesota and was just beginning to develop into something special. He was hurt in the preseason in 2016 and as of the preseason of 2017, he doesn’t seem to be any closer to joining the team. That is where Sam Bradford came in as he was a late addition in 2016 and now has one season and a full training camp under his belt in Minnesota. Bradford was a promising QB but injuries ended his time in St. Louis and Philadelphia. He seemed to have a bit of a resurgence in Minnesota last year considering he had a week-long training camp to prepare and another year in might give him a resurgence into being one of the top QBs in the game. He has weapons around him as Stefon Diggs has developed into a legitimate threat while they hope that Laquon Treadwell can stay healthy in his second year. In the backfield there are some massive changes as long-time leader Adrian Peterson is gone and will be replaced by free agent signee Latavius Murray and rookie back Dalvin Cook, who was a star and a workhorse for Florida State. The defence is very good up front and Linval Joseph and Everson Griffin are great at getting into the backfield. At the second level, the Vikings are set for a while with young backers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks proving to be what they need in the middle of the defence. The secondary is led by Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith who both tend to be more versatile in this defence. The Vikings have the talent as their defence is full of great talent and they have the pieces they need on offence to make an impact. They just need to stay healthy to get there and they will likely be able to do that this year and challenge for a playoff spot.

Prediction:
The NFC North has been ruled by the Packers for years but other teams are coming and the long reign might be coming to an end. It won’t be this year though as the Packers still have one of the best quarterbacks in the game leading a somewhat reloaded team and they will take the title again. It won’t come easy though as both the Detroit Lions and the Minnesota Vikings are going to make a real run at the title. The Vikings have the young talent and a great quarterback that will put them on top while the Lions will fall short and just miss the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Chicago Bears will hope to put up a fight against their rivals but they are rebuilding and are a few years away from competing in this division.

nfcn-prediction

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