2018 NFL Preview: NFC North

nfc-northThe NFC North is one of the most legendary divisions in the NFL with teams who have roots back to the beginning of the league and beyond.

The Green Bay Packers are leading the group in that respect as they will enter 2018 celebrating their 100th year as a franchise.

The Packers have been doing this a long time and their rivals, the Chicago Bears are right behind them in terms of history.

For years these two teams fought it out at the top of the league and the division but lately, things have been shifting.

The newer division has thrown a lot more into the mix leaving it as one of the more entertaining divisions in the league.

With the amount of time that these teams have been in the league and in the North, or Central as it was once known, there is a lot of success to go around.

There is not one team in the North who hasn’t tasted the success of winning a division crown and all have taken league titles.

It has been a while for a number of the teams though as the success has not led to a lot of Super Bowl championships.

The last team to win a Super Bowl was the Green Bay Packers in 2010 and the most recent beyond that title was the Packers again in 1993.

The Bears last won a Super Bowl in 1985 while the Lions and Viking shave never won a Super Bowl but did take NFL Championships in 1957 and 1969 respectively.

For the history that these teams have the success on the biggest stage is lacking with the Packers as the team to beat with four Super Bowl titles, although two came in the first two Super Bowls ever.

There have been some great fights in the division and it is always entertaining to see who will come out of a division that usually gives a lot of action.football-sidebar

Yet when it comes to the bigger stage they have failed to have any success even when they are considered one of the best teams in the league.

The Packers have been at that level for years and have taken five of the last seven division titles as they have proven to be a great team.

Yet when they get to the playoffs something always seems to be in the way and more often than not it is a key injury to the man that is considered one of the best quarterbacks in the league.

The grip that the Packers have had on the division is falling away though as there is a new team to watch out for in the Minnesota Vikings.

They have taken two of the last three division titles and last year entered the playoffs with a defence that many considered one of the best in the league.

They failed to move into the Super Bowl, which would have been the first time any team played at home in the title game, taking a devastating 38-7 loss to the eventual champion Eagles.

For years the team that has come out of the North has been a team to watch in the playoffs but in the last seven seasons, they have failed to find their way to the biggest game.

This season the Vikings and Packers will likely put on the biggest battle for the top spot in the league but hope is springing up in Chicago and Detroit.

Minnesota and Green Bay still have the talent to compete with the best teams in the league and could put on a great fight but some key moves could bring a few surprises.

The Bears may have finally found their first star QB since Jim McMahon was traded to San Diego in 1989.

Meanwhile, in Detroit, the Lions are looking to a new coach who was one of the biggest offseason targets in the league.

With a new coach comes a new attitude and that new attitude could be what the Lions need to find their way back to the top of the division.

Both the Bears and the Lions will look to launch some surprises and make things a lot more difficult for the top two teams.

Even with their changes, the North seems to be a two-team race with both of those teams looking like they could make a deep run.

The debate will be the same as always though as everyone wonders how these teams will fare on the big stage.

They may take the division but when it comes to the playoffs will either make a serious run at the Super Bowl or will they fall short once again?

chicago_bears

The Bears are entering a new era for a team that is considered one of the most historic in the entire league as they begin following the path of so many other teams. The bears have always been a team that has focused on the defence first with legendary teams built entirely on the ability of their defence. As a result, they have had a lot of success but they have also somewhat ignored the other side of the ball while the game has shifted to an offensive-first mindset. They have been late to get that adjustment and as a result have chibearsstruggled to keep up, ending the last four seasons with double-digit losses at the bottom of the division. Things could be shifting in Chicago as the Monsters of the Midway may be on the offensive side of the ball rather than the defensive although the Bears continue to look to defence as a strength. Last season the Bears finally committed to a new quarterback when they drafted Mitchell Trubisky with the second overall pick in the draft. Although it was a bit early for many experts the Bears have never really had a star QB since the 1980s, Jay Cutler never met the expectations in Chicago, and Trubisky fits the bill. He will take over the offence with new head coach Matt Nagy bringing in a new attitude and a new focus on offence. Trubisky has support in his attempt to bring life to the offence as the bears have one of the best backs in the league with Jordan Howard breaking 1,000 yards in two straight years. They will look to attack through the air more this year and to do that the Bears brought in Allen Robinson who becomes the #1 target but is recovering from an ACL tear that had him play only one game all of last year. He has the ability to be great but how he returns will determine a lot. The Bears are a work in progress on offence but on defence, they are further along in their rebuild. It all starts with the line as Akeim Hicks is one of the best pass rushers in the game and with Eddie Goldman, in the middle, the line is in good hands. The linebacking corps will look different as Pernell McPhee is gone leaving injury prone Leonard Floyd and Aaron Lynch, who is on a prove-me contract, to get more pressure. In the middle, the Bears could have a very tough pair as Danny Trevathan remains a solid middle linebacker and the addition of Raquon Smith might make it hard to run through the middle. The secondary is a good group but not great as Prince Amukamara and Kyle Fuller are back but they will need that pressure if this group hopes to rise up the rankings. The Bears are improved everywhere this year but it can take time to create a new culture and as a result, they will likely not be fighting for a playoff spot. The future is bright but they aren’t there yet.

detroit-lions

The Lions didn’t have a bad season last year taking 9 wins and narrowly missing out on the playoffs but even if they made it not much was expected of them. They were carried by their offence led by one of the best QBs in the league and if teams could shut him down it wasn’t going to go very far. The problem now is that the 9-win season has raised expectations for the team that seems to be caught in the middle of competing and detlionsrebuilding. The hope this year is that a new coach can breathe some life into this team and that the new life will guide them to a division title against two very talented teams. Matt Patricia was one of the most sought-after coaches this offseason as the New England defensive coordinator comes from one of the most prestigious coaching trees in the league and did some great things with a defence that wasn’t necessarily built around superstars. Patricia is slightly lucky to be taking over a team with the talent that Detroit has. Matthew Stafford leads the offence for another season and is still considered one of the best passers in the game. With Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay on the outside, the passing game is in good hands. The tight end position will be changed as Eric Ebron is gone while free agent pick-up Luke Willson hopes to take most of the reps this year. In the backfield, the Lions have an interesting group as Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick along with free agent signing LeGarrette Blount and rookie Kerryon Johnson all look for time. This offence is a very talented group but they need the offensive line to stay healthy as injuries to their starters last year kept them from reaching their potential. The Lions went to work on the defence this year with a concentration on building a defence around Patricia’s system. The linebacking corps will be almost entirely new as the team added Devon Kennard in a big offseason signing along with Christian Jones and Jonathan Freeny to go along with last year’s first pick, Jarrad Davis. With Haloti Ngata gone the Lions singed Sylvester Williams to fill the void while they hope Ezekiel Ansah can remain healthy this year. The secondary was the only spot where things didn’t need a lot of work as Darius Slay and Glover Quin were great last year and the addition of DeShawn Snead only makes the group deeper. The talent is there but the Lions might not be able to compete with the two top teams. They may compete with both for the division title but could fall just short of a playoff spot again.

green_bay_packers

It is no mystery that the packers are among the most talented teams in the league but a lot of that talent resides in one position. Aaron Rodgers is among the best quarterbacks in the league as more and more debates arise between him and Tom Brady for that top spot. He makes this team a Super Bowl contender every year but every year he suffers some type of injury that either takes him out of the lineup or severely limits his play. gbpackersEvery year the team comes into the season with limitless expectations and when Rodgers goes down those hopes are crushed. In 2017 Rodgers was only able to play 7 games after a broken collarbone in Week 6 kept him out most of the season. This year the hopes are high once again as Rodgers returns to lead a team that many believe to be Super Bowl contenders once again. On offence, Rodgers will miss his best target as the Packers let Jordy Nelson walk to Oakland meaning that Devante Adams has to show that his 2017 season was no fluke while Randall Cobb hopes to provide a solid secondary threat. Rodgers will have some extra threats as Marcedes Lewis and Jimmy Graham might be the best tight end pairing in the league and could provide that much-needed threat in the middle of the field for this offence. The running game remains a bit of a question as last year the Packers went through a number of backs thanks to injuries and this year are hoping Jamaal Williams and Ty Montgomery form a good two-headed attack. On the defensive line, the Packers signed Muhammad Wilkerson to provide some more pressure from the line alongside Kenny Clark and Mike Daniels. Behind the line, Clay Matthews continues to be a jack of all trades and a great rusher across from Nick Perry. Matthews may have to fill in at middle linebacker again as rookie Oren Burks takes over for an injured Jake Ryan while Blake Martinez provides some stability in the middle. In the secondary, the Packers have welcomed back Tramon Williams who signed as a free agent to try to provide a little more stability in a group that has been rocked by injuries over the last few years. Kevin King takes over a starting role in his second year while Kentrell Brice does the same in his third year. Rookie Jaire Alexander could see some time at nickel along with Davon House while Williams and Ha Ha Clinton Dix provide the veteran presence. The Packers are talented and can win a Super Bowl this year but it may all ride on Rodgers and whether or not he can stay healthy this year because without him they are a different team.

minnesota_vikings

Things aren’t necessarily supposed to go the way they did for the Vikings in 2017 as there is usually a rule that using multiple quarterbacks throughout the season usually means a bad year. The Vikings had put a lot of hope in Teddy Bridgewater but a 2016 injury kept him sidelined for most of 2017. So the Vikings, knowing that they had the talent to compete signed Sam Bradford to take over and did a great job until he was sidelined with minvikingsanother injury in the first week. The Vikings had to go to their backup to the backup plan and the promise seemed to be done. That was until Case Keenum proved that he might be more than just a backup helping the Vikings to 12 wins while under centre and a deep run into the playoffs thanks also to one of the best defences in the league. Expectations are high after that run and many see this team as a Super Bowl-winning group making anything less a failure. Once again though things are not going entirely according to plan as the Vikings got rid of all of their quarterbacks in the offseason and brought in one of the top free agent targets in Kirk Cousins. Cousins has consistently been doubted in his career but after three straight 4,000+ yard seasons, it is hard to argue that he isn’t one of the top passers in the league right now. He looks to a talented group that includes pass catches like Stefon Diggs and breakout 2017 star Adam Thielen along with tight end Kyle Rudolph. The running game will get a boost with the return of Dalvin Cook who missed most of last year with an injury but showed flashes of what the could be in his limited rookie year. On defence, the Vikings are still one of the most fearsome groups with a line that harkens back to the Purple People Eater days. Everson Griffin put up 13 sacks a year ago and alongside Linval Joseph and Danielle Hunter, this group has a legitimate claim as the best in the league. Behind them the talent doesn’t fall off as Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr make is extremely difficult for teams to run through the middle of the line. Harrison Smith and Xavier Rhodes round out the deep list of talent as they return to lead the secondary along with veteran Terence Newman and rookie Mike Hughes. This group has some serious expectations on them from the performance of last year but they might have gotten better with another year under a younger defence and a quarterback who has been more consistent than any quarterback from last year’s team. The Vikings are expected to take the division this year and a deep run is more than possible from this team.

Prediction:
It could be a very tight battle this year but there still seems to be two teams that are coming out among the rest. The Vikings and Packers are the most talented teams overall in this division and both are expected to compete for the Super Bowl this year. They will need to get out of the division first though and that is going to be a tough task. Overall the Vikings seem to have the more put-together team with fewer holes than the Packers but with a healthy Rodgers, and that is a big if, the Packers are always in the hunt. The Lions will be good and could put up a fight for the division making it a race between three teams rather than two. There may be too many changes in Detroit though putting them just behind and keeping them out of the playoffs. The Bears are heading there too but are a little more than a year away as the talent level simply isn’t there to compete this year but they will make some progress showing everyone that they are not that far away.

nfcnorth-prediction

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