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NFC North Preview

 

The NFC North promises to be one of the most competitive divisions in football this season. Long among the most stable teams in the league, Green Bay is starting out with a brand new staff and the associated questions. The Bears are coming off of a surprising divisional title and have a defense that figures to remain elite. Meanwhile the Vikings look like the most complete team in the division while the Lions are quietly amassing talented players.

 

Chicago Bears

 

New Faces: RB David Montgomery, RB Mike Davis, S Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix; Montgomery and Davis figure to be splitting the carries as the every down back and n-Dix will replace Eddie Jackson in the secondary.

 

Offensive Outlook: Montgomery and Davis figure to shoulder the load so that Tarik Cohen can be used more creatively by the offensive coaching staff. Mitch Trubisky needs to show some improvement again this season as he will be expected to transition from a young quarterback into the face of the Bears franchise. Strong offensive line play will be key and the Bears have recently invested heavily in the interior of their line. Massie and Leno are old hands, if not premier ones. Allen Robinson needs to rebound, if he ever plans to, and the tight end combination of Shaheen and Burton will need to make more plays in the passing game too.

 

Defensive Outlook: There’s not a lot to dissect here. As long as Khalil Mack is generating pressure and Roquan Smith is cleaning up the middle of the field the Bears will have an elite defense. The consistency from the secondary is key, however, as the other NFC North offense are all capable of high powered aerial attacks. The Bears added some late round youth to the secondary in the draft. They’ll need to develop those players for the future, of course, but they do not figure to make a huge impact on defense this season.

 

Overall Prediction: Chicago is probably the best team in the NFC North but they do have some real questions surrounding them. Namely will Chuck Pagano’s defense be capable of maintaining the intensity of Vic Fangio’s unit last season. Also, will the Jordan Howard loss hurt. Also who will catch passes? I still think the Bears are a good enough team to win the division but it will be closer than folks think.

 

Detroit Lions

 

New Faces: WR Danny Amendola, RB CJ Anderson, DE, Trey Flowers, TE’s Jesse James and TJ Hockenson, CB’s Rashaan Melvin and Justin Coleman; Amendola is penciled in as the starting slot receiver. Hockenson figures to see a lot of time moving around the field as the Lions attempt to work his versatility into their offense. Justin Coleman looks like a starter at cornerback while Rashaan Melvin will provide some solid veteran depth. Flowers will replace Ziggy Ansah as the center piece of the front seven.

 

Offensive Outlook: Kerryon Johnson looks like he’s about to establish himself as a very good running back. CJ Anderson offers good injury protection. Kenny Golloday showed flashes in 2018 and he’ll need to play more consistently this season. Stafford has to start playing at an elite level to justify the money Detroit tied up in him. Being a B level starter is just not going to continue to cut it for him. Jesse James was brought in to block and to teach the finer points of the game to Hockenson. His presence should greatly benefit the running game.

 

Defensive Outlook: Matt Patricia is hoping that Trey Flowers can approximate Ziggy Ansah’s production while staying on the field more consistently. If Flowers can maintain his form from New England this will be a net positive for the Lions. Justin Coleman and Rashaan Melvin both appear to be pushing Teez Tabor off of the roster, which is probably for the best. Tabor was a great college player that doesn’t have the speed or quickness for the NFL game.

 

Overall Prediction: Detroit is a better team than they were last year, but so is the rest of their division. I expect the Lions to compete, and even win a few games as underdogs, but ultimately the strength of their division will keep them under 500. They are still a year away, it appears, but how often can the Lions ever say that.

 

Green Bay Packers

 

New Faces: S’s Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage, OLB’s Preston Smith, Za’Darius Smith, and Rashan Gary, OG Billy Turner; Obviously the Packers felt like they needed new faces at OLB. Billy Turner was a smart signing that is penciled in as a starter. Darnell Savage continues the Packers investment of draft capital into their secondary.

 

Offensive Outlook: Time will tell regarding Matt Lafleur’s offensive system but the Packers desperately needed a infusion of anything fresh. Finding a second receiver behind Davante Adams figures to be a tall order but Rodgers will be able to make it work with the string of guys at his disposal. Aaron Jones needs to establish himself as the teams primary back, even if he splits time with a backup, they need a back that can close out games.

 

Defensive Outlook: Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage give the Packers two new safeties in the middle of their defense while Preston and Za’Darius Smith (and Rashaan Gary) will give the team new blood off the edge. Mike Pettine is getting his infusion of talent and the Packers need to see some improvement from a defense that has underwhelmed for several years now. Jaire Alexander and Kevin King are two very good cornerbacks and the Packers have plenty of depth in the secondary.

 

Overall Prediction: Aaron Rodgers is the great equalizer for the Packers. Even though Minnesota is the most complete team The Bears have an elite defense and the Packers have Rodgers. The Packers figure to be a playoff team and should compete for the division, but I think they’ll fall just shy given the difficulty of their division.

 

Minnesota Vikings

 

New Faces: OG Garrett Bradburry, TE Irv Smith Jr., RB Alexander Mattison; The Vikings prioritized their interior line during the draft, wisely, and added future players with their other early picks. Smith figures to find some work in passing situations early while Mattison is the primary backup to Dalvin Cook and must be ready.

 

Offensive Outlook: If the preseason is any indication, the Vikings offense figures to be much more efficient. The health of Dalvin Cook is, again, paramount to this teams fortunes but so far he has looked more explosive than he did in 2018. Diggs and Thielen give Kirk Cousins the best 1-2 receiver punch in the NFL while Kyle Rudolph figures to help Smith Jr learn the ropes.

 

Defensive Outlook: Resigning Anthony Barr was a pleasant last minute surprise for the Vikings who continue to boast one of the most complete defensive units in the NFL.  Barr and Hunter can get after the quarterback while Harrison Smith and the deepest unit of starting quality corner backs in the NFL round out the secondary. This defense doesn’t have any holes and figures to be a strength of this team. With four legitimate starting cornerbacks and last years drafting of Kris Boyd the Vikings could make a deal to provide both cap relief and add a future pick. With only a week remaining until final cut downs a deal might be more likely once the season begins.

 

Overall Prediction: The Vikings are one of the most complete teams in the NFL. Offensive line has been their Achilles heel in recent years although Bradbury and second year tackle Brian O’Neil are clear upgrades. The Vikings will compete for the division and could easily be one of three teams, along with the Packers and Bears, to represent the NFL North in the playoffs.

 

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