NFC North (Norse) preview

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September 1, 2017 by squish

(Courtesy of Holly Peterson / Special to the Pioneer Press)

Written by Brock Johnson

In 2016, the Packers came out of the NFC North at 10-6, only one game ahead of the Lions at 9-7. If it wasn’t for the Lions finishing their year on a 3 game losing streak, and the Packers infamously winning out as Aaron Rodgers promised, the division could have looked quite different. The Vikings season appeared to be doomed from the day Teddy Bridgewater’s knee almost left his body, but a blockbuster trade for Sam Bradford brought them to 8-8. And the Bears… well the Bears went 3-13, but a shining glimmer of hope snuck through the sadness in a young buck: Jordan Howard.

Although the NFC North still has a powerhouse – the Green Bay Packers – it should be one of the more interesting divisions to watch this season. Each team has acquired fresh faces in hopes of capturing the North title: to be kings of the Frozen Tundra (cc: Boomer, BC).

Chicago Bears

2016-17 record: 3-13 (4th)

Key additions: QB MIke Glennon, QB Mitchell Trubisky, CB Prince Amukamara, WR Markus Wheaton, TE Dion Sims, WR Kendall Wright, S Quintin Demps

Key losses: WR Alshon Jeffrey, QB Jay Cutler, DB Tracy Porter, WR Eddie Royal, QB Brian Hoyer, DL Cornelius Washington

Bears fans, you already know this, but Mike Glennon is not the answer. The Glennon era will be short, and it will be sad. But, there is hope for Bears fans. Jordan Howard exploded onto the scene last year, averaging over 5 yards a carry on almost 17 attempts a game.

Howard’s performance earned himself a Pro Bowl selection and All-Rookie Team honors. Another source of hope (or more disdain) for Bears fans is Mitch(ell) Trubisky. The Bears stunned the NFL with their trade up to acquire the North Carolina product. Although Glennon is supposedly the starter, Trubisky could see playing time if Glennon does not play well (which is more likely than not).

2017-18 Prediction: 3-13 (4th)

Team MVP: Jordan Howard

Howard will be the player that the Bears lean on most to win this year. If he can build on his rookie success during his sophomore year, the Bears have a chance at winning more than 3 games.

X-Factor: Mitchell Trubisky

The Bears will only win the division if Trubisky comes off the bench and is the second coming of Tom Brady.

Detroit Lions

2016-17 record: 9-7 (2nd)

Key additions: G T.J. Lang, LB Paul Worrilow, LB Jarrad Davis, DE Cornelius Washington, CB DJ Hayden, RT Rick Wagner, DT Akeem Spence

Key losses: LB DeAndre Levy, WR Anquan Boldin, G Larry Warford, T Riley Reiff

Thoughts and prayers to Michigan, because the Detroit Lions will not make the playoffs this year. After going 9-7 last year, they will take a step back to 7-9. The biggest priority in the offseason for Detroit was the defense, which ranked 18th in the league for yards, but noticeably crumbled late in the season. New additions like LB Paul Worrilow, DE Cornelius Washington, and CB DJ Hayden should be enough to improve the defense. Rookie LB Jarrad Davis will be the biggest decider in if the defense is great, or just above average. The Lions decided to pass on Reuben Foster and take Davis instead, who had far less question marks on and off the field.

While the defense has been addressed, the backfield of Theo Riddick and Ameer Abdullah remained the same. The duo has not worked before, and it will not work again. Detroit failing to fix the backfield will cause them to regress to the 7-9 record.

X-Factor: Golden Tate

If Golden Tate can have a massive season receiving passes from Matt Stafford, the Lions have a chance of making the playoffs.

Team MVP: Matt Stafford

The Lions season depends on Matt Stafford having another 4,000+ yard season. If he can stay healthy, they have a chance of proving my prediction wrong, but his lack of help in the backfield may spell disaster for the signal caller in Detroit.

2017-18 prediction: 7-9 (3rd)

Minnesota Vikings

2016-17 record: 8-8 (3rd)

Key additions: RB Latavius Murray, RB Dalvin Cook, RT Mike Remmers, WR Michael Floyd, QB Case Keenum, DE Datone Jones, T Riley Reiff

Key losses: RB Adrian Peterson, CB Captain Munnerlyn, LT Matt Kalil, WR Cordarrelle Paterson, T Andre Smith, WR Charles Johnson

A total record of 8-8 in 2016  was satisfactory to some fans, especially with how fans felt after Teddy Bridgewater’s preseason injury. Sam Bradford came in and played better than expected, but the Vikings struggled on the road last season, finishing with a record of 3-5. The issue that plagued Minnesota was their running game. Adrian Peterson amassed 72 yards, with Jerick McKinnon leading the team at only 539 yards. Matt Asiata was a pleasant surprise at 402 yards, but the backfield was not good enough. The Vikings only had two games with 100+ yards rushing. In the NFL, you simply will not win on the road with rushing stats like those.

2017-18 prediction: 9-7 (2nd place)

X-Factor: Dalvin Cook

The Vikings can win the division and shock the Packers if Dalvin Cook lives up to, and even exceeds, the hype he is receiving. A dual-threat back, Cook has impressed during the Vikings’ preseason. He will receive support with newcomer Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon returning, but his performance will decide if the Vikings make the leap to NFC North champions.

Team MVP: Sam Bradford

Bradford will look to continue his strong play coming off of a 71% completion season in 2016. If he can get the ball to Diggs, Treadwell, Cook, and Rudolph he should be able to reach 30 TD’s as opposed to his 20 last season. However, the most valuable part of Bradford’s game is protecting the ball, which he did successfully in 2016 with only 5 interceptions.

Green Bay Packers

2016-17 record: 10-6 (1st)

Key additions: TE Martellus Bennett, CB Kevin King, DL Ricky Jean-Francois, G Jahri Evans

Key losses: TE Jared Cook, G T.J. Lang, OL JC Tretter, LB Julius Peppers, RB James Starks, RB Eddie Lacy, CB Sam Shields

Cheeseheads will look to see their team improve from last season, but I just don’t see them taking a great leap forward to a record like 12-4. Their competition in the division has gotten stronger to the point where they could go as low as 3-3 within the NFC North (5-1 last season). This could happen due to Green Bay’s struggles on the road (4-4 in 2016-17). At Chicago in Week 15 (during their best stretch of football), they only narrowly beat a horrible Bears team by a score of 30-27. Even on the road, GB needs to be able to dominate a group like the 2016 Bears.

It still is the Green Bay Packers division to lose, however. Aaron Rodgers has one of the best receiving trios in football (Cobb, Nelson, Adams), and added Martellus Bennett in the offseason. The biggest question mark for the Packers offense is the running back position, which saw Ty Montgomery (a converted WR) have the most carries in 2016. Green Bay looks to reinforce the backfield with rookies Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones, but they have not shown starting RB potential yet.

2017-18 predictions: 10-6 (1st)

Team MVP: Aaron Rodgers

The Packers live and die at the hand of Aaron Rodgers. His 40 TD – 7 INT season brought his team the title last year. His leadership brought the team back from doom and gloom to winning out and an appearance in the NFC Conference Championship. Unless the backfield question marks are addressed effectively, the Packers will depend on Rodgers to carry them once again.

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