2017 NFC North Preview

1. Green Bay Packers– Last year should’ve taught us all that you don’t count the Green Bay Packers out, especially with Aaron Rodgers under center. When they had lost four games in a row, people threw the towel in on them. I remember stating on the air that let them win one game to get themselves out of the hole they were in and they won their final six games of the regular season to win the NFC North and get to the playoffs. After taking care of the Giants in the Wild Card round, they held Dallas off in a thrilling divisional game before running out of gas against Atlanta. They lost a few pieces on offense. Eddie Lacy is now in Seattle, Jared Cook is gone but they did make a very nice signing in Martellus Bennett who just finished playing with one elite quarterback to play with another. While the offense will always be on top of its game, the defense has struggled for years and has been extremely inconsistent. As they have each year, they enter as a championship favorite.

2. Detroit Lions– For just the second time in the Jim Caldwell era, the Detroit Lions made the playoffs and I like what I saw from them last year. With Calvin Johnson officially retired from the game, the offensive playbook was more open and you truly didn’t know who was going to be Stafford’s top weapon of choice to get the football too. With Megatron, you knew as a defense that he was getting the football. They bolstered the offensive line by signing T.J. Lang from the rival Green Bay Packers. Last year, we saw the emergence of cornerback Darius Slay as he became the team’s number one corner. The Lions are looking to make the playoffs in back to back years for the first time since 1994-95 and if they do make it back to playing football in January, the goal is to win a playoff game and that’s something they haven’t done since the 1991 season.

3. Minnesota Vikings– After prevailing to win the NFC North in 2015, the Minnesota Vikings were the favorites to win the division again despite key pieces returning for the Green Bay Packers. During training camp, Teddy Bridgewater suffered a knee injury during a non-contact drill and it turned out to be a torn ACL with some other injuries all to the same knee. The team traded for Sam Bradford and everything looked to pan out. They won their first six games even without Adrian Peterson who injured his knee in week two. The Vikings will have a brand new look to them in 2017. Adrian Peterson is gone and the team signed former Raiders running back Latavius Murray in free agency. The defense is still one of the best units in the league. Xavier Rhodes since the day he was drafted has lived up to the hype. Everson Griffen is another solid pass rusher that doesn’t get the respect he deserves. With Sam Bradford under center, the Vikings are an average team at best with a lack of explosiveness on offense and an above average defense. With Bridgewater, the Minnesota Vikings are a sleeper Super Bowl contender.

4. Chicago Bears– In his first two years as head coach, John Fox has a record of 9-23. Lovie Smith won more games in his final season with the team in 2012 (10) then Fox has in two full seasons. Maybe the third year will be the charm for the Bears. After making some changes during the off-season, maybe the Bears will be headed in the right direction. Jay Cutler was released and decided to call it a career, Alshon Jeffery signed with the Eagles and the franchise also lost backup quarterbacks in Matt Barkley and Brian Hoyer. The Bears new starting quarterback is Mike Glennon who the team signed in free agency and on draft night, the Bears shocked a lot of people and selected Mitchell Tribusky, the quarterback out of North Carolina with the second pick after trading up with the 49ers to select him. Many weren’t happy, but if he pans out, you have your quarterback of the future. When you think of Chicago Bears football, you think of a history of good defense and over the last three seasons, the Bears have struggled on that side of the ball. The Bears are lucky to have a veteran coach in John Fox that will do what he can to win games. However, this franchise is in rebuild mode.

2017 Predictions

1. Packers (11-5)

2. Lions (9-7)

3. Vikings (7-9)

4. Bears (5-11)

The Green Bay Packers will be on top of the NFC North once again under Mike McCarthy. Aaron Rodgers will finish with another MVP-like season and although they lost Jared Cook in free agency, they were able to replace him with a better guy at the position in Martellus Bennett. There are two things this season that will have my eye with the Packers. The first is the running game and how can they keep their offense balanced? The injuries to the running back position have hurt the Packers over the years and Aaron Rodgers hasn’t had much of a choice but to throw the football 50 plus times a game. Next and most importantly is what will we see from their defense? After what I saw in the playoff game in the second half against Dallas and then the following week in Atlanta for the NFC Title Game, the Packers have such a difficult time getting off the field in certain situations. They’re still a contender but for people to take them more seriously, the defense has to get better all around.