Complete NFC North Preview
Here is a look at what you can expect from the Vikes, Lions, Packers and Bears this season…
When the Vikings gave QB Kirk Cousins the league’s richest and first-ever fully guaranteed multi-year contract, they bragged about being “all in.” Well, the pressure is on. Big time. The Vikings hand-picked the franchise quarterback to pair with the league’s top-ranked defense. If the Vikings stay healthy — a big if given this team’s track record at quarterback the past two years — nothing short of a Super Bowl will be acceptable. There’s certainly enough talent to get the job done.
Green Bay Packers
A few folks inside Lambeau Field wondered aloud after last season if such a painful step backward without QB Aaron Rodgers might be just what this team needed to move forward after NFC Championship Game losses in two of the previous three seasons. A healthy 16 games from Rodgers virtually guarantees a 10-6 finish at minimum — the Packers are 94-46 in games Rodgers started and didn’t leave with a broken collarbone over the past 10 years. Whether Rodgers gets to the second Super Bowl of his career, however, depends on whether his younger teammates elevate their games, and how many contributions the rookies can make.
The Lions haven’t won a division title in a quarter-century, and last season’s 9-7 finish felt like another missed opportunity, given the key quarterback injuries in Green Bay and Minnesota. Still, coming off back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since the mid-1990s, Detroit has the talent — and the quarterback — to be a playoff contender. And a playoff-starved fan base is banking on an engaging new coach in Matt Patricia to do what so many others before him couldn’t. Forget about the Patriot Way, he says: “After you have some success, that’s when you start calling it ‘The Lions Way.’”
New head coach Matt Nagy seems to be more in sync with GM Ryan Pace than John Fox ever was. This year’s additions in free agency did an excellent job of specifically addressing weaknesses, although Pace’s track record in the market has been uneven at best. Everything revolves around making QB Mitch Trubisky the franchise quarterback, from personnel to staff. Nagy’s presence as an offensive mastermind, along with innovative offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich and holdover quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone, should help. Pass-catching talent was added in free agency, but Trubisky will be throwing to several players with whom he’s never taken a snap in an NFL game. He’ll also be operating in his third system in as many years. That’s a lot to handle for a young quarterback. But the defensive improvement should continue under Vic Fangio, and the Bears should improve on last year’s 5-11 record.