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2018 NFL Preview: The NFC North

NFC North
Aaron Rodgers is healthy and ready to make another run at the NFC North crown. (Matt Ludtke/Associated Press)

Projected Nfc North End-of-Season Standings

1 Green Bay Packers (11-5)

2 Minnesota Vikings (10-6)

3 Chicago Bears (7-9)

4 Detroit Lions (6-10)

The Packers have quietly assembled what-might-be a really good defense. If that unit comes close to the unit Aaron Rodgers won a Super Bowl with, things could line in nicely for the Packers.

Minnesota has tons of talent across the board. Top-to-bottom, they might have the league’s deepest roster. But two things can tank a season for even really good teams: below-average quarterback play and bad offensive line play. There are definitely legit questions on the offensive line here. Will one bleed into the other?

Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen make up the best running back duo not wearing Chiefs uniforms. Their defense continues to be a bit of a rebuild but Khalil Mack can’t hurt, right?

The Lions feel like they’re one disastrous season away from really having to ask themselves some tough questions regarding the makeup of the roster and whether or not they want to start over. It looks like it’s going to be that season.

QB Watch (Because It’s the Most Important Position)

Green Bay: There were a few grumbles about how little Aaron Rodgers played in the preseason, but the light workload and new contract extension should have Rodgers healthy and wealthy. It’s just up to the offensive line to make sure he stays that way.

Minnesota: It was a bit of a gamble to replace Case Keenum with Kirk Cousins, especially given the money handed over to Cousins. It remains to be seen what future concessions Minnesota will have to make in the name of the Cousins’ salary cap number, but in the near-term, they should be far more worried about their new QB keeping upright.

Chicago: Everything is set up for the Bears to continue to bring Mitchell Trubisky along slowly. They have a really good defense that should keep practically every game close. They have one of the best running back duos in the NFL in Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen. At some point though, they’re going to have to be comfortable with Trubisky lettin’ it loose.

Detroit: Matthew Stafford is a perfect example of how ridiculous the pro sports ecosystem can be. He was worthy of being the number one pick out of Georgia. He either came close or met expectations that came with that. Yet unless he ascends to the truly elite – which grows more unlikely every game he plays – he’ll always be put in the good-but-not-great class of quarterbacks.

Non-QB Positions/Players to Watch

Green Bay: As the year progresses, the Packers might grow to miss Jake Ryan more and more. The entire linebacker unit is the lynchpin to keeping the entire defense in sync. The secondary (especially at corner) is really young. Up front, the line played really well last year and should be at least as good this year. Nick Perry and Clay Matthews need to stay healthy and productive. Blake Martinez needs to play at the level he did last year. Rookie Oren Burks slots in at Ryan’s replacement. The converted safety needs to fend off a steep learning curve in his first season.

Minnesota: The issues with the offensive line were touched on as they relate to Kirk Cousins’ performance. The defense should be primed for another solid season. The player that could really take this team to another level is Dalvin Cook. The Vikes were on the cusp of being a Super Bowl contender last season even without much of a running game. Cook could change that.

Chicago: Aside from the development of Mitchell Trubisky, all eyes will be on Khalil Mack. He’s a transcendent hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker that just wreaks havoc for the opposition. Another double-digit sack output from him could mean the Bears speed up their organizational timeline as far as putting together a contender.

Detroit: Even though it’s kind of hard to watch coaching, what Matt Patricia does in his first season being head coach is going to be super interesting. Assistant coaches who left Bill Belichick for greener pastures haven’t exactly had a sterling record after New England. Patricia is under the microscope from Day One.

Crazy-Wild Scenario

If Cousins or Rodgers underperform or are forced to miss time, there’s an opening for this division to literally be turned upside down. It wouldn’t be all that shocking if Detroit and Chicago were fighting for the division title rather than Green Bay and Minnesota.

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2018 NFL Preview: The NFC North


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