(Image credit: Nick Schwartz/USA Today Sports)
By: Stephen Brown III
We continue our look at the NFC by exploring how each team in the NFC North will do. The NFC North is home to the team who’s lost in the NFC championship back-to-back years: the Green Bay Packers. But the talk this offseason hasn’t been around another crushing defeat for the Packers, but how do they keep their future Hall of Fame QB around? And while that was one of the biggest stories in the entire NFL this offseason, the other teams had plenty of stories and big moves as well. So, without further ado, let’s break it down.
Green Bay Packers, 2020 Record: 13-3, Lost NFC Championship to Tampa Bay Buccaneers
As previously mentioned, the Packers had a lot of drama this past offseason. After a long stalemate of Rodgers saying, “trade me or I retire” and the Packers saying, “lol, we aren’t trading you”, the two finally reached an agreement, which basically has Rodgers play one more season in Green Bay before being traded next offseason. Based on some MJ/Pippen Last Dance photos posted by Davante Adams on Instagram, this may be his last hurrah as well. With one final chance at winning a ring with this core, what did the Packers do to get better this offseason?
As usual, they did very little to improve (I wonder why Rodgers wants to leave?). The streak continues of never taking a skill position in the first round since Rodgers was drafted, as the Packers made the head-scratching decision to take CB Eric Stokes in the first round. They beefed their offensive line by taking Josh Meyers in the second round and finally took a skill position player when they drafted Amari Rodgers in the third. The other addition to the offense was the Packers trading for Randall Cobb, a condition of Aaron Rodgers returning to the team. On defense, the only notable defensive adds were Stokes via the draft and De’Vondre Campbell via free agency.
This team should really look largely the same as last year, which has been the issue for years. Rather than really building around one of the most talented QBs in NFL history, they just expect him to carry them every year. And because of that, this team will probably have a solid regular season but come up just short again.
Packers 2021 Record Prediction: 12-5
Chicago Bears, 2020 Record: 8-8, Lost Wild Card Round to New Orleans Saints
The Bears were able to sneak their way into the postseason this past year thanks to a good defense and a solid second half by David Montgomery. With both Matt Nagy and GM Ryan Pace on the hot seat after failing with Mitchell Trubisky, the duo needed to make a big move. And did they ever.
Undoubtedly, the biggest move the Bears made this offseason was trading up in the draft to get Justin Fields. You’ll likely remember that Fields was the undisputed QB2 all season and after an incredible performance against Clemson in the CFP Semifinals, people were talking about him potentially being the QB1 over Trevor Lawrence. But as usual, people become enamored with prospects during their pro days and because of buzz words like “arm talent” or “upside” or because of unsubstantiated reports about work ethic. And thus, Fields became QB4 on many people’s big boards. I personally thought he was still QB2 and that all these teams who passed on him would regret it. As a Bears fan, I literally screamed when the Bears traded up and made that pick. For the first time in years, there’s actual excitement about the Bears having a franchise QB. As far as the rest of the offseason, the Bears didn’t do too much. On offense, they drafted Teven Jenkins in the second round and signed Jason Peters to bolster the line. And of course, they signed Andy Dalton to be the starting QB and mentor to Justin Fields. On defense, the Bears released their best CB, Kyle Fuller but didn’t make any key additions.
Much like the Packers, this team will likely have a similar season to last year. Their biggest addition, Fields, is apparently not seeing the field for a while. And despite the additions, this offensive line still is a problem. Even though I think Dalton isn’t the worst option, he will struggle behind the line and by the time the Bears realize that and make the switch, it may be too late. Regardless, with Fields the heir apparent, there’s a lot of reasons to be excited to be a Bears’ fan.
Bears 2021 Record Prediction: 7-10
Minnesota Vikings, 2020 Record: 7-9, 3rd Place
The Vikings have been really good at alternating playoff appearances the last few years. This past year was a miss year. With so many new faces on defense, the Vikings struggled to stop people last year. Add to that trading away their best receiver and this team just didn’t quite have it.
Much like the Bears and Packers, there weren’t a ton of additions made by the Vikings offensively. However, like the Bears, they may have drafted their future franchise QB. The Vikings selected Kellen Mond in the third round and there were rumors that they were trying to trade up to draft Justin Fields. Based on the urgency to get a new QB, and the reports that Mike Zimmer is frustrated with Kirk Cousins' lack of aggressiveness, it seems that Cousins’ time in Minnesota is numbered. While Mond may not be polished, he may better fit the run-first offense that Mike Zimmer envisions. As far as starters go, all the big players on offense remain the same. Per Football Outsiders, this offense was ranked 8th in DVOA, and there’s no reason this team can’t be in the top 10 again. On defense, this team got a total makeover. Danielle Hunter is back after missing the entire season last year and Everson Griffen is back after leaving the team last year. They also added Michael Pierce and Dalvin Tomlinson to the defensive line, Nick Vigil and Chazz Surratt to the linebacking core, and Patrick Peterson, Xavier Woods, and Breshaud Breeland to the secondary.
This defense is now loaded with established, successful veterans. If they can plan even 80% of what they are capable of, then we could be looking at a team that is top 10 in both offense and defense. If the Packers aren’t careful, the Vikings could even sneak up on them and steal the division.
Vikings 2021 Record Prediction: 9-8
Detroit Lions, 2020 Record: 5-11, 4th Place
Well, the Matt Patricia experiment is finally over. In his almost three seasons, Patricia was 13-29-1. And this was immediately following back to back 9-7 seasons by his predecessor, Jim Caldwell. Not only did Patricia have a .314 winning percentage during his tenure, but the team is also in shambles and projected to be one of the worst in football. Dan Campbell, the new HC, has an uphill battle to climb.
So what moves have the Lions made so far? Well, they will have an entirely new cast on offense. Matthew Stafford was traded to the Rams for Jared Goff. And in order to get the Lions to take on Goff’s massive contract, they were given three first-round picks in the deal. At running back, D’Andre Swift is the best option and should get the bulk of the carries, especially with Kerryon Johnson and Adrian Peterson no longer with the team. At receiver, both Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr. are gone, being replaced by Breshad Perriman, Tyrell Williams, and rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown. And speaking of rookies, the Lions made the safe (and in my opinion) best pick they could in the first round, getting LT Penei Sewell to beef up their line. On defense, Detroit has a lot of players who might be described as good, but even good might be a stretch. Michael Brockers, Trey Flowers, Alex Anzalone, Jamie Collins are all good players to have to fill out your defense where it has holes, but without superstars around them, will likely be exposed.
If you’re a Lions fan, I’m sorry. This team just isn’t good. Even if Dan Campbell is the greatest coach to ever live, there just isn’t enough talent on either side of the ball to stack wins this year. But with so many first-round picks, the future could be bright. And if there’s any silver lining, if the Lions are bad, Detroit fans will have a potential franchise QB to look forward to for the next decade.
Lions 2021 Record Prediction: 1-16
Final NFC North Standings
Green Bay Packers 12-5
Minnesota Vikings 9-8
Chicago Bears 7-10
Detroit Lions 1-16