It has been an incredibly interesting off-season within the NFC North, with questions surrounding the Green Bay Packers’ wide receiver depth, will Justin Fields emerge as one of the top Quarterbacks in the NFC, and will the fun culture within the Detroit Lions’ dressing room display results?
With the four time MVP taking the snaps, it will be no surprise that the Packers are once again favorites to win the NFC North according to Fanduel, with the Bears deemed to be big outsiders.
A lot has happened, the draft, trades and free agency and it is time to break down each team’s chances at dethroning the Green Bay Packers this year in pursuit of the NFC North title.
Despite having one of the most talented quarterbacks of all time, the Green Bay Packers’ offseason has not been free of controversy. In fact, a lot of the people would point a finger at the reigning MVP for that, due to the ayahuasca story and vaccine scandal. Although, focusing purely on football, there is a glaring hole in the team and that is at wide receiver. After losing Devante Adams to the Las Vegas Raiders this summer, a clear WR1 has not been revealed. Veteran Sammy Watkins has been brought in to work alongside productive Allen Lazard and the returning Randall Cobb. Wide receiver was partially addressed through the draft with the additions of Christian Watson (Round 2), Romeo Doubs (Round 4) and Samori Toure (Round 7). Despite early criticism from Aaron Rodgers, he recently featured on the Pat Mcafee show and said “those young guys have really come along”, and have been showing signs of talent in preseason. However, after losing one of the best wide receivers in the league, there are definitely still huge question marks. Aside from wide receiver, the Packers defense will be hoping to improve further with the first round picks of Quay Walker and Devonte Wyatt. They will look to stop the run and rush the QB alongside the incredibly talented Kenny Clark, Preston Smith and Rashan Gary. The re-acquisition of De’Vondre Campbell and Rasul Douglas are also incredibly good moves for the Packers this off-season. The Packers defense will likely be in the top 10 once again if the rookies make an impact and they avoid injuries to key players, and with the reigning MVP and 2 excellent running backs in Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon, I see the Packers as a hard team to dethrone. Although unfortunately when looking into the playoffs, that’s when their lack of superstar wide receivers may be exposed.
The Minnesota Vikings seem to have hit a home run when drafting Justin Jefferson, recording 1,616 yards and 10 touchdowns last year. This alongside the very effective Adam Thieln and Irv Smith Jr will be a scary offense to come against. The main question mark around the Vikings offense would be Kirk Cousins, who despite performing well last year, would be described by many as a good but not great quarterback. Another question will be how he gets on with the new head coach Kevin O’Connell. Will O’Connell take him to the next step and push for a deep playoff run, or will Cousins have another repeat season seeing the Vikings sit just above .500? A big concern for the Vikings last year was their defense. They ranked 24th in points against and 30th for yards allowed so looked to address this in the draft with safety Lewis Cine and Cornerback Andrew Booth. They also picked up former Packer Za’Darius Smith and Jordan Hicks in free agency which will make their pass rush a real threat to opposing offenses. I fear the secondary might be relying on too many rookies to make an instant impact and this year might take some time for them to settle in. The new head coach may also take some time to organize the team and get them playing to their full potential. Although, I would predict a more successful run towards the end of the season and into next year.
The Detroit Lions have become one of the most likable teams in the NFL since hiring Dan Campbell and have shown signs of a united locker room who’ve stuck together despite recent hard seasons. These tough times have not stopped some players from really shining though. Amon-Ra St. Brown comes to mind. The fourth round wide receiver was really impressive last season, recording just under 1,000 yards, a milestone that he will surely surpass this year. Along with this, young D’Andre Swift and T.J Hockenson are slowly starting to show signs of improvement under this new regime. Their defense really struggled last year due to the injury of big name cornerback Jeff Okudah and a lack of any depth in that position. This will hopefully be less of an issue after bringing in Mike Hughes as a free agent. Furthermore, their defensive line looks to take a massive step up after drafting superstar Aidan Hutchinson with the 2nd pick. Focusing on the draft, the Lions also acquired Jameson Williams who many people were calling the best wide receiver in the draft. Williams alongside St. Brown makes a really tough offense depending on one thing; Jared Goff. Goff has struggled since losing to the Patriots in the superbowl and it doesn’t look like he should be the long-term quarterback if the Lions want any type of notable success. In summary I think the Lions will improve this year, I can’t see their record eclipsing .500 though.
The 2022 off-season will not inspire a lot of hope for the Chicago Bears. New general manager Ryan Poles appears to have begun a full rebuild, waving goodbye to veterans and players with big contracts to free cap space. It is yet to be seen how this will affect the future of the Bears, but when looking at the 2022 season, losing players like Khalil Mack and Allen Robinson II will almost certainly result in a lackluster campaign. The best case scenario this season would likely be the key young players staying fit and showing signs of development. Without much help, Justin Fields looks to have a hard job but Bears fans should look out for a partnership between him, Cole Kmet and Darnell Mooney to develop. Mooney, in particular, really emerged as a potential superstar in what was otherwise a tough year. Having no first round pick this year, there isn’t a superstar rookie to keep an eye on, but at least after a tough season, the Bears can score a low draft pick next year and fully begin the rebuild from there.