With NFL Training Camp and preseason games underway, on paper every team still has a chance to hoist the Lombardi trophy in February. While in reality, most teams will know their fate by about Week 3 or 4. However, there is always excitement for this time of year. Here’s why each NFC North fanbase should be excited.
Well Chicago, you had quite the offseason. Adding proven wideouts Taylor Gabriel and Allen Robinson could have been enough to hang your hat on. Da Bears followed this up with resigning Prince Amukamara and Kyle Fuller to solidify a defense that was 10th in total yards allowed, and 7th in pass yards allowed. The Monsters of the Midway also selected one of the top prospects in the draft, Roquan Smith from Georgia, a player who could give nightmares to Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins and Matt Stafford. All of this combined with the two-headed monster of Tarik Cohen and Jordan Howard in the backfield and a young quarterback, who seemed to be figuring things out as the season progressed. The Bears finished last in a top heavy NFC North in 2017, and while competing for a division title may be a couple years down the road, expect Chicago to surprise some folks in the NFC.
The Lions are a hard to get a read on. They fired Jim Caldwell following the 2017 season after missing out on the playoffs and finishing second in the NFC North, adding Matt Patricia from the Patriots to be the next head coach. Unlike his former Patriots counterpart Josh McDaniels, Patricia decided to honor his commitment for the 2018 season. The Lions added some reputable talent in tight end Luke Wilson from Seattle and, LeGarette Blount who is coming off back-to-back Super Bowl appearances. The Lions also added linebackers Christian Jones and Devon Kinnard, among other moves to bolster the Motor City defense.
The Lions draft class is solid, but no true standouts. If I was a Lions fan I would be excited to see how Luke Wilson fits replacing the ever stable Eric Ebron, which seems like an upgrade considering the success Wilson had catching the ball in Seattle. I’m curious on how bad Detroit will miss Haloti Ngata up the middle, as he departs for Philadelphia. All that being said, Detroit should figure to factor in a very top heavy NFC North, as Minnesota looks to defend its Division title, Chicago is building for the future and the next team is looking to rebound from a disappointing 2017.
Green Bay Packers
That bad man is back. That should be all I have to write for the Green Bay Packers, usually. But Cheeseheads everywhere have A LOT more to be excited for in 2018. Finally gone is Dom Capers, the one time defensive mastermind who refused to adapt to the current state of the NFL. Also gone is GM Ted Thompson, whose refusal to go in on free agency was at times beyond aggravating. In their places are “Stone Cold” Mike Pettine, who seems to embody the gritty, hard-nosed legacy of the Green Bay Packers, and Brian Gutekunst controlling the Front Office, who had no reservations flexing his muscles in his first offseason. The Packers bolstered both sides of the ball in the offseason, adding Mo Wilkerson and Tramon Williams, who have both thrived playing under Pettine, with Williams also having spent his best years in his first stint with the green and gold. While the loss of Jake Ryan for the season following an ACL tear could hurt the Packers, having depth inside for what feels like the first time in ages should play a big factor in filling in that gap.
Offensively, Green Bay added some high level talent at tight end, signing Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis to give the Packers a potentially deadly combination. Not to mention resigning Davante Adams to a very team-friendly contract. Slot specialist Randall Cobb has impressed early in camp as well, looking like his younger self following a minor surgery on his ankle. Undrafted UW-Whitewater star Jake Kumerow may have found his home in Titletown after bouncing around on practice squads. He is turning heads and earning the trust of his QB. This doesn’t even mention the emergence of a two-headed machine at running back with Jamaal Williams being the work horse and Aaron Jones a home run threat every single time he touches the ball. This duo could look very similar to what Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara did in New Orleans last season.
Green Bay also had one of its better drafts in awhile, adding depth at the skill positions that seemed to have some major concerns. Following the release of Jordy Nelson, Green Bay drafted not one, not two, but three receivers who fit the deep threat role Nelson had. This alone could have been enough to be a solid draft. The Pack also added two first-round graded corners, Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson. Oh, and did I mention Aaron Rodgers is back and healthy? The Green Bay Packers are looking to make up for a disappointing 2017 season, and should expect to make a lot of noise this season that could end up with a trip to Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta.
This pains me to write, but the Minnesota Vikings are the reigning champs of the NFC North and will make a strong case to defend in 2018. Touting one of the most dominant defenses in the NFL, along with the corps of young, explosive playmakers on offense. The Vikings return many of these same playmakers, and also add Sheldon Richardson from Seattle. The biggest offseason splash was letting all of their free agent quarterbacks walk in the offseason to land the 84 million dollar man Kirk Cousins. My reaction to Cousins is mixed, as he is a good, but not great quarterback who couldn’t ever take the next step in the revolving door that is the NFC East. He commands a lot of the salary cap for a team that has many of its big time players coming up for free agency over the course of his three-year deal.
That being said, Minnesota’s strategy is clear, win now and worry about that later. Will it work? We’ll see. The stars seemed to align last year, when one of the luckiest plays in NFL history brought the Vikings within one game of being the first team to ever play in a Super Bowl in its own stadium. Unfortunately, the clock hit midnight for Minnesota, as Case Keenum finally fell back to earth, getting blown out by the Philadelphia Eagles. The Vikings will return Dalvin Cook, who was looking fantastic before a knee injury knocked him out for the season. The three-headed monster of Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen and Kyle Rudolph will be available for the new Minnesota signal caller. I see the NFC North as a two team race, with each team capable of making the playoffs.
Only one team will be lifting the Lombardi Trophy in Atlanta in February. Could it be your team? Let me know why you’re excited for your team in 2018.