2018 NFL Preview - NFC North

by Corey Mansfield, BBM Managing Editor

Green Bay Packers - The Packers had a nightmare 2017 season. After going into the season with Super Bowl aspirations - Green Bay lost perennial MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers for nine games and stumbled to a 7-9 record, missing the playoffs. The Packers want to forget about 2017 and look forward to a possible Super Bowl run in 2018. Any time you have Aaron Rodgers as your quarterback, you have a chance to win. However, this season Rodgers will be without one of his favorite weapons in Jordy Nelson, who signed with the Oakland Raiders in the offseason. Green Bay signed All-Pro TE Jimmy Graham to fill the void. While the Packers have many weapons on offense, their running game is still very suspect. Jamaal Williams enters the season as their starting tailback and will be followed by Ty Montgomery. Williams looks to build on a rookie season in which rushed for 556 yards and average 3.6 yards per carry. Second year back, Aaron Jones may play a big role in the running game when he returns from suspension. Defensively, the Packers need to improve upon their 24 points they allowed per game in 2017 and, with the addition of Muhammed Wilkerson, they should. Wilkerson is in his prime and gives the Packers a pass rushing threat as well as a someone who can stuff the run. If the Packers can stay healthy this season, then they should be in line for a division title.

Minnesota Vikings - The Vikings had a tremendous season last year and fell one win short of making it to the Super Bowl. The Vikings virtually came out nowhere after Sam Bradford went down and Case Keenum stepped in. Both quarterbacks are gone now and the Kirk Cousins area begins. Cousins was the bright spot on dismal Washington Redskins squad and now gets some weapons he can work with in receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielan. Both players have emerged as premier wide receivers in the league. Add in the fact that they get 2017 first round pick Dalvin Cook, who missed almost entire 2017 season, back and it looks the Vikings will have a solid offense. The Vikings' defense was the best defense in football last season and had three Pro Bowl selections in DE Everson Griffen, CB Xavier Rhodes, and LB Anthony Barr. However the best player on their defensive is safety Harrison Smith, who wasn't a Pro Bowl selection. Smith finished the season 78 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 12 pass breakups, and five interceptions. The Vikings added DT Sheldon Richardson this offseason, who could a huge addition if he gets back to the level he was at with the New York Jets in 67 tackles (42 solo, 24 assisted) and eight sacks. The Vikings should be in contention for the a division title this if they can stay healthy and continue to improve offensively.

Chicago Bears - The Bears have come out of hibernation over the last week by acquiring All-Pro linebacker Khalil Mack from the Oakland Raiders and then signing him to a long-term deal. The Bears' defense has struggled at linebacker since Brian Urlacher retired but now they have filled that void in a big way. Mack is not only a big time pass rusher but a run stuffer and should have a huge season stopping the run game of teams in a division that doesn't feature any premier running backs. Add in the addition of their 2017 top pick linebacker Roquan Smith and the Bears will have one of the best linebacking corps in the NFL.  However, the biggest concern for the Bears will be their offense, which was anemic last season behind rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky and finished dead last in total offense in the NFL. Enter new head coach Matt Nagy, who was the offensive coordinator with the Chiefs last season and made Alex Smith look like Hall of Famer. Nagy is quarterback guy and should help Trubisky improve immensely. The Bears also signed former Jacksonville Jaguar Allen Robinson to give Trubisky a big time receiver. They also added tight end Trey Burton, who emerged as a number one receiver late in the season for the Eagles in 2017.  But look for rookie WR Anthony Miller to emerge as a top wide receiver as the season progresses. While the Bears struggled throwing the ball last season, their running game was solid with Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen. In 2017, Howard rushed for 1152 yards and averaged 4.1 yards per carry, which was down from 2016 in which he rushed for 1313 yards and averaged 5.1 per attempt. Speedster Cohen should see more opportunities in the Bears offensive this season with Nagy at the helm. The Bears are going in the right direction but still need for Trubsiky to take the next step in his progression as an NFL quarterback before they can be a playoff team.

Detroit Lions - The Lions hired former New England Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia as their head coach. The hope is to make the Lions better defensively and bring some the "Patriot Magic" to Motown. However, the Lions are going in the wrong direction. While they have a solid quarterback in Matthew Stafford, their running game is awful and was the worst in the NFL last season averaging 76.3 yards per game. The Lions signed free agent journeyman LeGarrette Blount and drafted Kerryon Johnson this offseason to help improve their ground game. Blount will start the season as the starter but should give way to Johnson as the season progresses. The success of the the Lions offense is predicated on whether they can run the football, which will allow for Matthew Stafford to utilize play-action passes down field to receivers Golden Tate and Marvin Jones. Tate continues to put solid numbers for the Lions (92 receptions, 1,003 yards, and five touchdowns last season) and will be more of a threat if they can finally establish a running game. Defensively, the Lions were terrible last season - ranking 27th overall in team defense. The lone bright spot was defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, who had 12 sacks last season. The Lions has some chances to improve their defense during the draft but used their first two picks to take offensive players. Their biggest addition may have been Patricia, who looks to bring his success and experience.  Things won't get much easier for the Lions defense with the addition of Kirk Cousins to the division, Aaron Rodgers returning from injury, and an improving Mitch Trubisky. The Lions were 9-7 last season and on the verge of the playoffs. Look for them to take a major step back this season.

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