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There’s something about the North.
In both the AFC and NFC, the teams of their respective northern divisions are known for their toughness. In the AFC, this plays out as the yearly slug fests between the Steelers, Ravens and Bengals. In the NFC, most of the franchises’ tough reputations come from eras long since past.
The days of the “Monsters of the Midway” and the “Purple People Eaters” are gone but the NFC North is not without it’s modern warriors. After all, it takes plenty of intestinal fortitude to walk onto Lambeau Field in the winter. Not all the teams in the division are on equal footing heading into this season. Regardless, we should expect what the NFC North always provides; hard hits, close games and the chance of another Aaron Rodgers’ hail mary.
Record in 2016: 3-13
Key Player: Running Back- Jordan Howard
Player to Watch: Wide Receiver- Kevin White
Outlook: The Chicago faithful are in for a long season this year and they know it. After an abysmal 2016 campaign, the Bears are in rebuild mode. Jordan Howard was the lone bright spot last year eclipsing 1,000 rushing yards in his rookie season. Howard should be a steadying presence for an offense loaded with questions. Wide receiver Cameron Meredith just went down for the season with a torn ACL, which puts even more pressure on Kevin White. The third-year receiver has been underwhelming thus far in his career. He needs to improve to give this offense some balance. The Jay Cutler era is over and now the Bears are headed into quarterback controversy territory. Newly signed free agent Mike Glennon hasn’t looked great in preseason. No. 2 overall pick Mitch Trubisky has looked better but is he ready? The defense is mediocre at best and aren’t going to get much support from the offense. Chicago’s most realistic goal is not being worse than last year. Prediction: 4-12.
Record in 2016: 8-8
Key Player: Cornerback- Xavier Rhodes
Player to Watch: Wide Receiver- Stefon Diggs
Outlook: Last year, the Vikings started out hot but cooled off down the stretch due to a lack of balance. The Vikings’ defense remains stellar while their offense will continue to struggle. Last season, quarterback Sam Bradford set the record for single season completion percentage but that was mostly because the majority of his throws were under 10 yards. Inability to stretch the field and no consistent run game, left the Viking’s defense in the position of needing to win games on their own. Minnesota is hoping to change that with rookie running back Dalvin Cook. Stefon Diggs can be a big time playmaker at receiver but only if Bradford can get him the ball downfield. Xavier Rhodes is the key to Minnesota’s staunch defense. If he can lock down opponents’ primary receiver like he did last year, the Vikings’ front seven can negate a running game effectively. The defense will keep them in a lot of games but the offense may not have the weapons to seal the deal. Prediction: 7-9
Record in 2016: 9-7
Key Player: Right Guard- T.J. Lang
Player to Watch: Running Back- Ameer Abdullah
Outlook: The Detroit Lions made the playoffs last season mostly based on Matt Stafford’s late game heroics. He’s clearly the most important player for the Lions’ success. His importance is what makes newly acquired guard (from Green Bay Packers) T.J. Lang a key player for Detroit. Lang is the linchpin of the offensive line. When he’s right, the rest of the line follows suit, which gives Stafford the opportunity to work his magic. Ameer Abdullah needs to stay healthy and hopefully give the Lions the production they hoped for when they drafted him. In his third season, this is a make or break year for Abdullah. Steady contributions from him will take a lot of pressure off of Stafford. Detroit’s defense was middle of the pack last year and a similar finish seems likely. As great as Stafford is in the clutch, the Lions can’t keep gambling on him bailing them out. One less win from last year and the rise of teams in other divisions will keep the Lions from a second consecutive playoff appearance. Prediction: 8-8
Green Bay Packers
Record in 2016: 10-6
Key Player: Cornerback- Davon House
Player to Watch: Running Back- Ty Montgomery
Outlook: The Packers have a luxury no other team has: Aaron Rodgers. While Tom Brady might be the best ever, Rodgers is the best right now. His presence covers up a lot of other weaknesses. For Green Bay last year, that weakness was their defense, which ranked 22nd overall. Rodgers can put points up in bunches but the Packer’s will only go as far as the defense can take them. The secondary struggled last season and will need a big year from cornerback Davon House to improve. Limiting opposing teams’ primary receiver can go a long way to improving a defense. Ty Montgomery should be interesting this season. Last year, he made the switch from wide receiver to running back out of necessity and ran the ball well. Now at running back full time, Rodgers will rely on Montgomery to give this offense a more balanced attack. If this team gives Rodgers the support he needs, they should go far this year. Prediction: 11-5