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Aaron Rodgers has left for New York and the NFC North is wide open. But can Minnesota dominate and repeat as division champions? Or is this the year where the Bears or Lions finally take their place at top of the NFC North standings?
Record in 2021: 3-14
Key Player: Quarterback – Justin Fields
Player To Watch: Wide Receiver – Chase Claypool
The Chicago Bears enter the 2023 NFL season as the biggest unknown in the entire league. On paper, they could either win the division or finish at the bottom.
On offense, quarterback Justin Fields will hold the key to everything that will lead to success in Chicago. General Manager Ryan Poles went out and provided Fields everything he needed to be successful on offense. They acquired wide receiver D.J. Moore and running back D’Onta Foreman from Carolina, offensive guard Nate Davis from Tennessee, and drafted offensive tackle Darnell Wright from Tennessee in this year’s NFL Draft.
Defensively, Poles went out and acquired two of the best linebackers in the free agent market by signing former Eagles standout and Chicago native T.J Edwards and former two-time pro bowler Tremaine Edmunds from the Buffalo Bills. Both will make day-one impacts in the run defense and can cover opposing threats in the passing game. They also added a potential steal in defensive lineman Rasheem Green – if he can live up to the potential that he showed in Seattle. All these moves will improve the NFL’s third-worst defense from last season.
The Bears will be exciting because as we saw last season Justin Fields can make plays out of next to nothing. If Chase Claypool can excel in taking the pressure off Moore in the passing game, then the Bears have every reason to potentially triple their win total from last season. Prediction: 7-10
Record in 2021: 9-8
Key Player: Running Back – Jahmyr Gibbs
Player To Watch: Tight End – Brock Wright
Detroit spent last season outscoring their opposition in falling just short of making the playoffs. The question for this season will be can they find enough defensive stops to allow themselves to play meaningful games in January?
After having a rough first season in the “Motor City”, quarterback Jared Goff played some of his best football of his career last season. Goff finished up with 29 touchdowns, 4,438 passing yards and three 4th Quarter game winning drives in the final nine weeks of the season. His play allowed Amon-Ra St. Brown to turn into one of the best wide receivers in the NFL, catching 106 passes for 1,146 yards and six touchdowns. Rookie Jahmyr Gibbs will have as much of the workload in the backfield as he wants as D’Andre Swift (Philadelphia Eagles) and Jamaal Williams (New Orleans Saints) departed in the offseason.
The Lions’ defense will be the determining factor in their run at making the playoffs. Second-year defensive end Aidan Hutchinson will only get better and has the potential to not only increase his sack totals from last season (9.5) but is a sleeper candidate to lead the entire NFL. Former Eagles’ secondary Stallworth C.J Gardner-Johnson will provide leadership and stability to a Lions secondary who finished dead last in yards allowed and 28th in points allowed.
Head Coach Dan Campbell’s team will always be ready to play on Sundays if they can find a way to unlock the potential of Gibbs and newly added David Montgomery in the backfield. Detroit fans can finally see some playoff football. Prediction: 10-7
Green Bay Packers
Record in 2021: 8-9
Key Player: Wide Receiver – Christian Watson
Player To Watch: Cornerback – Rasul Douglas
For the second time in franchise history, their soon-to-be hall of fame quarterback has left the franchise to end up playing for the New York Jets. Once again a former first-round Packer drafted quarterback will be in charge of leading one of the most storied franchises in sports. But can Jordan Love take advantage of his big opportunity?
Love will have the one-two punch of Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon as his leading running backs. Jones was a dual threat last season, gaining over 1,500 total yards and Dillion lead the team with seven rushing touchdowns. But the growth of second-year receiver Christian Watson will be the reason that Love will either succeed or be destined to struggle in his first year under center. Watson, after not playing much in the Packers first nine games, exploded for 31 catches, 523 yards and eight total touchdowns in the leading role down the stretch.
On defense, the Packers drafted Iowa defensive standout Lukas Van Ness in the first round and drafted for others that could make an impact on a defense that finished in the middle last season. Everyone talks about Pro Bowl cornerback Jaire Alexander in the secondary, but the play of Rasul Douglas should have Packers fans excited. Douglas has had nine interceptions over the last two seasons (four last year). This tandem should allow Van Ness and the Packers’ returning players to get more than the 34 sacks they had as a team last year.
If Love can find consistency and improve on the small sample size we have seen of him, Green Bay should surprise some people. But be prepared for ups and downs with his play. Prediction: 6-11
Record in 2021: 13-4
Key Player: Running Back – Alexander Mattison
Player To Watch: Cornerback – Mekhi Blackmon
Minnesota had the second best record in the NFC and had one of the best offenses in all of the NFL. But that same offense could not make enough plays as they were eliminated by the New York Giants at home in the Wild Card round in the playoffs. Now that some of their major offensive pieces have gone to other places, can Kirk Cousins and Justin Jefferson take them back to the playoffs this season?
Cousins and Jefferson were one of the most prolific duos in the NFL last season as Jefferson caught 128 passes for 1,809 yards on his way to winning the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year award. Alexander Mattison will take over for Dalvin Cook in the backfield. Now Mattison doesn’t have Cook’s game breaking ability, but he’s consistent when given the ball. In the times where he has had 20 or more carries in a game in his career, he’s rushed for at least 100 yards and has caught three or more passes in the games as well.
Much was said about the offense not making enough plays in the Giants game, but the defense allowed 31 points, including 24 in the first 28 minutes of the game. In fact, the Vikings’ defense allowed 25.6 points per game last season (28th in the NFL) and only had four games when they allowed fewer than 20 points in a game. Newly acquired edge rusher Marcus Davenport and cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. will come in right away and step into the starting lineup. But the addition of third-round pick Mekhi Blackmon could make or break the season. Blackmon should start at corner in week one and if he can play like he did at USC last season (allowing 41% completion percentage and 17 pass breakups), Minnesota will have solved their pass defense problems.
Cousins and his offensive teammates will score a ton of points again this season without Cook and Adam Thielen (signed in Carolina), but if the defense continues to give up points, especially through the air, a second straight division title will be out of the question. Prediction: 9-8