Wide Open Chase – 2021 NFC North Preview

Going into the 2021 offseason, the only question was: who was finishing second behind the Green Bay Packers? There was some uncertainty regarding Aaron Rodgers’ availability that has passed, but it seems like there could still be some unrest in Wisconsin. That potentially opens the door for Chicago or Minnesota to win the division.

However it shakes out, this will be a very interesting season for the NFC North.

 

Chicago Bears

2020 Record: 8-8

Key Player: Left Tackle – Teven Jenkins

Player To Watch: Quarterback – Justin Fields

The Bears are looking to bounce back from a mediocre 2020 season with no playoff appearance. The offense was in the bottom third of the league and that has to improve. The defense was a Top 15 unit and kept them in most games. Considering the inconsistency of the offense and a .500 record, the defense stood tall.

The big change on offense is at the quarterback position. Former number two overall pick Mitchell Trubisky is out and veteran Andy Dalton is in. Dalton should stabilize the offense and cut down on turnovers. He’ll have a solid tandem to throw to with Allen Robinson and Damiere Byrd.

They will need running back David Montgomery to be a pounding workhorse. Production out of the backfield will go a long way. Rookie quarterback Justin Fields is the x-factor who could play a role this season if Dalton plays poorly.

The defense is the strength of the team. It starts with All-Pro linebacker, Khalil Mack, but doesn’t end there. Adding linebacker Roquan Smith and cornerback Desmond Trufant, along with defensive ends Hakeem Nicks and Mario Edwards Jr. makes them a formidable unit. Prediction: 10-7

 

Detroit Lions

2020 Record: 5-11

Key Player: Defensive End – Trey Flowers

Player To Watch: Linebacker – Jalen Reeves-Maybin

The big move this offseason was the trade of franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford. The Lions are in full rebuild mode. The offense will take a step back and look different. The defense was terrible last season and has a lot of work to do.

Jared Goff (traded from the L.A. Rams for Stafford) is the new signal caller for the offense. He’s younger but doesn’t have the arm talent Stafford had. Tight end T.J. Hockenson is a weapon Goff will depend on. With no real threats on the outside, the offense will struggle to score. They have a young, talented running back in D’Andre Swift, but he’s not capable of carrying the offense. The good news is the offensive line is talented, with cornerstone tackles Taylor Decker and rookie Penei Sewell.

The defense was the worst statistically in the league last season. The defensive line must somehow generate pressure on the quarterback or it will be a long season. That starts with defensive end Trey Flowers, who has the ability to get to the quarterback. Linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin will need to make plays in the second level of the defense. The secondary is very talented and also very young, so they are learning on the go. Prediction: 4-13

 

Green Bay Packers

2020 Record: 13-3

Key Player: Defensive Tackle – Kenny Clarke

Player To Watch: Linebacker- Gary Rashad

All is well in Cheeseland with Aaron Rodgers ready to go as the starting quarterback for the Packers in 2021. Fans can rest easy, their savior is back. Can they get over the hump for another Super Bowl? The offense is lethal and capable of putting up big numbers. The defense was good but had its issues getting stops when it counted most in the playoffs last season.

Coming off an MVP season, Rodgers is ready to again wreak havoc on opposing defenses. The good news is he’ll have all his weapons at his fingertips, starting with all pro wide receiver Davante Adams. Add in solid wide receiver Allen Lazard and a running back Aaron Jones and you have the typical multifaceted Packers’ attack.

The defense finished in the top 10 last season but had the ultimate confidence in their quarterback, even when they were at their best. That security blanket still exists, but that doesn’t mean they can relax. They will have to generate more turnovers to help their cause. Prediction: 13-4

 

Minnesota Vikings

2020 Record: 7-9

Key Player: Linebacker – Anthony Barr

Player To Watch: Defensive Tackle – Dalvin Tomlinson

Can the Vikings put it together and become a serious contender? This roster is full of talent on both sides of the ball, so they have no excuses. The problem is too many costly turnovers on offense and the defense cannot stop the run. This was the cause of some bad losses last season. If they can fix these issues, not only will they challenge for the division title but they will be a viable Super Bowl contender.

The offense is potent and well balanced. Quarterback Kirk cousins is at the helm, with two outstanding receivers in Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson. Then you add top-tier running back Dalvin Cook, who is not only an outstanding runner but a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield, too.

The defense is a split decision. On one hand they are very good against the pass but struggled mightily to stop the run. Teams took advantage of this by controlling the clock and keeping the offense off the field. They added interior lineman Michael Pierce and Dalvin Tomlinson to shore up the run defense. The return of Anthony Barr will greatly help as well, as he is the quarterback of the defense. Prediction:  11-6

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