Even though the Minnesota Vikings won the NFC North by a landslide last season and upgraded at quarterback, they got some competition this upcoming season as the best quarterback in the league, Aaron Rodgers is back with the Green Bay Packers. There is no doubt that the Vikings have a bunch of talent on their roster but lets be realistic, if Rodgers didn’t go down with that broken collarbone early last season, the NFC North would have been much more competitive than it was a year ago.
Since the start of the 2011 season, the Packers have owned this division as they have won the division five times in the past seven years. Now that Aaron Rodgers is back and expected to play another full season, it should be an interesting battle for the top of the NFC North between the Packers, who have the best quarterback in the league and the Vikings, who have one of the top defenses in the league.
- Minnesota Vikings: 12-4
After going 13-3 and being one win shy of reaching the Super Bowl in 2017, the Vikings not only upgraded at quarterback by bringing in Kirk Cousins, but also have their young star running back, Dalvin Cook returning after tearing his ACL mid-way through last season. Last season the Vikings were 11th in the league in total yards per game and 10th in total points per game with journeyman, Case Keenum as their starting quarterback. Now that the Vikings seem to have a legit franchise quarterback for the first time in a while with Cousins, I expect their offense to be even better than it was a year ago.
If you combine that offense with the Vikings defense which was number one in the league last season in yards and points allowed per game, my goodness you have a pretty scary team in the Minnesota Vikings. On top of bringing in Cousins this offseason, they also locked up many of their franchise cornerstones to long term extensions such as wide receiver Stefon Diggs, linebacker Eric Kendricks, defensive end Danielle Hunter, and cornerback Trae Waynes, the Vikings are set up to have long term success and it will be a disappointing if they don’t win a Super Bowl within the next five years.
But for 2018, I expect them to just beat out their division rival Packers to win their second straight NFC North title. Even though the Packers have a better quarterback, the Vikings just simply have the better all-around team and coaching staff and as long as they have a reasonable quarterback who can get the job done in Kirk Cousins, I think they should have no problem getting to 12 wins this season.
- Green Bay Packers: 11-5
A year ago, the Packers got off to a hot start as they won four of their first five games averaging 27.4 points per game. However, everything all fell apart for the Packers after Week 6 when quarterback, Aaron Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone, shortening his season. The Packers then went into a tailspin, losing five of their next six games, basically eliminating any hope of making the playoffs.
However, it is a new year and Rodgers is ready for another MVP caliber season. Aaron Rodgers is the LeBron James of the NFL, you put him on any team regardless of what is around him and they immediately become a playoff contender. In this case, he plays for a Packers team that lacks a consistent running game as it seems like they have a new starting running back every other week. They released their number one receiver for years in Jordy Nelson, but did make up for it by bringing in free agent tight end, Jimmy Graham. So the weapons Rodgers has to work with in 2018 are Graham, and wide receivers Randall Cobb and Davante Adams.
The Packers don’t have an elite offensive line but certainly have one good enough to give Rodgers the time he needs thanks to left tackle David Bakhtiari and center Corey Linsley. As for their defense, more often than not during Rodgers’ tenure with the Packers it has been below average. They were ranked 22nd in yards allowed and 26th in points allowed a year ago, which is a big reason they weren’t able to win games without Aaron Rodgers. However, they did a good job in the 2018 NFL Draft to help solidify that defense by taking cornerbacks with their first and second round picks by taking Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson before using their third round pick to take linebacker Oren Burks. I think this will help improve their defense in 2018, but this defense is certainly far from top 10-15 in the league.
Sure the Packers overall roster is OK, but if you put an average quarterback in that position such as Case Keenum, Sam Bradford or Joe Flacco, would that team be a contender? Most likely not. My point is because Aaron Rodgers is back and as long as he stays healthy for most of the season, I can’t see the Packers winning less than ten games, which is why I have them at 11-5 and a potential threat to catch the Vikings in the NFC North.
- Detroit Lions: 8-8
Even though the Lions have a solid franchise quarterback still in his prime with Matthew Stafford, the Lions have seemed to have a hard time building a successful team around him. A big reason for this is because the Lions are paying Stafford such a large amount of money that they don’t have much money to spend to give them pieces around Stafford. Sure he is a talented and above average NFL quarterback, but he is not an Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady type who instantly makes his team a contender, regardless of what the team around him lacks.
The Lions do have an above average offensive line with veterans Taylor Decker and T.J. Lang to name a couple guys and a good 1-2 wide receiver duo with Golden Tate and Marvin Jones Jr. But one thing the Lions have always seemed to lack during Stafford’s tenure is a consistent running game. Since Stafford was drafted in 2009, the Lions have gone through many different running backs such as Ameer Abdullah, Jahvid Best, Reggie Bush, and Mikel Leshoure just to name a few. Now for 2018, they signed the 31 year old LeGarrette Blount who seems a little bit past his prime. So running back is still a big questionmark for the Lions in 2018.
Their defense does have some big names such as cornerback Darius Slay, defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, and safety Glover Quin, but other than those few big names, their defense seems average at best. Detroit’s defense allowed the sixth most yards last season while being ranked 21st in fewest points allowed per game. Even though the Lions do have an explosive passing game with Stafford, Tate, and Jones and a solid offensive line, it is going to be very tough to compete in this division with the Vikings and Packers if you have a defense that is closer to the bottom of the league. If you put this Lions team in the AFC North, AFC East, or NFC West then maybe they become a wild card contender, but unfortunately for them ¼ of their games in 2018 come against the Packers and Vikings in the challenging NFC North.
- Chicago Bears: 5-11
Even though I have them finishing in last place in the division, the Bears are an interesting team to look out for during the 2018 season. They have their 2017 first round pick, Mitch Trubisky entering his second season as an NFL quarterback and it is going to be a crucial year for him. Even though he did start 12 games for the Bears a season ago and only had seven touchdowns along with 10 turnovers, I think it is unfair to judge him off of last season for two reasons.
First of all, the Bears didn’t really give Trubisky much of a chance to air it out last year as they have a good running back duo with Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen and relied on them a lot a season ago to try to take some pressure off of Trubisky. Secondly, Trubisky had little weapons to work with last season as the Bears number one receiver a year ago was Kendall Wright, who is a below average receiver and the Bears offensive line was average at best.
But in 2018, the Bears should give Trubisky more of an opportunity to show what he’s got an if whether or not he is the future of this franchise. They improved with wide receivers and tight ends as they signed free agents Allen Robinson from the Jaguars, Taylor Gabriel from the Falcons, and Trey Burton from the Eagles. So Trubisky now has the weapons to work with and has the two good running backs behind him, and as a result of this, I expect the Bears offense to improve in 2018 as they were ranked 30th in total yards and 29th in total points last season.
While the Bears defense is looking to have another solid season as they were in the top ten in the league last season in both yards and points allowed. This defense has a solid core headlined by cornerback Kyle Fuller, linebacker Sam Acho, and defensive end Akiem Hicks which has the potential to have another solid season. The Bears defense may be top ten caliber again in 2018, but all eyes will be on the offense as the Bears look to improve on that facet of the game while seeing quarterback, Mitch Trubisky improve from his disappointing rookie season.