Then NFC North, where men are men and sheep play in Los Angeles (rams are sheep, you know). Our look at the early power rankings in the NFL takes us to the black and blue division. I’m taking into account where the teams ended last season, their off-season moves, draft picks and coaching changes, as well as the competition they are going to be playing.
This is always one of the most competitive divisions in football, with any of the teams having a chance to win it each year. This division has been the Green Bay Packers for a while now, with the other teams taking turns at being competitive. Let’s see how the new year stacks up.
Green Bay Packers: Nope, still the Packers here at the top, but that’s partly because of Aaron Rodgers and partly because of Mike McCarthy. Rodgers is as good as it gets at quarterback and is under contract for the next three years. During the draft, the team worked on strengthening their secondary, which was their biggest weakness in 2016. The ascension of Ty Montgomery as a running back came as a surprise to many, including the Packers who had him wearing #88, a wide receiver jersey, because that’s what they saw him as. But now that he’s shown what he can do and will be focused on being a running back all through training camp, the offense should improve. The biggest looming threat to this team may be the possible retirement of general manager Ted Thompson and Brett Favre’s talk about wanting to be part of the team’s front office.
Minnesota Vikings: Before last season, the Vikings lost their franchise quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and has to scramble for a replacement. The trade for Sam Bradford has worked well enough that going into this new season, Bradford is that starter. Bridgewater is still not ready to return and there is some talk that his injury may be career ending. Bradford will be a free agent at the end of this season. Bradford was a first round pick, but never lived up to his potential due to injuries and the Vikings have a rather suspect offensive line that doesn’t give confidence that Bradford will make it through the full season. What this team can do relies heavily on them getting their quarterback situation worked. Their next biggest concern is that their coach, Mike Zimmer, has undergone eight eye surgeries. These players play for Zimmer, they need him there if they are going to succeed.
Detroit Lions: The Lions are improving in important ways. Their offensive line seems to be coming together and as long as Taylor Decker recovers well from his injury, they could be a highlight for the new season. They are given Matthew Stafford more time in the pocket to hit his receivers. But with Calvin Johnson gone, that receiving corps has taken a step back. Last year this was a seven win team that overachieved by two. With another year under their belt they could repeat that record, but until their defense starts making some strides towards a consistent pass rush, they’re not likely for a double-digit win season. They are also in need of a running game that can take some of the pressure off of Stafford. Keep the opponents on their heels instead of dropping an extra man back all the time.
Chicago Bears: I like John Fox, but to borrow from a Bill Parcells‘ quote, Fox should cook the food but he shouldn’t be allowed to shop for the groceries. Fox took a Carolina Panthers team that was stocked by Marty Hurney and took them to a Super Bowl. He did the same with a Denver Broncos team built by John Elway. But whatever is happening in Chicago just seems like a mess. They finally get out from under Jay Cutler and pickup Mike Glennon and Mark Sanchez. Glennon is deserving of a shot to be a starter and Sanchez is a decent backup. Then the trade up one spot to get Mitchell Trubisky — a good prospect, but questionable if he’s worth what they paid for him, especially with all the other needs the team has. Going into the season, the top wider receiver is either Cameron Meredith, who has 77 career catches,, or a rookie out of West Virgina named Kevin White. Now you have a potential starter who feels lied to, a potential backup that has to wonder what his role really is, and a rookie drafted so high that everyone will want him to start… and no experienced receivers for any of them to throw to.