Offseason wins, worries and NFL draft predictions for the Bears, Lions, Packers and Vikings

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The balance of power in NFC North hung in balance after the 2021 season as Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers considered his future: Would he return to Green Bay, retire or try to force a trade?

Without Rodgers, the Minnesota Vikings would probably have gone into the season as a division favorite. But Rodgers ended the speculation on March 15 by signing a lucrative extension.

Still, the Packers are without All-Pro receiver Davante Adams, who was traded to the Las Vegas Raiders. And receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling signed a free-agent deal with the Kansas City Chiefs, leaving the Packers’ receiving corps thin.

Is Green Bay’s reign at the top of the division vulnerable? Can Kirk Cousins ​​take advantage of the Vikings’ offensive firepower and overtake the Packers? Are either the bears or the lions capable of jumping from the worst to the first Bengal type?

ESPN’s NFC North reporters Courtney Cronin (Bears), Eric Woodyard (Lions), Rob Demovsky (Packers) and Kevin Seifert (Vikings) take a look at the offseason victories and concerns of each team and make a few predictions as the draft approaches sig.


chi

Best offseason move: Signing former Packers center Lucas Patrick is step one for Chicago in rebuilding an offensive line that allowed league-high 58 sacks in 2021. Although not all sacks were the result of poor blocking up front, pass protection around quarterback Justin improves Fields. crucial to the growth of the Bears’ attack. Patrick brings ample starting experience and leadership to an offensive line undergoing a reboot.

This remains a problem area: The offensive line is nowhere near solid, with untested players scheduled to start at both tackle spots and a career back-up with a pencil on the right guard. The receiving corps is also not deep enough for the Bears to feel confident that Fields has what he needs to advance his development into a franchise quarterback in Year 2. The offseason has been slow in terms of Chicago has made powerful offensive additions to the list. The team has chosen not to spend on price-free agents, which could provide a faster effect and seems to be aimed at filling more gaps through the draft.

Who makes sense with the first choice: If Skyy Moore is available at No. 39 (Chicago does not currently own a first-round pick), the Bears should add the eye-catching Western Michigan receiver. While on the smaller size (5-foot-10, 195 pounds) like Chicago wideouts Darnell Mooney and Byron Pringle, a second-round receiver is far more likely to make an impact as a rookie than a project-offensive lineman that the Bears could be looking at the place.

Bears win the division if: It’s a long shot that is only plausible if coach Matt Eberflus can complete the same miraculous rise that Matt Nagy made during his first season in Chicago in 2018. The Bears would need a lot of things to break their path to win. NFC North this season. Anything other than Green Bay taking a dive into 2022 makes it feel like Chicago is finishing third or fourth in the division when the franchise embarks on yet another rebuild.

Too early bold prediction: Tight-end Cole Kmet becomes a safety blanket for Fields and tops 800 receiving yards and six touchdowns this season. The third-year tight-end will develop into an explosive component in the Bears’ passing game and will finally get its chance to shine in the red zone after Jimmy Graham’s departure. –– Cronin


det

Best offseason move so far: Signs former Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver DJ Chark to a one-year deal. The Lions needed a big receiver – Chark is 6-4 – to complement rising star Amon-Ra St. Brown, and Chark are still young (25) with a lot to prove this year, as he came after an injury-plagued 2021 in which he missed 13 games with an ankle injury. He will try to return to the form that resulted in a Pro Bowl appearance in 2019.

This remains a problem area: Wide receivers. With St. Brown, Chark and Josh Reynolds seem like a decent unit on paper, but the wide receivers may not be enough for quarterback Jared Goff’s skills. Detroit’s secondary could also use a boost.

Who makes sense with the first choice: An edge rusher. The Lions cannot miss out on the No. 2 choice. They need a game-changer, and it would make the most sense to upgrade defensively if Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson is available or Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux.

The Lions win the division if: Well, they probably will not win the division. The Bengals went from worst to first last season, but they have a franchise quarterback and a superstar wide receiver, among other elite players. The Lions do not seem to be ready to take that leap. They need to have a perfect draft, Goff needs to play the best ball of his career, and the stars need to be in line.

Too early bold prediction: Detroit will win seven games. The Lions have not had a winning record since 2017, winning three games last season, but they lost a couple close and played hard until the final game. If they add a few more and catch some breaks, they can double the total win. –– Wooden yard


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Green Bay Packers

Best offseason move so far: It’s clear it’s making Aaron Rodgers come back. Without him, they’re in Bears and Lions territory (well, maybe not that bad). But looking beyond the obvious, Rich Bisaccia may be low-key the most important thing they did. The Packers finally hired a proven NFL specialty team coordinator who, according to some accounts, should have been in stronger consideration for head coach jobs after what he did last year in a temporary role with the Las Vegas Raiders.

This remains a problem area: Who should Rodgers throw to? Not Davante Adams. Not Marquez Valdes-Scantling. And they did not add a recipient until they signed Sammy Watkins to a one-year deal on Thursday. Also, their top tight end goal, Robert Tonyan, may not be ready for the opening after tearing his ACL on October 28th. Maybe they will find a way to get running backs Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon even more involved in the passing game, but at some point they will have to add more receivers.

Who makes sense with the first choice: Anyone who catches the ball. This must almost be the year the Packers break their streak of not taking a receiver in the first round, which dates to 2002 with Javon Walker. Two years ago, they loved Justin Jefferson, but could not be able to take him. They have more ammunition this year with two first-round picks (Nos. 22 and 28) and two second-round picks (Nos. 53 and 59) if they would move up to take, for example, Ohio State’s Chris Olave. If they do not move up, then Penn States Jahan Dotson may be the right fit.

The Packers win the division if: They continue to do what they have done the previous three years under coach Matt LaFleur, who has won 13 games each year since becoming head coach in 2019. He and Rodgers have figured things out and the defense finally looks that reliable. Even with all the special teams problems, they have dominated NFC North.

Too early bold prediction: The Packers will break their series of 13 win seasons … by winning 14. The Bears, Lions and Vikings pose almost no threat. The Jets, Giants, Eagles and Commanders are almost certain things. It’s double-digit wins right there and they can go 4-3 against the rest of their program. – Demovsky


min

minnesota vikings

Best offseason move so far: Signing of linebacker Jordan Hicks. Switching defensive schemes can be inefficient and expensive. But in the Hicks, the Vikings got a reliable and durable player, as well as a strong leader, to fill an inside linebacker position against Eric Kendricks in their new 3-4 base set. And his contract requires him to count only $ 3.5 million against the 2022 wage cap.

This is still a problem area: The secondary. The Vikings re-signed cornerback Patrick Peterson and added free agent Chandon Sullivan. They are modest signings and together count only $ 4.9 million against the ceiling. But opponents overcame deficits repeatedly in 2022 via the passing game. The Vikings gave up 4,300 passing yards, the fifth worst in the league. They need more help.

Who makes sense with the first choice: LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. Adding Stingley would not only address a problem area, but it would add an athletic playmaker that might one day remind fans of Peterson. All NFL teams are investigating the foot injury that cost Stingley most of his 2021 season, but if he was healthy, he would be an ideal addition.

Vikings win division if: Their attack is higher than the Packers’. It’s not as wild a claim as it might sound. The Packers have a quarterback advantage over all NFC North teams, but the Vikings ‘set of talented players around Cousins ​​- Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, Dalvin Cook and Irv Smith – is deeper than the Packers’. They have a chance.

Too early bold prediction: The Vikings get one of the NFC’s three wildcard slots after challenging for the NFC North title. It is true that the team switches to a new front office and coaching team, and that in those situations it can often take a year or two before schemes and staff start clicking. But coach Kevin O’Connell inherits a rather talented list compared to what new coaches usually encounter, and the NFC appears wide open after a season-out talent shift to the AFC. There are not many teams that can be counted out of the NFC playoffs, but the Vikings should go into the season among the most likely to earn a spot. – Seifert



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