The NFC North has three playoff contenders … and the Bears. The Packers are favored. Again. But the Vikings and Lions are capable of rising to the top. All three top teams have strengths as well as weak spots that could derail expectations.
Green Bay Packers
2016: 10-6, lost in nfc title game
Anything short of a trip to Super Bowl LII is disappointing for an Aaron Rodgers-led team. Adding two multipurpose tight ends will make the offense even better, assuming the new-look interior line holds up. But the leaky defense, which ranked 31st against the pass last year, has issues that could sink Green Bay.
Prediction: Good enough to win the division. Not good enough defensively to win the conference.
2016: 8-8, missed playoffs
The season rises or falls on the revamped offensive line. If the line fails again, Sam Bradford can’t throw downfield. If Bradford can’t throw downfield, there’s no running game. If there’s no running game, there aren’t enough first downs. If there aren’t enough first downs, the vaunted defense wears down. (See: 2016.)
Prediction: Offense will improve just enough to help defense lead the way to a wild-card berth.
2016: 9-7, lost in wild card
The Lions are a playoff threat as long as Matthew Stafford stays healthy. Not having LT Taylor Decker — the 2016 first-round draft is on the physically unable to perform list — to start the season is a concern. Defensively, Detroit struggles vs.the pass. Finally getting Ziggy Ansah back from a leg injury helps, but he will need time to get back in a groove.
Prediction: A one-dimensional offense and weak pass D will keep them from a return to the playoffs.
2016: 3-13, second worst in NFC
John Fox is 9-23 as the Bears coach and was wasn’t involved in his team’s draft-day decision to trade up to take really-raw Mitchell Trubisky as its supposed quarterback of the future. In other words, bye-bye John. General Manager Ryan Pace and the rest of the front office already are looking past you.
Prediction: Lacking enough talent to compete in the division, Chicago will finish last again.