Our 2016-17 NFL Preview will highlight each division in the NFL, with an in-depth look at each team as we head into training camp and preseason football. We’ll give predictions and summaries of a season. We’ll also push out our first Power Rankings, as well as an early MVP preview and prediction. Our next look is of the NFC North, a division recently run by Green Bay, but looking to see some changing of the guard this season. Here are the predictions, in order of projected finish:
- Green Bay Packers
Offense: The Packers struggled by their standards in 2015, with Aaron Rodgers having some of his worst numbers in his time as a starter and the receiving corps struggling in the absence of Jordy Nelson. He’s back, however, and it should spell some relief for an offense that wasn’t as prolific. That’s good news for Randall Cobb and Davante Adams, who should return to production with the pressure off of them to carry the offense. The offensive line is the best they’ve had under Mike McCarthy, the coach says, and has three starters in contract years. Behind them is a running back that needs to improve in Eddie Lacy. Lacy was way out of shape last season, and saw the worst numbers of his career. He says he’s back in shape, and is going to have to be to get the offense back to the level it needs to be.
Defense: The Packers defense was solid last season. They added some depth, and the secondary again looks to be the anchor of the team. Demarious Randall and Sam Shields are a solid corner combo, and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is one of the best safeties in the NFL. The linebackers are strong, featuring Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers on the outside, and that means that the inside linebackers are going to have to be good to offset struggles stopping the run. The front line also has to improve, as they struggled limiting the running game.
Best Case: The Packers rebound, reclaiming the division and taking a trip to the NFC Championship. Rodgers and the offense lead a climb behind an improved defense and the Packers contend for a Super Bowl, the second of Rodgers career.
Worst Case: Eddie Lacy is still out of shape and the offense stays at 2015 levels. The defense doesn’t take another step, and gets gauged by the run. Minnesota runs past them and takes the division again, and the Packers struggled to a wildcard slot and make a quick first round exit.
How They’ll Finish: It’s hard to best against Green Bay. The Packers are the most talented team in the division, but there are some questions. This team has way too many veterans to slip in the division for a second straight year, and there are too many guys there to prevent it from happening. The Pack should be back in the top four of the NFC again this season.
TE Jared Cook “fits the way we want to play.”
— Green Bay Packers (@packers) August 10, 2016
- Minnesota Vikings
Offense: Adrian Peterson continued to be one of the best backs in the NFL last season, in spite of his age. I would say that miles are a concern but until Peterson shows signs of wear, count me out of the doubting AP train. The offensive line is a serious concern however; with head coach Mike Zimmer pointing out that it was the primary focus in the offseason. There’s a ton of new talent pumped in at the position, but it’s currently a jumbled mess. With a solid o-line, Peterson could have a massive year. But the key to the offense is young QB Teddy Bridgewater. Teddy is entering his third year and has to get more daring with the football, as the coaching staff has outlined that he has taken not taking chances to an extreme. He’s got a really young but uber-talented receiving duo in Laquon Treadwell and Stefon Diggs.
Defense: The Vikings had a pretty solid defense last season, with the fifth best scoring defense in the NFL. The defensive line has come a long way in two years, going from the primary concern when Zimmer arrived to the strong point of the defense. Led by a defensive line featuring Everson Griffen, Sharrif Floyd and Linval Joseph, the line was one of the best in football at getting after the QB. If they can learn to stop the run, this is a scary unit. The linebackers are solid led by Anthony Barr and look to be deep this season. The secondary is looking good again this season, with Xavier Rhodes turning into a shutdown corner. Terence Newman showed some wear last year, and will serve as mentor for talented rookie Mackensie Alexander.
Best Case: Minnesota follows an improved Bridgewater and a stud defense to wins over Green Bay and a 12 win season, en route to a run to the NFC Championship. Adrian Peterson runs for monster yards again, and competes for MVP, and they set the Packers as their clear number two.
Worst Case: The Vikings regress behind a subpar offensive line and a quarterback that takes a step back. AP starts to show signs of age, and the defense has to carry the offense in games. The Vikings struggle to .500 and miss the postseason and the Packers take back the division.
How They’ll Finish: Minnesota has a young and talented team, and shiny new stadium. They appear ready to take a big jump, but knocking off Green Bay again is going to be a tough task. They have all of the tools, but there’s just a few too many questions to say they’ll be jumping the Packers. This is a playoff team, but I’m not sure they’re a division winner.
Wide receivers are about that action. 💪 https://t.co/TGxplSRXPo
— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) August 10, 2016
- Chicago Bears
Offense: The Bears have strength in the arm of Jay Cutler, who put in some of the best numbers of his career in 2015. He’s still Jay Cutler, though, and it’s far from calling him a sure thing to bet on. But with the return of Alshon Jeffery from injury and a bruising target in Kevin White, plus some other solid depth and a good pass catcher in Zach Miller, he should get some help and an opportunity to improve in 2016. The running backs are the definition of young, with the top two on the depth chart in Jeremy Langford and Ka’Deem Carey playing for one year and two years, respectively. The big question is the offensive line that will see five new starters at all positions. They’ll need to be good enough to keep Cutler from getting roughed up and support a running game that loses it’s best back in Matt Forté, which is going to hurt this team.
Defense: Well, John Fox has the defense looking better in his first year, and again doubled down on defense by picking a defender in five of his first six picks of the draft. Eddie Goldman leads the defensive line and newcomer Akiem Hicks will compliment him, but we don’t fully know who the other end in the 3-4 will be. They’ve got a fresh linebacker group, with both inside linebackers added in free agency. The two outside linebackers in McPhee and Young are talented, and should give a solid pass rush that should improve from last year. The secondary is pretty good in 2015, ranking 4th in the NFL in yards allowed, but didn’t do a good job at taking the ball away. They’ve seen a youth revolution, however, and should improve behind Kyle Fuller and Tracy Porter.
Best Case: The Bears are able to work a manageable schedule into competing for a wild card berth. The added depth to the receiving corps leads to a resurgence from Jay Cutler. The offensive line steps up, and the defense plays well and John Fox gets his team into the postseason in his second year, just like in Carolina and Denver.
Worst Case: The Bears regress as the offensive line struggles and Cutler keeps being Cutler. The running backs don’t produce behind a bad O-line. The Lions pass the Bears and Chicago falls into the bottom of the NFC.
How They’ll Finish: I think this team is talented, but not like the Vikings or Packers. They are more talented that Detroit, and I’m going to put some faith in Cutler figuring it out. I’m not willing to bet on it however, and think the Bears hover somewhere around 7-9.
— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) August 10, 2016
- Detroit Lions
Offense: It would be remiss of me to not lead off by saying that the Lions lost the bulk of their offensive production in Calvin Johnson, who called it a career extremely early and leaves a huge hole for Matthew Stafford. The quarterback had a renaissance under offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter and showed flashes, but that obviously is going to be different throwing to Marvin Jones and Golden Tate. To top it off, the offensive line is a serious work in progress after getting Safford sacked 44 times. They’ve brought in some help, but this line is pretty bad. The running backs Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick are talented, but won’t do anything when they’re hit in the backfield.
Defense: The defense struggled last year behind injuries and replacing Ndamukong Suh. They’ll be better in 2016, as they’’ return Haloti Ngata and DeAndre Levy from injury, and the line got much better by adding talented rookie A’Shawn Robinson. Ziggy Ansah rounds out a defensive line that will be the strength of the defense. The secondary is young but improving, and actually put in a league average output. Darius Slay is a budding star, and the back end should get better. The linebackers aren’t quite as rosy, and need some work behind DeAndre Levy.
Best Case: The Lions rebuild goes quicker than expected and the line plays well. Stafford makes the receivers play better than their talent and Marvin Jones is a serviceable replacement for Megatron. Ameer Abdullah plays really well and Riddick serves as a secondary receiver out of the backfield behind a line that manages to give Stafford time. The Lions compete for a wild card spot and Caldwell sticks around for the rebuild.
Worst Case: The Lions offensive line is bad and the receivers struggle with more pressure on their shoulders. Stafford has no time to throw and the defensive secondary regresses. The Lions are one of the worst teams in the NFC and Caldwell is fired in favor of a fresher move.
How They’ll Finish: The Lions are in the middle of a spontaneous rebuild after losing their best player on defense and offense in two years. Caldwell is coaching for his job, and the ownership isn’t going to like another losing season after tasting the playoffs two years ago. This is likely Caldwell’s last year, and the Lions look like they don’t know exactly where they’re going.
.@MikeOHaraNFL: Offensive line held its own in joint practice
— Detroit Lions (@Lions) August 10, 2016
Next Installment: AFC South