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2017 NFL Preview: NFC North

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers Dan Powers-USA TODAY Sports

The Packers made it to the NFC Championship game last season and have won this division in five of the last six seasons. Detroit also made a rare postseason appearance in 2016, while the Vikings finished at 8-8. The NFC North will be matched against the AFC North next season.

This cold weather division is usually closely contested and three teams hold playoff aspirations. Green Bay is currently the heavy favorite, while Detroit and Minnesota should be in the mix for a wildcard spot. Final division standings projection:

1. Green Bay Packers

Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in the NFL and does not appear to be slowing down any time soon. Their offensive line came together last year, allowing the team to get away with lesser running backs. Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams form a quality receiving corps when healthy. Plus, newly signed tight end Martellus Bennett should make a big impact.

However, the Packers defense has some holes, specifically at cornerback. Fortunately, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Morgan Burnett form a safety pairing capable of making up for mistakes. Green Bay’s front-7 also has some deficiencies as re-signed edge rusher Nick Perry and stout tackle Mike Daniels are their only notable playmakers. With a signal caller like Rodgers, anything is possible, but other NFC teams have more complete rosters than the Packers.

2. Minnesota Vikings

Mike Zimmer had the Vikings emerging as one of the top teams in the conference until being hit with the injury bug. Career threatening injuries to Teddy Bridgewater and Sharrif Floyd, both former first round selections, will be tough to overcome. Limited quarterback Sam Bradford is in line to take snaps behind a below average blocking group, with Stefon Diggs, Kyle Rudolph and rookie Dalvin Cook serving as the main offensive weapons.

Minnesota’s defense boasts some of the best personnel in the NFL. Shutdown corner Xavier Rhodes and free safety Harrison Smith protect the backend while ends Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen get after the quarterback. Big nose tackle Linval Joseph and linebacker Anthony Barr make this defense well equipped to stop any gameplan. If the can find an efficient offense, Zimmer’s defense is strong enough to pave the way to the playoffs.

3. Detroit Lions

Matthew Stafford is coming off two good season in coordinator Jim Bob Cooter’s offense. Detroit spent big money on right tackle Ricky Wagner in hopes of bolstering an offensive line that has been a weakness for years. Golden Tate and Marvin Jones return as the primary receiving targets, and Ameer Abdullah is aiming to finally make his mark out of the backfield.

The Lions used their first round pick on middle linebacker Jarrad Davis, who should quarterback a defense in need of leadership. Defensive end Ziggy Ansah and corner Darius Slay are above average pass defenders who give the club a chance to win shootouts. A high octane offense could lead to a few statement wins, but the Lions are too one-dimensional to seriously challenge in the NFC.

4. Chicago Bears

Head coach John Fox enters year three of this rebuilding project with some new options at quarterback. Mike Glennon was signed away from Tampa Bay to mentor Mitch Trubinsky, who the Bears traded up for in the 2017 draft. Tailback Jordan Howard is expected to be the centerpiece of the offense and has the benefit of a strong interior line to run behind. Chicago is hoping former first rounder Kevin White will make an impact on the passing game now that Alshon Jeffery has departed.

The Bears defense should be decent. In particular, the linebacker core of Pernell McPhee and Leonard Floyd on the outside with Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan inside is a bonafide strength. Veterans Prince Amukamara and Quintin Demps were signed to solidify their secondary. Overall, Chicago lacks talent and experience at too many positions to be more than an also-ran.


Who will win the NFC North?

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