2017 NFC North season preview and predictions

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The last time the Detroit Lions won their division?

1993, back when the NFC north was known as the NFC central.

The NFC Central was renamed the NFC North before the 2002 season, and since it’s rebranding it has been dominated by the Packers, who have won the division nine times since 2002.

As the 2017 NFL season fast approaches, and with the Lions roster finalized, how will the NFC north shake out? Here are my predictions for the teams that call the north home.

4th place: Chicago Bears, Projected Record: 2-14

The Bears are not a good football team. The lack playmakers on both sides of the ball. Who on the Bears roster can consistently create opportunities? When I inspect their roster I have a hard time identifying more than a few players with big play potential. The lack of explosive players makes containing the Bears offense a straightforward task and moving against their defense a simple matter of not making mistakes. John Fox has a 9-23 record as the Bear’s coach, and without some signs of development, he may be on his way out. After drafting Mitch Trubisky with the 2nd overall pick this offseason, the Bears announced he won’t start in Week 1, meaning he may not see the field much this season.

The most exciting player on the Bear’s roster is second year Running Back Jordan Howard. After a rookie season that saw him finish with 1,313 yards on a 5.2 YPC, the Bears should lean heavily on his ability to get positive yards. The best pass catcher they have is Cameron Meredith, who will miss the season with an ACL injury. Meaning that Zach Miller is the biggest receiving weapon returning from last season.

The Bears have few offensive pieces to work with, but this season is all about rebuilding. After going 3-13 last year, the Bears face a difficult schedule in 2017. I predict the Bears to go winless until they play the 49ers on December 3rd. They will beat the Cleveland Browns on Christmas Eve in what will be their only other win. A 2-14 season will give the Bears a top three pick once again this offseason.

3rd Place: Minnesota Vikings, Projected Record, 8-8

The Vikings started off on fire last season as they began 5-0 got some attention as Super Bowl contenders. Then everything fell apart and the Vikings finished the season on a 3-8 stretch, missing the playoffs entirely. They were led by a defense that gave up only 315 yards per game last season, good enough for third-best in the NFL. At the end of the day, the Vikings 5-0 start was a fluke. They are a team with a decent amount of talent, but Minnesota is far from Super Bowl contenders and with the Packers and Lions in the same division, the Vikings will struggle to make the playoffs.

With Teddy Bridgewater still injured the plan will be for Sam Bradford to start once again. Bradford played admirably last season finishing with 3,877 yards on a 71.6 % completion rate. Not to mention a 4.1 TD to INT ratio. Bradford will look to Receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen as his main targets and the addition of rookie running back Dalvin Cook could help bolster the offense as well. The Vikings Defense needs only to not regress and the offense should contribute more than last season. If not for a challenging schedule, Minnesota could be a 10-win team. But the reality is they will lose several close games and see themselves finish .500 once again.

2nd place: Detroit Lions, Projected Record, 10-6

The Detroit Lions visited the NFL playoffs last season, and they will do just that again this season. With Matthew Stafford playing like a potential MVP and the defensive mind of Teryl Austin they will find themselves with a 10-win season and another chance at ending their playoff win drought. The Lions were led by Stafford last season, who played at an elite level in guiding the Lions to eight come-from-behind victories. With the continued building of chemistry between Stafford and targets like Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, and Eric Ebron, paired with the emergence of new weapon Kenny Golladay, the Lions offense could be special. Perhaps the greatest improvement on the Detroit roster was to the offensive line as they added three new faces in guard T.J. Lang and tackles Greg Robinson and Rick Wagner.

The Lions defense will need to step up to the challenge this season, the unit has suffered some injuries this preseason and will need to see the defensive line improve its pass rush if they want to get opposing offenses off the field. They will look to Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah and Darius Slay to lead them to success. After finishing last season 9-7, the Lions won’t play from behind as much this season and will snag a wildcard spot despite a difficult schedule.

1st Place: Green Bay Packers, Projected Record, 12-4

Is anyone surprised by this? You shouldn’t be. The Packers will continue their NFC North dominating ways on their way to winning the division for the sixth time in seven years. Led by head coach Mike McCarthy and quarterback Aaron Rodgers the Packers offense can be unstoppable. With weapons like Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams, and Randall Cobb there are too many people to worry about for opposing defenses. Regardless of the challenging schedule, the Green Bay offense will find the end zone many times over the course of the season, making them a difficult team to beat.

The Packers defense struggled to stop opposing offenses from moving down the field last season. Giving up 364 yards a game, 11th worst in the league. Even more alarming, they were 25th in the league in points allowed, giving up 25.1 a game. This offseason, Green Bay added DT Ricky Jean Francois and CB Davon House in an attempt to upgrade the defensive performance. However, the Packers will be able to rely on their offense to win games. Any improvement from the defense will make them that much more difficult to defeat.

This season is bound to bring all types of drama and intrigue, as the battle for the NFC North is about to begin we can look forward to the competition that will take place between these teams. No win comes easy in the NFL, and the Lions will have to fight every week if they want to return to the playoffs.