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2018 NFC North Preview: Can Vikings Hold off Aaron Rodgers

SBD Staff Writer

by SBD Staff Writer in NFL Football

Aug 5, 2018 · 7:00 AM PDT

Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers preparing to throw
Aaron Rodgers aims to take back the NFC North crown in 2018 after missing nine games in 2017. Photo by Mike Morbeck (Flickr) [CC License]
  • The Vikings are locked and loaded for 2018 with new franchise QB Kirk Cousins
  • The Packers look to regain the top of the NFC North on the back of a healthy Aaron Rodgers and an improved defense
  • The Lions and Bears have revamped their rosters with incoming talent and personnel changes

In recent years, the NFC North has been dominated by a single team: The Green Bay Packers. While the Packers should remain competitive in 2018, this division will arguably be the most competitive it’s been since league inception.

The Vikings are coming off a remarkable season, dominating the regular season and making a respectable playoff push. Their fearless leader, Case Keenum, has departed to Denver but the outlook is bright with Kirk Cousins signing in free agency, and Dalvin Cook making a healthy return to camp.

The Packers are hoping for a healthy and rejuvenated Aaron Rodgers for 2018. If AR plays a full season, this team will no doubt give the Vikings a run for their money. The Packers also made a splash in free agency signing TE Jimmy Graham, as well as upgrading their secondary after spending their first two draft picks on CBs Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson.

The Lions are on the verge of breaking through, and with draft picks like rookie RB Kerryon Johnson lurking in the shadows, there’s no telling what this offense can achieve. The Lions will continue to look to Marvin Jones Jr to continue improving after a career-high 1,101 yards and 9 touchdowns in 2017.

On paper, this Bears team looks silly dangerous. The Bears added notable talents Allen Robinson III, Trey Burton, and Taylor Gabriel in the offseason, along with trading up to draft Anthony Miller in the second round. The question for this offense lies within Mitchell Trubisky’s ability to deliver. Stay tuned on that front.

Odds to Win the NFC North

Team Odds Odds 2017 SU Record 2017 ATS Record 2017 Divsion Rank
Minnesota Vikings +115 +115 13-3 11-5-0 1
Green Bay Packers +150 +150 7-9 7-9-0 3
Detroit Lions +600 +550 9-7 8-7-1 2
Chicago Bears +900 +800 5-11 8-7-1 4

Minnesota Vikings

The Minnesota Vikings are the favourites to win this division, and after a season like last year, you really can’t blame Vegas for the line. The Vikes slightly edge out Green Bay as odds to be crowned Kings of the North.

Cousins comes into a more talented offense with weapons at every position: Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Dalvin Cook, and Kyle Rudolph. Scary, scary good potential here.

In his time as a starter in Washington, Cousins threw for more than 4,000+ yards every season, including a near 5,000 yard season in 2016.

Kirk Cousins will make his debut in Purple and Gold, and even as a Packers fan, I have to admit I’m excited to see this. In his time as a starter in Washington, Cousins threw for more than 4,000+ yards every season, including a near 5,000 yard season in 2016 (4,917 yds).

If you’re new to football, I’ll let you in on a secret: Kirk Cousins loves his tight end, and Kyle Rudolph is on the verge of breaking out. Look for the 6’6″ monster in the end-zone, because you know Captain Kirk will be.

Alongside this potent offense is a stout shutdown defense with the ability to take over games. The Vikings are a complete team, and are currently ranked fourth in odds to win Superbowl 53 at +1200.

Vikings’ Key 2018 Additions/Departures

Vikings’ Key 2018 Additions Vikings’ Key 2018 Departures
Kirk Cousins (QB) Case Keenum (QB)
Kendall Wright (WR) Sam Bradford (QB)
Trevor Siemian (QB) Jerrick McKinnon (RB)
Mike Hughes (DB) – Rookie Michael Floyd (WR)

Green Bay Packers

After eight straight postseason appearances, an Aaron Rodgers season-ending injury led to a missed playoffs for the Green and Gold in 2017. Packers fans have to be excited about #12 being back on the field… trust me, I still gag at the thought of Brett Hundley taking snaps.

Aaron Rodgers has thrown this Packers franchise on his back, recently running the table in 2016 to make the playoffs. He’s arguably one of the greatest quarterback talents of all time, due to his ability to throw with incredible precision and efficiency. Rodgers has the highest quarterback rating of all time at 104.93 (Manning #2 at 97.22) and an unbelievable TD/INT ratio of a near 4:1.

In rare fashion, the Packers went out this off-season and played the free agency game. Their biggest signing came with former Seattle Seahawk Jimmy Graham. Historically, Rodgers hasn’t utilized a tight end in his progressions, but it’ll be hard for Rodgers to ignore Graham’s presence in the red zone after hauling in ten touchdowns in 2017.

With Jordy Nelson being cut, Rodgers will have a new no. 1 this season, and all signs point to Davante Adams to step in and take over the roll. Adams recorded 997 yards and 12 touchdowns in his last season with Rodgers, which he’ll no doubt look to improve on in 2018.

The Packers have defensive issues, and they completely addressed their weaknesses in the off-season. Notable signings of Muhammed Wilkerson (DE) and former Packer Tramon Williams (CB) should help this defense improve.

The Packers also spent their first and second round draft capital on two standout secondary talents in Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson. Reports out of the Packers’ training camp are saying the rookie tandem is learning fast and their skillsets are reassuring.

Packers’ Key 2018 Additions/Departures

Packers’ Key 2018 Additions Packers’ Key 2018 Departures
Jimmy Graham (TE) Jordy Nelson (WR)
Muhammed Wilkerson (DE) Morgan Burnett (S)
Tramon Williams (CB) Damarious Randall (CB)
Jaire Alexander & Josh Jackson (CB) – Rookies Richard Rodgers (TE)

Detroit Lions

The Detroit Lions have been the bridesmaid of this division, finishing second place several times. The last time the Lions won the NFC North title was 1993… nearly 25 years ago. Is this the year the drought ends?

Detroit has made a step in the right direction, or so many think, by firing head coach Jim Caldwell and replacing him with former Defensive Coordinator for the Patriots, Matt Patricia. Although the Lions finished 2017 with a winning record, they failed to compete in the playoffs.

The Auburn running back ran for 1,391 yards on 285 carries, and found his way to the house 20 times.

The Lions have struggled to run the ball in recent years. It’s been five seasons since they produced a 1,000-yard rusher, which was achieved by Reggie Bush in 2013. With Ameer Abdullah on a short leash, Patricia should look to standout rookie Kerryon Johnson to provide a spark. The Auburn running back ran for 1,391 yards on 285 carries, and found his way to the house 20 times (18 rushing TDs & two Receiving TDs).

The Lions have a very capable receiving core with an emerging Marvin Jones Jr. and veteran talent in Golden Tate. Jones has improved year over year, having a career high last season in yards (1,101) and touchdowns (nine). Tate also tallied over 1,000 yards last seasons, with five touchdowns to add.

Matthew Stafford continues to prove himself as one of the most capable and talented quarterbacks in the NFL. Flat out, he’s a gunslinger and isn’t afraid of throwing it anyone’s way. For a guy that throws for 4,500 yards a season, his TD/INT ratio is solid at 3:1 (29 TD, 10 INT in 2017).

Stafford also supports two 1,000 yard receivers, a feat only accomplished by Tom Brady (Gronkowski & Cooks) and Alex Smith (Hill & Kelce) last season.

Lions’ Key 2018 Additions/Departures

Lions’ Key 2018 Additions Lions’ Key 2018 Departures
LeGarrette Blount (RB) Eric Ebron (TE)
Frank Ragnow (C) – Rookie Tion Green (RB)
Kerryon Johnson (RB) – Rookie Jim Caldwell (HC)

Chicago Bears

The Bears seem to be following the footsteps of divisional foe the Detroit Lions by replacing their head coach and revamping their offense.

Chicago hired Matt Nagy to take over the reigns after spending ten season under Andy Reid. The mastermind behind the Chiefs explosive offense has taken his talents to Chicago; a team who has one playoff birth in the last 11 seasons.

There are a couple unknowns for this Bears team, but we do know a few things:

1) Incoming talents Allen Robinson, Trey Burton, and Taylor Gabriel are very talented. Robinson recorded a 1,400 yard and 14 touchdown season with the Jags in 2015, but has struggled with injuries since. Burton just won a Super Bowl with the Eagles and Gabriel is a speed demon.

2) The run game is solidified with Jordan Howard and Tarik Cowen. Howard rushed for his second straight 1,000+ yard season last year with 1,122 yards and nine touchdowns on 276 carries.

With back-to-back 1,400+ yard seasons at Memphis, be sure to keep an eye out for the new #17 in Chicago.

3) Incoming rookie WR Anthony Miller is a monster. Physically and mentally, Miller is known for being the ultimate competitor and he has the goods to back it up. With back-to-back 1,400+ yard seasons at Memphis, be sure to keep an eye out for the new #17 in Chicago.

Like I stated earlier, the success of this offense relies on Mitchell Trubisky’s ability to deliver the rock. Trubisky has only started in 12 NFL games, so inexperience certainly plays a factor in his performance.

So far in 2018 training camp, the Bears’ new QB has struggled to build a rapport with new players, regularly throwing poorly-timed balls and showing poor decision making.

Bears’ Key 2018 Additions/Departures

Bears’ Key 2018 Additions Bears’ Key 2018 Departures
Allen Robinson (WR) John Fox (HC)
Trey Burton (TE) Cameron Meredith (WR)
Taylor Gabriel (WR) Kendall Wright (WR)
Anthony Miller (WR) – Rookie Mike Glennon (QB)
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