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Around the NFC North

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Around the NFC North

After a very eventful offseason for the teams in the NFC North, the storylines were endless as the teams entered training camp just a few weeks ago.  With new head coaches and coordinators in place around the division, training camps in the upper Midwest are beaming with excitement.  Though awfully hard to gauge after most of the division has played just one preseason game, the division could have a very different feel to it as the regular season begins in just a mere three and half weeks.

In looking to fall under the old mantra of keeping your friends close and your enemies closer, let’s take a look around the NFC North to talk about the storylines that are progressing through training camps of the Packers closes rivals.

Minnesota Vikings

The biggest team standing in the way of the Packers taking back the NFC North crown and a chance to host at least one playoff game this upcoming postseason is the Minnesota Vikings.  As lame as their “Kings of the North” slogan was for their division championship last year, the Packers still have a mountain to climb to reclaim a seat at the top of the division.

After making the single biggest splash this offseason with the signing of Kirk Cousins, where the high profile free agent leads the team will remain to be seen until the regular starts.  Seeing just one series in their opening exhibition game in Denver, albeit for a touchdown, the Vikings will remain content in saving their man for the regular season and not risking an unnecessary injury.

Aside from Cousins, the Vikings wisely inked young wide receiver Stefon Diggs to a five year, $72 million deal.  It was a deal that was in the discussion heading into training camp and no surprise that the Vikings got the deal done early in camp.  Through his first three years in the NFL, Diggs has played exceptionally well against the Packers and his presence in the coming years will definitely be felt among the young crop of defensive backs that will be trying to cover him.

Elsewhere in Vikings training camp, Dalvin Cook has impressed the coaching staff after his rookie year was cut short after just four games due to an ACL injury.  First-round selection Mike Hughes is also raising eyebrows in the Vikings defensive backfield with his ability to cover and make plays.  And after the Blair Walsh project failed for the Vikings at kicker, the team made the position a camp battle this year by trading up to draft Auburn kicker Daniel Carson in the fifth round and keeping veteran Kai Forbath on the team to provide competition.

The Vikings saw their first preseason action last Saturday night in Denver, where they steamrolled the Broncos 42-28.  With the first team units seeing very little action, Cousins went a perfect four for four and a touchdown in one drive and rookie kicker Daniel Carson shined with two field goals, including a 57-yard shot, and four extra points converted.  Next up for the Vikings is the Jacksonville Jaguars in Minnesota this Saturday.

Detroit Lions

The Lions biggest splash this offseason was the termination of coach Jim Caldwell and the hiring of Matt Patricia to replace him.  As the team has entered training camp, all eyes in Detroit are focused on his leadership and the effect that he will have on a talented yet under producing locker room.

The Lions remained relatively quiet in free agency by bringing in running back LeGarrette Blount and tight ends Luke Wilson and Levine Toilolo to replace the loss of Eric Ebron.  With a very small draft class of only six selections, the Lions are hoping first-round selection Frank Ragnow at center and Kerryon Johnson at running back can be difference makers on a team looking for the extra men to push them over the hump in 2018.

With Blount and Johnson joining the Lions backfield with incumbents Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick, the Lions are looking to establish a sound running game behind Matthew Stafford and his passing attack.  The varying skill set among this group may lead to a committee approach come the regular season, but the Lions faithful are hopeful that the running game can relieve some pressure off of Matt Stafford for once this year. 

In the passing game, Detroit will continue to start the impressive duo of Golden Tate and Marvin Jones while Kenny Golladay continues to impress in training camp entering his second year in the league.  If the running game comes around, Stafford and the passing game could flourish and this may be needed with the Lions defense still posing a lot of question marks as they progress through training camp.

Heading into their first preseason game last week in Oakland, the Lions traveled to California in the days prior to the matchup to hold joint practices with the Raiders squad.  In a game where the starting units played very little, the Lions fell to the Raiders by a score of 16-10.  Heading into this week’s matchup with the New York Giants on Friday night, the Lions will be hosting the opposing squad for three joint practices in the days leading up to their matchup.

Chicago Bears

Perhaps the most active offseason in the NFC happened in the Windy City, where the Chicago Bears fired John Fox and brought in Matt Nagy as their new head coach.  The hiring of Nagy brings the dawn of an offensive era in Chicago after years of having defensive minded coaches roaming their sidelines.  On top of the Nagy hiring, the Bears were very active in free agency with the high profile signings of tight end Trey Burton, EDGE rusher Aaron Lynch and wide receivers Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel.

With the new additions on offense both on and off the field, the giant elephant in the room for the Bears heading into training camp is the progression of now second-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky.  With the new toys surrounding him at the offensive skill positions and a solid running back group, the new scheme being implemented by Nagy has been causing some expected growing pains for the second year quarterback.  The preseason may tell little about his progress until the Bears come to Lambeau Field for Sunday Night Football on September 9th.

Outside of free agency, the Bears had themselves a nice draft class this year but all hopes were tempered for the initial weeks of training camp with first-round selection Roquan Smith holding out.  But, the Bears got the deal signed with Smith on Monday and made him the final first-round selection from this year’s draft class to sign their contract.  On top of Smith, second-round pick Anthony Miller has been tearing it up at the slot receiver position during training camp and the Bears staff has high hopes for the talented young receiver.  And after being plagued by injuries early in his career, the Bears were hopeful that Kevin White could finally make an impact in 2018 but the receiver has had some struggles through their first two preseason games.

With the Bears drawing one of the lucky straws of participating in the Hall of Fame game, the team already has two preseason losses under their belt to the Baltimore Ravens and the Cincinnati Bengals.  This Saturday, the team travels to Denver to take on the Broncos.

________________________

Ryan Brunner is an avid Packers fan hailing from Chippewa Falls, WI.  He is a firm believer that punters are NFL players too!  Follow him on Twitter @brunwardo

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (10) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Tarynfor12's picture

The Green Bay Packers...
Thankfully and hopefully Aaron Rodgers is back and remains healthy. Talk of the exalted Division Title and any advancement rests on him, which puts the Packers against the wall with the Vikings locked and loaded with a team more able to sustain a QB loss.

PatrickGB's picture

If the TV series GOT is any indication, being “Kings of the North” is, at best, a temporary position.
And TBSS!

Jonathan Spader's picture

Winter is Coming

Samson's picture

There's a better chance that with the addition of Kirk Cousins to the Viking roster that the Vikes will be headed to the SB ......... than the Packers chances are at even being in the playoffs.

2018 is a transition year for the Pack. Too many holes to fill on a roster with too many unhealthy players. If AR should go down for any appreciable numbers of games, look for another 7-9. ... The Pack still don't have a proven veteran BU QB.

stockholder's picture

Transition Year? No way. This team may have more Holes next year.

kevgk's picture

They were a 10 win team two years ago. They were certainly an 11 win team with a healthy Rodgers last year. Now they will struggle to make the playoffs after a huge offseason of fixing holes and adding talent?
Get out of here with unsubstantiated negative claims.

Samson's picture

Please, start listing the added talent you speak of. -- The OL is shaky at best, the WR corp is unproven. --- QBs get hurt when these two areas are weak and unproven.

Proven BU QB ??? --- Not on the roster (at this point).

AR loses any appreciable time, the Pack will finish no better than 7-9.

WKUPackFan's picture

Added talent: Wilkerson, Graham, Lewis, Jaire Alexander, Tramon. Plus a healthy Kevin King and Davon House.

WRs are unproven? Adams and Cobb form one of the most experienced duos in the league.

Shaky OLine? Bakhtiari and Bulaga are back. The starting OLine is intact, and backups have gained valuable experience.

I'd ask where you think that the roster holes are, but the opinions of trolls are irrelevant.

Jonathan Spader's picture

Samson how is the Vikings backup QB situation better? The Vikings swapped out Case Keenum for Cousins and took the Broncos QB as their backup. He was about as impressive as Hundley.

dobber's picture

"The OL is shaky at best..."

The starters are better than average, and they're all in line to play (no pun intended). The backups are a wing and a prayer, but that's true for most teams.

"the WR corp is unproven."

Graham isn't a TE. He's a WR in a big body. Graham, Cobb, and Adams are decent. With #12 throwing to them, they're better than that. My early prediction is that Monty catches 50 this year. If there are injuries here, they'll need to lean on the RBs to pick it up. You ask about added talent for this season? He's the one, key piece added back into the equation.

"AR loses any appreciable time,..."

You talk about all the other stuff, but we all know that THIS is the key. Even in past seasons with a cheesecloth defense, ARod has repeatedly shown he gets this team to double-digit wins. Any meaningful improvement on defense means that this team, even against a pretty tough looking schedule, gets back to double-digit wins.

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