Around the NFC North — Week 17

Garda takes one last look at where the NFC North stands — who survived and who ended up in the dumpster fire of sadness that is missing the playoffs.

In the end, it was a bridge too far for the Green Bay Packers. It was also one too far for the Detroit Lions. 

If you are a Chicago Bears fan, at least you were spared the pain of believing there was a chance to make the playoffs.

While the stumbling miss of the playoffs is kind of old hat to Lions fans, it's pretty new for Packers fans. Somehow, the team has found ways to pull out of tailspins before. This year, they couldn't. 

There are a ton of questions for Green Bay this offseason. Do they need to move on from defensive coordinator Dom Capers? How much of a defensive reboot is needed? Do they have the backfield worked out? Is Jordy Nelson done? How much longer does Aaron Rodgers have and what do you do with the backup quarterback situation, which definitely was lacking this year?

The Packers face a lot more questions than usual this offseason.

As always, though, there will be plenty of content on this site regarding those questions and more, as well as ample time for it. This column is about the rest of the division and as it's pretty much the end of the road for the year, we're going to take a look at home the other three NFC North teams stand as we close the regular season.

Minnesota Vikings

For the most part, the Vikings look to be in the best shape of any team in the division, including the Packers. That's a hard truth for people around here to swallow, I'm sure, but position by position, the Vikings are better than the rest of the NFC North. 

Save for one position, and it's likely to be the team's undoing this post-season: quarerback.

We keep expecting the wheels to come off on the Case Keenum train, but they really haven't. Maybe it won't kill them during the NFC side of the playoffs. The defense is rock solid, the run game is decent, the offensive line is improved and they have some really good receivers. Looking at the rest of the NFC, there isn't a dominant team. Philadelphia was the odds on favorite with Carson Wentz, but it's hard to feel good about them after watching Nick Foles last week. Carolina has been inconsistent. The Rams are really good but really young, and the Vikings have already beaten them in Minnesota. New Orleans is a threat, but are they really that much better than the Vikings?

All that being said, it's hard to believe in Keenum. And after the season, what do you do at quarterback? Do you bring Keenum back and have an open competition with Teddy Bridgewater? You can't just assume Bridgewater is going to be "the guy" coming off his injury — especially when there were already questions about it before he was hurt.

More than anything else, the Vikings have to figure out what is going on at quarterback. They have some hard decisions to make, and not as much data as you would like on either quarterback. It's hard to trust Keenum isn't just having a great year and won't revert to type in 2018. It's equally hard to assume Bridgewater will bounce back and be the answer at quarterback.

That decision could be the difference between being in the conversation for a Super Bowl and missing the playoffs. 

Detroit Lions

The Lions looked pretty good for the first four games of the season, but it all went to hell in Week 5. You could excuse the loss to Atlanta in Week 3, and maybe you could write off the Week 5 loss to Carolina, but from Week 5 to Week 7, Detroit lost three in a row and all the concerns we would have for the rest of the season were on display there.

The inconsistent offense, the occasionally brutal defense, the constant injuries. Lions fans got excited when Detroit beat the Packers, Browns and Bears after that, conveniently forgetiing that they were the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers, Browns and Bears.

Sure, it was the Bengals who finally put the bullet in the Lions with a Week 16 26-17 win, but this is a team which never seemed as good as they were supposed to be.

What does this team need to do in the offseason? 

First and foremost, the Lions need to address the middle of the defense. There are a few good d-tackle prospects this year, and the Lions should take a long look at them. They should also be looking for a pass rusher, and that might be an even bigger need. The Lions should continue to work on the offensive line as well, and it wouldn't hurt to see if they can upgrade the backfield a bit.

The Lions continue to be a team which just falls short of expectations, and is always struggling to find those one or two missing pieces to push them over the top. 

Worse? How much longer does Matt Stafford have? And will Jim Caldwell be back?

At the end of the day, the window for this team feels really small.

Chicago Bears

Before anything else, the Bears have to decide if John Fox will still be the head coach in Chicago. Frankly, Fox has looked like he was a dead man walking most of the season, so firing him seems like the way to go. 

There's some optimism for this team, in that they seem to have found at least a serviceable startsr in Mitch Trubisky. Mind you, the team isn't asking him to do much right now, and he barely throws downfield. So he appears to be the answer but still may not be.

The offense around Trubisky is a hot mess. It has a solid backfield, but that's about it. The Bears gambled they could let go of Alshon Jeffery and that Kevin White would step up. 

Instead, White ended up on injured reserve. This is emblematic of something the Bears need to change — betting on the wrong horse. It's one thing to guess wrong, it's another to always guess wrong. Maybe it wasn't worth retaining Jeffery. That's fair. 

However, given that White had been hurt most of 2016, was depending on him to be your main piece at receiver smart?

They sure as heck cannot do that again. White has played five games so far in his career, and caught just 21 passes for 193 yards. You don't have to throw him away — he could become a solid receiver and stay on the field — but depending on him to stay on the field is ignoring history. You need other answers.

Defensively, this team didn't look awful. In fact, they improved against the run and pass  this season. They aren't dominant, but they were middle of the pack and that's something to build on. They need to keep adding pieces, as the more defensive support the young quarterback can get, the better. That said, they were on the field too much this season, so it once again comes back to making this offense better in the coming offseason.

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Comments (2)

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Bearmeat's picture

December 27, 2017 at 12:43 pm

Garda puts the Vikings roster into perspective well. That said:

1. Case Keenum wasn't drafted for a reason. He sucked with the Texans, Rams, Texans, Rams for FOUR years. Is signed to a "meh" backup deal with Minniesoda, then somehow decides to be GREAT this year. It doesn't add up. He's too short. He doesn't have a good arm. I HOPE they sign him to a long-term deal this offseason and watch their salary cap, and hopes for a super bowl regress (as expected) along with Keenum.

2. The other possibility is drafting a late 1st round QB or hoping Teddy One Knee becomes great (which he was decidedly NOT before his knee blew up). Neither are appetizing options and would be even worse for them than signing Keenum. Bradford is done.

3. Last year, Spielman threw spaghetti at the wall with the OL and it all blew up in his face. He does the same thing, with the same age and caliber of player this year, and they ALL stay healthy and play out of their minds. Bottom line, they got lucky. It won't repeat itself. That OL is going to get old quickly and they won't have the same health next year.

4. That said, they do have good options at the skill positions on offense and players on every level of the defense. Assuming Keenum doesn't bust their salary cap (which he won't), they will be good for the next several years. Spielman and Zimmer are a top 15 GM/HC duo. If GB had a semblance of a defense, they should have had a cake walk to the division from 2012-2016. That will no longer be the case. The Vikings are for real. (Ugh, I need to go wash my mouth out now).

Lions -

Bottom line, this team is Stafford, Tate, Jones, Slay, and a bag of balls. Their Head Coach sucks. They have to do a complete rebuild. They'll be bad for years.

Bears -

If they get rid of Fox and Trubisky improves, this is a sneaky-good roster. Their front 7 is young and fierce. Their OL is old and will need several new starters and they need to completely rebuild their WR corps. But, this team IMO has more talent than Detroit - except at QB.

Pack -

Our DC need to go. Our GM needs to be demoted. We need a new right side of the OL, new WR 2/3, another CB2, and a stud OLB. Not a small amount. Although, with Rodgers, I expect another division crown next year. Super Bowl is the goal though. And to do that, we need a far better defense.

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flackcatcher's picture

December 27, 2017 at 05:41 pm

Like Andrew's article, depressingly accurate. While I disagree about Ted and Dom, time may have run out for them, surprisingly more likely Ted than Dom. I think a lot of the dysfunction lays at the feet the Packers head coach. We all know MM will not make coaching changes unless he is pushed. This may be the year that some long time assistant coaches get pushed off at 1265. (W. Moss, I'm looking at you....) Going to be an interesting off season.

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