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Optimism is Sky-High Across a Deep NFC North

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Optimism is Sky-High Across a Deep NFC North

With the bulk of the meaningful offseason headlines in the rear view mirror, NFL fans have officially entered the season of eternal optimism. Draft picks and free agent signings act as piled-high kindling, and reports from OTAs of potential breakout players provide the spark.

And with real games still nearly three months away, that optimism can build into a full inferno.

While NFL fans are as knowledgeable about the entire league as much as any fan base, it can be easy to lose sight of the big picture while focusing just on what’s happening at 1265 Lombardi Avenue. Opening day can be somewhat of a rude awakening, when fans are reminded that the other team’s executives, coaches and players get paid, too.

Although there’s plenty of reason for optimism regarding the 2018 vintage of the Packers, even for the most skeptical fan, it’s worth remembering that the NFC North may just be the toughest division in the league this year.

The defending NFC North champion Minnesota Vikings will enter this season with Super Bowl aspirations, and although Packer fans love to admire the Vikes’ empty trophy case, Minnesota has earned the right to be bullish on their chances this year after last season’s 13-3 season.

Opinions differ on freshly signed quarterback Kirk Cousins, but his average numbers over the last three seasons in Washington have been about 4,400 yards, 27 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. It may have been an intriguing and polarizing decision to move on from Case Keenum after such a successful 2017 campaign, but at the very least Cousins is a proven, worthy starter.

Cousins should have the benefit of a good supporting cast as he adjusts to a new team and higher expectations, and the offense should receive a boost with the return of running back Dalvin Cook, who was dynamic as a rookie last year before tearing his ACL in October. They’ll need continued improvement on the offensive line, however, to truly be a Super Bowl contender.

But this team is all about its defense, arguably the best in football. That defense added first-round cornerback Mike Hughes from UCF after allowing a league-low 15.8 points per game in 2017.

Detroit is a curious case. Seemingly stuck in a pattern of perpetual mediocrity, the Lions are 63-65 this decade with three playoff appearances, all wild card losses. But with very good players at premium positions in Matthew Stafford and Ezekiel Ansah, the Lions have felt like a team capable of more. They’re hoping new head coach Matt Patricia will be the catalyst to a breakout season.

Veteran addition LeGarrette Blount and second-round pick Kerryon Johnson will look to break the well-publicized 100-yard rusher drought, and first-round center Frank Ragnow should help a struggling offensive line. But there are enough questions on that line and throughout the defense that most NFL fans have taken an, “I’ll believe it when I see it” attitude regarding the Lions taking the next step. It’s hard to blame them.

The true wild card of the division, however, is Chicago.

Most Bears fans feel this is the first time they’ve had a 21st Century general manager, coach and quarterback to lead them out of the NFL’s basement. Fourth-year GM Ryan Pace has elicited mixed reviews so far, but his reputation will be determined by the success of new head coach Matt Nagy and second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.

Nagy, a 40-year-old Andy Reid disciple, is expected to make the Bears’ offense more innovative and exciting—two descriptors that have hardly ever seemed fitting in Chicago’s franchise history. Along with new offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, formerly the head coach at of the University of Oregon, Nagy may look to integrate some option into the offense, taking advantage of Trubisky’s athleticism and the versatility and explosiveness of second-year running back Tarik Cohen. With the addition of free agent Allen Robinson at wide receiver, Bears fans are giddy with the prospects of an effective and fun offense.

Meanwhile, the defense added linebacker Roquan Smith with the eighth overall pick to a solid unit that lacks star power, raising expectations on that side of the ball as well. Pundits almost unanimously feel the franchise is headed in the right direction, and the Bears have even been a trendy playoff pick by some, using last year’s Rams as an example of what can happen when a young quarterback is paired with the right head coach.

And, yet, there are so many hypotheticals that must favor the Bears for that vision to come to reality this season.

That’s the beauty of the offseason. It’s entirely possible the Bears put together another three-win improvement—or more—and look poised to compete in the division for the next decade with a young coach and franchise quarterback. Or the Bears could look like…the Bears.

Meanwhile, the Packers don’t have to bow down to anyone, with as many division titles in the last 25 years as the other three NFCN teams combined. Even after last year’s disappointing campaign, it feels like Green Bay wears the target once again.

Fans are burning with optimism across the division for now. But it likely won’t take long for that enthusiasm to be extinguished for some once the season kicks off in September. With such high expectations for all four teams, someone is bound to be sorely disappointed.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (14) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

kevgk's picture

Spicy take: Packers are the only team that makes the playoffs in the division.
Bears have a first year HC and a totally inexperienced QB. I don't see them winning more than 8.
Cousins is more than enough of a reason the Redskins went 8-8 with him. He is a turnover machine that completely folds under pressure. Look at his game log. As many games as he had lighting up bad teams, he embarrasses himself with a sub70 passer rating. Then their "85 Bears" defense got shredded by good teams severeal times last year and were completely out of league in the playoffs. Throw some extra turnovers in the mix and the Bears will have a better defense. 9 wins max, 10 if I'm wrong.
Lions are just miserable. Their roster is terrible. They have 5 good players that underrachieve and no depth. Good luck.

Bearmeat's Phantom Downvoter's picture

Vikings regress (not much room to match or go up).
Lions get worse. There's just not much talent there.
Bears get better and push .500
Packers win the division with a 12-4 record. Minny gets a wildcard at 11-5.

GPG

Tundraboy's picture

Like the optimistic tone Bear. Good sign.

TheBigCheeze's picture

Packers 19-0......UNDEFEATED SUPER BOWL CHAMPIONS!!!!!

Spock's picture

Yawn, I knew this. ;)

Cubbygold's picture

This is why I don't understand the hype surrounding the NBA. 4 straight years in which the championship featured the same teams. There's maybe 3-5 teams that have a legitimate shot at a title in any given year.

The eagles were the 19th most likely team to win the Superbowl in vegas in week 1 last year, and look what happened. NFC north this year should be a slugfest, as will the playoffs. Just so much more compelling

Bearmeat's Phantom Downvoter's picture

Although there is less scoring, soccer and baseball share this with the NFL. The NBA and NHL are superstar driven leagues, because at any one time, a superstar is between 12 and 20% of the players on the field/court/ice.

Bit harder when one starter is 8% of the players on the field at any given time. You need a much more well rounded team.

Rossonero's picture

Bears: OC Mark Helferich is overrated. He has the unfortunate distinction as the first Oregon head coach in 40 years to be fired. He was 37-16 overall, but it'll come down to how creative Matt Nagy gets with Trubisky 'n co.

They have continuity with Vic Fangio and Roquan Smith will make this defense fast, but the secondary will ultimately be their downfall.

Vikings: Cousins is legit. He's finished consistently as a top 10 QB. He's got better WRs, but will the leaky O-line hold up? The defense essentially is unchanged and rock solid.

Lions: When you spend your 1st and 2nd rounder on an O-lineman and a RB, the message is clear: run the ball. Trouble is, despite spending big on TJ Lang and Ricky Wagner last year, they still can't do it. They won't take the ball out of Matthew Stafford's hands, and have a great group of WRs. Can Matt Patricia transform this defense?

Packers: With Rodgers back, FA signings and a solid draft to repair a badly damaged secondary, the sky is the limit. What the Packers need is health. Can the right side of the O-line hold up? Can Mike Pettine transform what was a horrific defense? What if Adams has a 3rd concussion? A new star WR must emerge.

Denise Chanterelle's picture

Pack goes 14 - 2, ties for best record in NFC with Eagles.

cap'n kirk's picture

Packers 12-4
Viqueens 11-5
Bears 8-8
Lions 7-9

Spock's picture

NFC other teams have optimism, the Packers have history on our side. With Rodgers the NFC North crown will be ours. Start buying your playoff tickets now; IT IS TIME. Go, Pack, Go!

Bert's picture

While optimistic that Gute has done a very good job upgrading the roster in just one off-season, I'm still taking a wait-and-see attitude with McCarthy. He could be a very good HC or a guy who has ridden the coat tails of a great QB. I really don't know for sure. We could find out this year just how good (or not good) of a HC MM actually is.

TheBigCheeze's picture

sorry chumps......but ONLY the mighty Packers will prevail as the TRUE.....KINGS OF THE NORTH......

PatrickGB's picture

Good to read that the GBPs are not the only team in our division with high hopes. We fans often think we are the only team that has improved. Yet this year I believe that our newish coaches are the real sleepers that have given this team a sneaky boost to the NFCN title and the playoffs.

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