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Training Camp Storylines Around the NFC North

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Training Camp Storylines Around the NFC North

The end of July has finally reached us and the real boys of summer are making their way back to NFL training camps across the country.  As the 2018 Green Bay Packers report to training camp today, their foes around the NFC North are also heading to training camp and many storylines are surrounding each team as they enter camp. 

There are plenty of new faces in new places around the division and hope springs eternal for fans around the league as their teams enter camp.  With the new additions to teams around the NFC North, the division appears to be one of the strongest in the league heading into 2018.  But for each divisional opponent, a major question or two lurks and the answers to those questions could make or break the team during the 2018 season.

Minnesota Vikings – The Vikings enter the 2018 season after being on the brink of reaching Super Bowl LII last season, only to lay an egg in the NFC Championship Game against the Philadelphia Eagles.  As the team reports to training camp this week, optimism is sky high to our west and for good reason.  First and foremost, the team is returning most of the key pieces to their daunting defense while adding Sheldon Richardson to their defensive line.  The team also looks to bring back Dalvin Cook from injury to help bolster their running game heading into the season.  As well, the Vikings head into training camp with two of their young and talented players in contract years in Stefon Diggs and Anthony Barr. 

But no other storyline from Vikings camp measures up to new quarterback Kirk Cousins and what he will bring to the team in 2018.  During their run through the regular season and into the playoffs last season, the Vikings received great play from Case Keenum.  The team opted to go another direction and signed Cousins to the largest contract in NFL history this past offseason.  While some have considered the contract a head scratcher and others have considered it a genius move, there is no doubt that the Vikings hopes for a Super Bowl run rest on Cousins’ shoulders.  I can picture Vikings fans channeling Lattimer from “The Program”, asking Kirk if he’s going to lead them to the Promised Land.

Chicago Bears – Having already opened their training camp due to their participation in the Hall of Fame Game next Thursday, the Bears will enter the 2018 season as a completely overhauled team.  New head coach Matt Nagy replaces John Fox along the sidelines and brings with him an offensive background that should help the team succeed in that area.  Many experts also felt that the Bears were one of the big winners of free agency this offseason and that is hard to argue with the signings of wide receivers Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel alongside the signing of tight end Trey Burton.  All three players were sought after by other teams and Chicago won their services.  Chicago was also fortunate enough to draft coveted linebacker Roquan Smith with the eighth overall pick in the draft this year.  Many see Smith as being able to make an instant impact on any defense in the NFL.

But the main attraction in Chicago will continue to be the development of now second-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky.  After making a bazaar trade up one spot to the second overall pick to select Trubisky, the Bears had planned on letting him sit the season as a backup to Mike Glennon last season.  But after a shaky start, Trubisky was thrown to the wolves starting in week five last season to start the remainder of the season.  As with any rookie, there were trying times but also some signs that he may develop into a pretty decent quarterback.  As Bears fans reminisce about the years of waiting on Jay Cutler to become the proverbial franchise quarterback they had hoped he would be, the Bears success lies heavily on him developing quickly into a game-changing quarterback.

Detroit Lions – As the Lions open their training camp this Friday, plenty of new faces will be seen roaming the sidelines and huddles around their training facility.  This offseason, Detroit once again turned a focus to righting their run game on offense by investing a second-round pick in this year’s draft on Auburn’s Kerryon Johnson and signing LeGarrette Blount in free agency.  They will join incumbents Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick in camp to hopefully once again bring the running backs position to glory in Detroit.  In free agency, the Lions weren’t heavy with other big names.  They looked to add solid depth at tight end and at linebacker with their signings.

The big question in Detroit heading into 2018 is what impact new head coach Matt Patricia will have on the sidelines for a franchise that has desperately been seeking a solid head coach for many years.  After firing Jim Caldwell after four seasons, Detroit turned to the New England Patriots defensive coordinator for their head coaching vacancy.  While emerging out of the footsteps of Bill Belichick may seem like a great thing for a new head coach, others that have done so prior to Matt Patricia just flat out haven’t seen success.  Where Charlie Weis, Josh McDaniels, Bill O’Brien and Eric Mangini have failed, Patricia will look to mold a new and successful branch off of the Belichick coaching tree.  He certainly has the love of his former players on his side but the question of whether that will transfer over to the Lions franchise remains to be seen.



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 (18) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Nick Perry's picture

"The Vikings enter the 2018 season after being on the brink of reaching Super Bowl LII last season, only to lay an egg in the NFC Championship Game "

The ONLY difference between the 2017 Vikings and the Vikings teams of 40 some years ago is the egg came a game early. Different year, different game, SAME result...ZERO World Titles!

"Many experts also felt that the Bears were one of the big winners of free agency this offseason"

Hmmm...Not so sure about that. Gabriel benefited with playing in a dome on turf. WAIT until he gets a load of Solider Field in December not to mention the weather off the lake. The Bears may have added a lot of good players but that's a LOT of NEW happening in Chicago. New Coach, new OC, new receiving corps...Same results, a LAST place finish.

"Detroit once again turned a focus to righting their run game on offense"

LOL....Again??? Nothing to see here folks. This IS the Lions..One of just 4 teams to have never been in a SB. NOTHING is going to change here.

That leaves the Packers who if healthy should win World Championship #14!

I like the sound of that!!

Bearmeat's picture

I don't agree. I do think that the NFCN will be a dogfight, but GB is going to need some young players on defense especially to step up if they're going to win it all. And that assumes health.

Minniesoda is a terrible franchise. But their defense is great. Even if you expect them to take a step back from the incredible health and slew of turnovers they had last year, not to mention their insane 3rd down defense (and I do), they'll still be very good. No - with them, it's their offense. They're simply not a good offensive team. They weren't last year, and they won't be this year. They've got 2 excellent players and a promising rookie. That's it. Then they ditched the QB that made it all happen through improvising for a overpaid not-top-15-QB. Typical Vikings idiocy.

Chicago will be improved this year. Fox was a bad coach - no way around it. And their defensive personnel will be very good. Offense is the question, but if they do get contributions from their new WR corps and Truboobsky improves to a top-15 QB, they'll be very strong. They're probably a year away.

I don't buy the Lions. Didn't last year. Nor the year before. Nor the year before. They'll be in the NFCN basement.

Tundraboy's picture

Thanks NP. Needed that this morning.

Demon's picture

There are very few guarantees in life. Ive found that besides death and taxes theres really only 4 things that I can really count on.
1 the sun rises every morning.
2 sets in the evening.
3 Nick Perry will again be injured.
4 The vikings will again find a way to screw it up!

The Vikings are easily the biggest group of choke artists in NFL history. Losers of 4 Super bowls and 5 NFC title games. Better yet, look at the HOFer's that have played for that team since 1990.
Warren Moon, Randall McDaniel, Chris Doleman, Chris Carter, Randy Moss, Brett Favre, Gary Anderson, John Randle, Adrian Peterson (wiill be HOF) please add if i forgot someone.
Although I have not looked it up, i'd guess this is probably 3rd best in league behind the Cowboys and maybe the Pstriots.

Handsback's picture

The Vikings adding Cousins isn't that big of a step. How much better is Cousin going to play verses Keenum last year? I'm not saying Keenum is a better QB, what I'm saying is that the difference in play between Keenum last year (he had a really great year) and Cousin's play this year won't be that much from a statistical standpoint.
I suspect the Viking will be really hard to beat and may even one of their games against Green Bay, but just one. I see sweeps against Detroit and the Bears, so it's only the Viking that concerns me inside the division.

RCPackerFan's picture

I was typing mine for a quite a while. But we basically said the same thing about Keenum vs Cousins.

I don't know how much if any of an upgrade Cousins will be from Keenum last year. Keenum was really good last year. Plus he was really in tune with the WR's. Will Cousins be?

I also wonder how much their final game will linger into this year? Most teams that lose like the Vikings did don't play as well the next year. Maybe with the changes they made it won't happen?

RCPackerFan's picture

The Vikings is everyone's golden child all of a sudden. I see a ton of love for them. They have Kirk Cousins coming in, they are getting Cook back. Their defense is on top of the world...
My question with them is will Cousins be any better then what they got with Keenum last year? Keenum played extremely well, and Cousins doesn't move as well as Keenum did. While Cook was really good in his 4 games he still is coming off a torn acl.

The Bears are getting a lot of love with all the moves they have made. Getting Robinson, Gabriel and Burton. Then they ended up drafting Roquan Smith (whom I loved and was hoping GB would get), and Anthony Miller. They already have a really good rush offense and now they have added true threats in the receiving game. They will be a tough team to beat. It all comes down to how good their QB is.
My guess with them is they are another year away from being a true threat to make a strong playoff run. But maybe they are the next Rams team? The opening game against the Bears will be tougher then most think IMO.

The Lions don't get talked about as much as the Bears or Vikings. They have Stafford who is a threat, but have never had a running game to go with him. They attempted to fix that this offseason.
I agree the question with them is with the new Coach. He has already caught some controversy. We will see how well he can manage the team.

This year I wouldn't be surprised if the Vikings fall a bit and the Bears rise a bit. I am guessing the Lions will be about the same.

Bearmeat's picture

Agreed about the Vikings and Bears completely.

I do think the Lions overachieved last year (despite their coach) and the Belichick coaching tree has been... um... I'm trying to find a nice way to say "Dumpster Fire," but it's not coming to me. LOL.

The Lions have Stafford who is a borderline top 10 QB, and Darius Slay. And who else exactly? Ansah isn't worth the hype. Golden Taint? Yeah, I guess. He's roughly as good as Randall Cobb in the slot. Yawn.

dobber's picture

The Lions would have been two games worse in 2017 if Rodgers had been healthy. Without Stafford they're a 4-win team. They just aren't very good: weak OL, weak run-game, limited on defense. That said, they made a nice pickup on the OL in the draft in the kid from Arkansas (who they're going to play out of position), but he's not enough.

Ansah, I believe, went on the PUP list yesterday as he recovers from knee surgery. He's a hot-and-cold rusher (I'm being nice, since 6 of his 12 sacks in 2017 came in two games) with very little support. One of the worst pass-rushing teams in the league and they did little to get better.

Christopher Gennaro's picture

I only have one thing to disagree with, it may not be this year, but their investment in the O-line over the last few drafts is going to pay off. THe rest is spot on, just figure the lions are going to more a threat, Stafford who is entering his prime, with an above average line, will surprise a lot of people.

Johnblood27's picture

queen running hame will miss mvkinnon a lot.
just like keenum he was a good player for them and a repaired cook will need spelling. nothing nehind him, will he recover? maybe.

in an offense driven league the teams have a full year of tape and an entire offseason to pick apart queen defense. they will regress. AR alone will add 600 yards passing to their defensive stats that didnt happen last year.

that loud sound you hear will be the queens falling hard.

bears on the rise, but lots of new and lots of maybe. wait and see. get them down and keep the pressure on and we should get 2 wins.

pack needs to get back to dominating the mc kittys. they arent very good, but we let tjem hang around. pressure stafford heavily and let the chips fall where they may.

dobber's picture

"in an offense driven league the teams have a full year of tape and an entire offseason to pick apart queen defense."

Seems to me that the Eagles and Saints didn't even need THAT much time... ;)

Demon's picture

Yeah you're right. The Eagles and Saints didnt need that long. But, they didnt have Capers on their staff though either.

4thand1's picture

1st practice in 12 hours 34 minutes CST.

Spock's picture

"Bizarre" trade. Bizarre = strange. I doubt the Bears went to a "bazaar" (marketplace) to trade up for the QB. That spell check can make for crazy sentences, lol.

LambeauPlain's picture

I think the Pack is the only team in the North with two former Head Coaches as their coordinators.

I see both the O and especially the D to be much better this year under Philbin and Pettine.

It will be a battle between MN and GB and I think the victor will be the NFC rep at the SB.

The key for the Pack is getting home field for the playoffs...tough schedule but they can get it done.

I bleed green more's picture

Story Perry put on pup list, well time for the back ups to show up.

PAPackerbacker's picture

Is Cousin's really that much better than what Keenum was last year? Nah, both players are good, but one is way over paid :-) And speaking of laying an egg, what about the Saints allowing that last second touchdown?

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