By Joseph Liptak for Wizard Race and Sports
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Green Bay Packers – predicted 1st in the NFC North
The Packers have long been the NFC North leaders thanks to none other than reigning MVP, Aaron Rodgers. However, he did not become the ‘King of the North’ without a great wide receiver. He did it earlier in his career with Jordy Nelson, and more recently, Davante Adams. This year he will not have a top tier receiver to rely on, after the departure of Davante Adams to the Las Vegas Raiders. The receiving core that Rodgers has this year is arguably the worst he has ever had, but the backfield is a different story.
Headlined by Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon, the Packers have set up a phenomenal run game. Jones provides the speed and agility while Dillon provides the grit and strength. These running backs will be rushing behind a good, if not great offensive line, ranked at number 11 going into the season.
Defensively the Packers look very similar to last year, minus the loss of team captain, Za’Darius Smith, to the Minnesota Vikings. On the bright side, Jaire Alexander, often regarded as a top 3 cornerback in the NFL, will come back after suffering a season shattering shoulder injury. The former Louisville star is a welcome return to this defense.
Many of the Packers core defensive starters are returning for the season like Preston Smith, Kenny Clark and Rashan Gary. Last year the Packers somehow had the worst special teams in the league, despite having Mason Crosby, a 16-year veteran kicker. This is an uncommon sight for the Packers, so any improvement to the special teams’ personnel will go a long way. I picture this team winning the 2022 NFC North division by a couple games.
The Minnesota Vikings have been an average team who have struggled to find their grove for a long time. This is partially due to their lack of up-front presence on the offensive side of the ball. The Vikings have built a new offensive line this year through free agency, signing three new offensive linemen. This trio is not anything special, but it looks like the Vikings have put together their best offensive line in a long time. This is important because the Vikings cannot waste the talent of their 3-time 1,000 yard running back, Dalvin Cook.
Not only is the offensive line important for Dalvin Cook, but it is also necessary to give Kirk Cousins, starting quarterback, more time in the pocket. The Vikings have a very solid receiving room, with Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen leading the way. Thielen is a previous 1,000 yard receiver but is slowly on the decline after being outshined by Justin Jefferson. Jefferson has shown to be a young star who has the potential to be a superstar. The Vikings offense has the makings to be a top-10 offense in the NFL, if the offensive line can really step up.
Defensively the Vikings ranked outside of the top-20 teams last year. They lacked talent on the defensive line and the secondary. So, they went out and signed two cornerbacks. One of which is from the Packers, Chandon Sullivan, who has shown to be a good cornerback after notching 3 interceptions last year. On the defensive line they added two interior tackles to beef up their run defense. Lastly the Vikings signed two very good linebackers who will improve their defense, Jordan Hicks, 8-year veteran and Za’Darius Smith, 2-time Pro Bowler. Overall, the Vikings made some solid moves this offseason and I picture them taking second in the division but not by a wide margin.
Let’s be honest, everyone knows the Lions for being terrible, but this year they might not be terrible, just rather decent. Their offense is led by Jared Goff who is a very mediocre quarterback, but he has proven he can win games behind a good offensive roster. He showed that during his tenure with the Los Angeles Rams. Jared Goff will be throwing to a very young receiving core, headlined by second-year receiver, Amon-Ra St. Brown. When the Lions decided to trade Matthew Stafford, that was when they chose to fully rebuild. Offensively, they ruled to start with the linemen. Going into this year their offensive line is ranked fourth, which is the best in the division. A great offensive line is what pushes an offense from average to good, or good to great. These linemen will be blocking for third-year running back D’andre Swift, who is due for a breakout season.
On the offensive side of the ball there is a lot to like about the Lions roster, but there are also some major holes. The biggest lowlight of the Lions roster is their defense. They were ranked the second worst defense in the league last year and did not make many free agency moves to combat that. However, this is just the second year of the Lions rebuild after trading their franchise quarterback and they are already looking up. This year should be a step in the right direction for the Lions association. I picture this team coming in third in the division by more than a few games.
The Chicago Bears are entering the season with a lot of losses already. They no longer have star receiver Allen Robinson II, defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, and most of all, Khalil Mack, 6-time Pro Bowler. Last year the Bears decided to draft Justin Fields as their next quarterback, and last year it did not go as well as many were hoping. Many believe this to be the fault of the offensive line, which is a fair take, but it has not improved going into this season. The offensive line finished last year ranked at number 22 and enter this season ranked dead last off all teams.
The bright spot for the Bears on offense is found in Darnell Mooney who is coming off a 1,000 yard receiving season. The Bears run game will struggle, due to lack of talent on the offensive line and in the running back position.
Defensively the Bears have a lot of holes, but they also have a couple of seasoned veterans returning, like Eddie Jackson 2-time Pro Bowler and Robert Quinn 3-time Pro Bowler. The Bears have a lot of young talent, and these older guys will mentor them into hopefully great football players. Overall, this Bears team absolutely lacks talent on both sides of the football, but also have some great players who will continue to progress. The biggest question mark going into this season is Justin Fields and how he will perform in his sophomore season. The Bears also decided to change up their head coach and settled on Matt Eberflus to lead the Bears and hopefully progress Justin Fields into a star. I picture this team coming in last in the division by a wide margin. Enjoy following the 2022 NFC North this fall season!