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NFL preview 2017: NFC North outlook

The Packers have Aaron Rodgers, but defense is

The Packers have Aaron Rodgers, but defense is the key for Green Bay. Credit: TNS / Rodger Mallison


COACH: Mike McCarthy

12th season (114-61-1, .651)

LAST SEASON: 10-6, 1st place

PLAYOFFS: beat Giants, 38-13 in wild card; beat Dallas, 34-31 in division playoff; lost to Atlanta, 44-21 in NFC Championship

OUTLOOK: They are the two words that best describe the state of the NFC North over the last eight years, and the two words that most likely will define the division in the foreseeable future: Aaron Rodgers. As long as No. 12 is under center for the Packers and as long as he performs at a level of play rarely seen among NFL quarterbacks, it’s Green Bay or bust. Rodgers remains at the top of his game, and his mere presence alone makes the Packers the favorite in the division. The running game will be in transition without Eddie Lacy, but the Packers were moving to Ty Montgomery anyway. Receivers Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams are a strong group. Defense is always the big issue with Green Bay, and this year will be no different, especially without Julius Peppers. Clay Matthews III remains the dominant pass-rushing threat.


COACH: Jim Caldwell

4th season (27-21, .563)

LAST SEASON: 9-7, 2nd place

PLAYOFFS: lost to Seattle, 26-6, in wild card

OUTLOOK: Matthew Stafford has a newly minted contract that makes him the highest-paid player in NFL history, but that doesn’t change the fact that he hasn’t yet won a playoff game. The Lions are undoubtedly a strong contender in the division, and perhaps they’re ready to overtake the Packers in the not-too-distant future. They’ve certainly got a playoff-caliber roster, especially tailback Ameer Abdullah can make the offense less reliant on Stafford. The defense is solid, although the Lions’ top pass rusher, Ziggy Ansah, didn’t practice all preseason because of an ankle issue.


COACH: Mike Zimmer

5th season (26-66, .542)

LAST SEASON: 8-8, 3rd place

OUTLOOK: After a 5-0 start last season, the Vikings looked like Super Bowl contenders and Sam Bradford looked like a Comeback Player of the Year candidate. But the bottom fell out, as Minnesota lost eight of the next 11 to finish 8-8. Expectations are decidedly muted this season, and although coach Mike Zimmer’s defense, which played well early but faltered late last season, remains impressive. The real key is Bradford, who is a highly efficient passer in terms of completion percentage, but isn’t a consistent home run threat.


COACH: John Fox

3rd season (9-23, .281)

LAST SEASON: 3-13, 4th place

OUTLOOK: The Bears don’t have enough on their current roster to contend for a playoff berth, but do show promise for the future. First-round quarterback Mitch Trubisky had a solid preseason, and it’s only a matter of time before he supplants nominal starter Mike Glennon, the former Buccaneers’ backup. The Bears have some promising young players on defense with pass rusher Leonard Floyd and nose tackle Eddie Goldman, but it’s still not enough to contend with the likes of Green Bay and Detroit.


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