The Minnesota Vikings made two of the biggest offeseason moves in the NFL in signing Kirk Cousins and Sheldon Richardson.
The Vikings drew praise in a recent article from ESPN looking at teams’ offseason improvements. The article also noted that the NFC North will be no joke after the Chicago Bears made a number of key additions.
With quarterback Mitchell Trubisky entering his second season, the Bears also reshaped the infrastructure around him. “The Matt Nagy-Mark Helfrich combo will be good for Trubisky,” the coach said of the QB’s new head coach and offensive coordinator. “So I like the combo between coaching moves and draft. They still are missing some pieces … but they will be creative on offense.”
While the NFC North looks on paper like one of the most difficult divisions in the league, Chicago made strides this offseason to improve upon a 5-11 campaign.
Let’s have a look at some of the offseason factors that could determine which division is the most difficult in 2018…
Why the NFC North could be the toughest division
– The story of the NFC North starts with Aaron Rodgers. His collarbone injury cost the Green Bay Packers a shot at the playoffs. The domino effect also saw Green Bay make changes at GM and defensive coordinator. If the Packers’ defense improves dramatically following the hire of Mike Pettine and drafting of two top cornerback prospects Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson, the Packers will be a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
– When last year’s division winners get even stronger in the offseason and still only share odds to win the Super Bowl, you know it’s a brutal division. The Vikings added a more talented quarterback, top-notch defensive tackle and should have Dalvin Cook back at 100 percent.
– As Yates noted, Chicago is the most interesting. The top quarterback in the 2017 draft Mitch Trubisky showed signs that he could become a franchise QB, but had only a so-so debut year. The Bears got better receivers, better tight end and (presumably) better offensive coaching this offseason. So we might see the Bears take the same path as the Los Angeles Rams, who weren’t thought to be all that close to contending when Jared Goff was drafted but quickly became a Super Bowl contender.
– The Lions are also tricky. Aside from firing Jim Caldwell, they didn’t make massive changes, leaving us to find out just how much was Caldwell’s fault. The Lions ranked seventh in the NFL in scoring last year and decided to keep their offensive coordinator. If they repeat that offensive performance and improve under a defensive-minded head coach in Matt Patricia, Detroit could be a tougher team.
Why it might not be as hard as projected
– Green Bay may have made some changes, but their defensive personnel is still not exceptionally strong and relying on rookies is always tricky. Rodgers’ favorite weapon Jordy Nelson is now with the Oakland Raiders, his favorite QB coach was let go and his offensive line isn’t what it once was. Even with an elite quarterback, if nothing else goes right, the Packers will be beatable.
– If Trubisky doesn’t fit into Matt Nagy’s offense as expected, Chicago could still improve but not nearly as much as the Rams did in 2017. Historically spending a bunch of money in the offseason has resulted in more hits than misses.
– For the Lions, Patricia has come under fire for a previous sexual assault charge, which may become a distraction if more details are unearthed. Former Patriot coaches also haven’t had a great record when Bill Belichick isn’t around.
– It’s hard to see the Vikings being anything but very good. Even a quarterback injury couldn’t keep them away from a great season. But one thing that every NFC North team will deal with in 2018: A tough schedule. Facing off with the NFC West won’t be easy and the Vikings also have a trip to New England and another matchup with New Orleans to their slate.
Other top divisions
– If the Seahawks don’t fade despite losing some key players and the 49ers improve as much as expected, the NFC West could be a nightmare.
– The NFC South has four teams that could plausibly win the division after the Bucs improved their defense by leaps and bounds this offseason.
– The AFC West will be very tough with the Chargers likely to be even tougher this year and Denver improving at quarterback.
– The NFC East has an argument too with the addition of Alex Smith to Washington and Pat Shurmur to the Giants. If Dallas’s offensive line is healthy and Zeke Elliott is back in action, the Cowboys could be much better than last year.