2018 NFL Predictions: NFC North

Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen” by Keith Allison is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

By Adam Hatlan

Welcome to the NFC North.

Home of the NFL’s oldest rivalry. In fact, it’s one of the oldest divisions in all of football. Regardless of records, the divisional games are usually hard fought and can go any way. With four very good/elite quarterbacks in the division, it’s clear the division is becoming a pass first division (along with the rest of the league for that matter).

Without further adieu, here is the 2018 preview for the NFC North.

1. Minnesota Vikings


Record: 13-3

Postseason Result: The Vikings were one game away from the Super Bowl. After a miracle play got them to the NFC Championship game, the Vikings were favored over the Eagles, but ended up getting wrecked by the eventual Super Bowl champs.

Offseason Acquisitions: 

  • QB Kirk Cousins(Washington)
  • DT Sheldon Richardson(Seahawks)
  • QB Trevor Siemian(Broncos)

Offseason Departures:

  • QB Case Keenum(Broncos)
  • QB Teddy Bridgewater(Jets)
  • QB Sam Bradford(Cardinals)
  • RB Jerick McKinnon(49ers)
  • WR Jarius Wright(Panthers)

Offense: QB Kirk Cousins is the big story line, signing a three-year, $84 million deal (fully guaranteed) to come to Minnesota and replace folk hero Case Keenum. Cousins has thrown for over 4,000 yards in three straight seasons entering 2018, but he has never thrown for 30 TD’s in a season. Expect that to change. WR Stefon Diggs is now a superhero in Minnesota after last season’s “Minneapolis Miracle” in the playoffs. Diggs has done nothing but produce in Minnesota since arriving, and got rewarded this off season with a five-year extension. Adam Thielen continues to develop into a top WR, breaking out last year for a 91-1276-4 stat line. Thielen and Diggs form the best WR duo in the division. Kyle Rudolph had a very “Kyle Rudolph-like” season last year, posting 57-532-8. Rudolph will remain the stalwart that he always has been. Dalvin Cook returns after tearing his ACL in Week 4 last year. Cook was looking like a stud before the injury, and Latavius Murray filled in admirably, rushing for 842 yards and eight TDs. Cook and Murray form a very explosive backfield. Cook could have a breakout season…The offensive line could be a weak spot. Case Keenum was the third-most pressured QB in the NFL last year, and the Vikings did very little to improve the unit, outside of drafting Brian O’Neill in the second round. Hopefully the unit can hold up long enough and give Cousins the time he needs in the pocket. Pat Shurmur leaves as offensive coordinator to become head coach of the Giants. John DeFilippo is in as coordinator and comes from the Eagles, where he was quarterback coach. He’s a young offensive mind and could boost the 23.9 points per game the Vikings averaged in 2017.

Defense: The front four is quite the fearsome foursome and will wreck havoc on opposing quarterbacks. Led by Everson Griffen (13 sacks), the unit adds FA Sheldon Richardson to an already strong unit. This unit will compete with Green Bay for the best front four in the division. Eric Kendricks is an absolute force in the middle, racking up 113 tackles in 2017. Kendricks and Anthony Barr are one of – if not THE – best tandems in the North, and should be again in 2018. Harrison Smith enters his 8th season at safety, and remains one of the soundest in the game at the position. Smith is a true quarterback of the defense, and paired with Andrew Sendejo at safety, form the best safety duo in the North. Xavier Rhodes is a top-level CB and pairs with Trae Waynes to form a duo that rivals the duo from Detroit. Together, Waynes and Rhodes broke up 21 passes, including four picks. The ageless wonder Terence Newman returns for a 16th season at age 39 after posting a quality season in a complementary role last year. Mackensie Alexander and Mike Hughes – who the Vikings drafted 30th overall this year – provide the Vikings secondary with a very high ceiling in terms of depth. Again, you have to load up at secondary when you have to face Aaron Rodgers twice a year.

Bottom Line: The Vikings will have to adjust to a new offensive coordinator, but with Cousins and Co. and an elite defense, the Vikings have a good chance to repeat as North champions in 2018.

Prediction: 13-3


2. Green Bay Packers


Record: 7-9

Postseason Result: N/A

Offseason Acquisitions:

  • DE Muhammed Wilkerson(Jets)
  • TE Jimmy Graham(Seahawks)
  • CB Tramon Williams(Cardinals)
  • TE Marcedes Lewis(Jaguars)
  • QB Deshone Kizer(Browns)

Offseason Departures:

  • WR Jordy Nelson(Raiders)
  • S Morgan Burnett(Steelers)
  • CB Damarious Randall(Browns)

Offense: Aaron Rodgers. Need I say more? When Rodgers went down to injury in week six last year, this team stunk. Without Rodgers, the Packers’ ship sinks. Running back is a strength after the Packers invested heavily in the position in the 2017 draft. Jamaal Williams was the leading rusher as a rookie (556 yards) and forms a very good duo with fellow second-year RB Aaron Jones, who was second on the team in rushing (448 yards). Together they form a very nice thunder and lightening-type combo, Jones far more athletic and explosive, Williams a nice bruiser. Longtime fan favorite Jordy Nelson is gone, which upset many fans. WR Davante Adams is becoming an elite receiver with fantastic open field/run-after-the-catch skills. He got a nice extension in the off season and is now the true number one in Green Bay. Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison are the only other receivers on the roster who had more than five catches last year. Equinameous St. Brown, J’Mon Moore, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling are rookies vying for roster spots, while new cult hero and fan favorite Jake Kumerow is definitely a name worth keeping an eye on and should make the 53-man roster. Free agent acquisitions Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis pair with Lance Kendricks to form what is probably the LARGEST tight end group in the NFL. Rodgers will love having the lengthy Graham (10 TD in 2017) as a red zone target…The Packers have the best left tackle in the game in David Bakhtiari, which is a good thing when you are blocking Aaron Rodgers’ blind side. Bryan Bulaga remains an injury risk. The interior is decent, but not super athletic…Joe Philbin returns as offensive coordinator. Some of the highest scoring Aaron Rodgers-led teams came when Philbin was offensive coordinator.

Defense: Mike Pettine is the new defensive coordinator after longtime coach Dom Capers was (finally) relieved of his duties. Pettine likes versatility in his players and loves cornerbacks who are physical, which Green Bay should have many players that fit that mold…Defensive line will be the strongest unit of the defense, and might be one of the best in the NFC. Mike Daniels, Kenny Clark and Muhammed Wilkerson will start, while second-year players Dean Lowry and Montravius Adams rotate in. Wilkerson should have a big year, especially playing under only a one-year, prove-it contract…LB Blake Martinez is a tackling machine and is becoming a household name. He had 144 tackles in 2017, tied for first in the NFL. Jake Ryan (81 tackles) is lost for the season with an ACL injury. The Packers drafted Oren Burks to provide depth only for him to get hurt in a preseason game, which prompted them trading for Colts linebacker Antonio Morrison. Health at the position will be worth keeping an eye on…The secondary has been upgraded and could become a very good group. Tramon Williams is back, both as veteran leadership and the fact that he can still play. Second-year pro Kevin King has a very high ceiling, but battled injuries in 2017. The Packers got two of the top corners in the 2018 draft, nabbing Louisville’s Jaire Alexander and Iowa’s Josh Jackson. Jackson led the NCAA in interceptions in 2017 with 8. Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix and Kentrell Brice form a decent safety combo, but again, health will be key.

Bottom Line: Another injury to Rodgers will mean another long season for Packer fans.

Prediction: 12-4


3. Detroit Lions

2017 Offseason & Review

Record: 9-7

Postseason Result: N/A

Offseason Acquisitions: 

  • OLB Devon Kennard(Giants)
  • TE Luke Willson(Seahawks)
  • TE Levine Toilolo(Falcons)
  • DT Sylvester Williams(Titans)
  • QB Matt Cassel(Titans)
  • RB LeGarrette Blount(Eagles)
  • LB Christian Jones(Bears)
  • LB Eli Harold(49ers)

Offseason Departures: 

  • TE Eric Ebron(Colts)
  • DT Haloti Ngata(Eagles)
  • C Travis Swanson(Jets)
  • LB Tahir Whitehead(Raiders)
  • TE Darren Fells(Browns)
  • CB D.J. Hayden(Jaguars)

Offense: Detroit is the second team in the division with a new head coach. Jim Caldwell was fired, and in comes former Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. Patricia learned under Bill Belichick and brings a winning mentality to the Lions, seeking their first division title since 1993…Matt Stafford had his seventh consecutive 4,000 yard season in 2017, and barring anything unforeseen, will have his eighth straight in 2018. Stafford just needs to learn how to win the “big games”…Golden Tate, Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, Jr, and T.J. Jones form a very good quartet of receivers. Jones, Jr, and Tate went over 1,000 yards receiving last year. The Lions could realistically have three receivers accomplish the feat in 2018…The running back room is a crowded one, featuring newcomers LeGarrette Blount (FA) and Kerryon Johnson (rookie), and holdovers Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick. Blount should be a good short yardage/goal line threat, while Johnson, Abdullah, and especially Riddick offer pass catching threats out of the backfield…Former first-round TE Eric Ebron is gone after not living up to the hype in Detroit. Enter veteran TE’s Levine Toilolo and Luke Willson as options to bring some life to the position. The 6’8” Toilolo should provide a great redzone/goal line option…Offensive line has been an issue for years in Detroit, but Matt Stafford may have his best to date in 2018. They have to replace departed C Travis Swanson, where Graham Glasgow will step in. They drafted the highest rated college center from 2017 in Frank Ragnow, who will start his career at guard.

Defense: Ziggy Ansah is back via the franchise tag and could have a monster year in his attempt to prove his worth for a big contract. He’s a good pass rusher, but can he stay healthy? He hasn’t played a full season since 2015…Tahir Whitehead is gone at linebacker. The team brought in Christian Jones from division rival Chicago, where he had 90 tackles last year. He’ll team up with newcomer Devon Kennard (FA) and second-year pro Jarrad Davis, who had a nice first season (96 tackles, 2 sacks)…The secondary used to be mediocre for many years, but now may be the strongest unit of the defense. Darius Slay is an elite corner, leading the league with 26 passes defended in 2017. Glover Quin and Quandre Diggs form one of the top safety duos in the NFC (139 combined tackles, 15 passes defended). Youngsters Miles Killebrew and Teez Tabor provide solid depth to the unit…Haloti Ngata is gone, but didn’t provide anything over the last two years anyway. A’Shawn Robinson is a monster (6’4″, 322 LB) in the middle and had a nice rookie season (53 tackles, 0.5 sack), and will now pair-up with FA acquisition Sylvester Williams, who is a monster in his own right (6’2″, 328 LB). The Lions could be a tough team to run against this year, especially with new defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni, who has been a defensive line coach for much of his career.

Bottom Line: If Ansah can stay healthy and not shut down due to any contract disputes, the defense could be elite and be key for a winning season. That’s a very big IF.

Prediction: 8-8


4. Chicago Bears

2017 Offseason & Review

Record: 5-11

Postseason Result: N/A

Offseason Acquisitions: 

  • WR Allen Robinson(Jaguars)
  • TE Trey Burton(Eagles)
  • K Cody Parkey(Dolphins)
  • QB Chase Daniel(Saints)
  • WR Taylor Gabriel(Falcons)

Offseason Departures:

  • LB Pernell McPhee(Washington)
  • WR Markus Wheaton(Eagles)
  • QB Mike Glennon(Cardinals)
  • OL Josh Sitton(Dolphins)
  • LB Christian Jones(Lions)

Offense: Enter new head coach Matt Nagy from Kansas City and new offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich from the University of Oregon. Nagy has worked under Andy Reid as offensive coordinator since 2016, and started calling plays during a five-game stretch in December of 2017, when the Chiefs averaged over 28 points per game. Helfrich and Nagy will give the Bears two great offensive minds with a lot of young, up-and-coming talent…Mitchell Trubisky enters year two, now under the tutelage of a former quarterback in Nagy. With many added weapons, Trubisky WILL break out in 2018…Jordan Howard is the number one running back and is a workhorse, but Tarik Cohen – “The Human Joystick”- will be the running back to watch. Cohen now has an offensive minded coach to fully utilize his talents…WR Allen Robinson enters the picture after tearing his ACL with Jacksonville last year. Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, rookie Anthony Miller, and holdover/unknown Kevin White give Trubisky MANY options at receiver. Add FA acquisition Trey Burton to the mix? Watch out for that Chicago passing offense this year. It will be explosive…Rookie James Daniels is a potential pro-bowler at guard and should replace the departed Josh Sitton. Veterans Kyle Long and Cody Whitehair solidify the interior on what could be one of the better lines in the division.

Defense: Quite possibly the biggest move during the Bears’ offseason was drafting hybrid linebacker Roquan Smith in the first round. Smith adds an absolute alpha male on the defense and a potential all-pro at linebacker. He could get triple-digit tackles and half a dozen sacks in his first year. Smith will be a catalyst for the defense and a fixture for years to come…CB Kyle Fuller got a big contract during the off season, and rightfully so. Fuller is young, and was near the top of the NFL last season with 22 passes defended. In a division with Aaron Rodgers throwing passes, keeping your top corner is a priority…Akiem Hicks is the best player on a weak and young defensive line and had 8.5 sacks in 2017. For the back end of the defense to have any success, the front four have to provide more pass rush in 2018 than they did last season.

Bottom Line: Things are looking up again in Chicago after a few years of mediocrity. 2018 may not be their year, but Nagy and Co. have a good, young base of skill players to build with and will surprise folks this year.

Prediction: 6-10


Predicted Division Standings:

  1. Minnesota Vikings(13-3)
  2. Green Bay Packers (12-4)
  3. Detroit Lions (8-8)
  4. Chicago Bears (6-10)

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