Football NFL

NFC North Preview: The Last Dance, Return of Hunter, Fields Watch and Knee Cap Bounties

The Packers were the Kings of the North from start to finish last year and they appear ready to pick up where they left off. Aaron Rodgers is back and training and it appears that him and his favourite target Devante Adams are embracing a ‘Last Dance’ mindset. The Packers seem destined to capture their third division championship in a row as this is their division to lose.

#1 GREEN BAY PACKERS – 12-5

In theory it’s hard to imagine any 37 year old QB coming off a MVP season to elevate their play the following year but that is exactly what I think AROD will do. Brady has proven that age is just a number for QBs, and Rodgers showed 0 signs of slowing down last season and has even more motivation this year. Both Rodgers and Devante Adam posted ‘cryptic’ tweets referencing the Chicago Bulls Last Dance implying that this is it for the two of them this season with the Packers.

Their connections was essentially unstoppable last season and with their mindset heading into 2021 plus an extra game to play, improving on their numbers from 2020 is very much within the realm of possibilities. Vegas win totals have the Packers over/under at 10 wins and I think they easily beat that. As a conservative Vikings fan I give the Packers 12 wins and 5 losses (1 of which coming at the hands of the Vikings) but this can be argued to be on the lower end of the scale in term of outcomes for this team.

#2 MINNESOTA VIKINGS – 9-8

Last year the Vikings defense was uncharacteristically horrendous. Usually the calling card for this team, the defense struggle mightily without premier Edge Rusher Danielle Hunter and a full cast of rookie/young corner backs. This year the team is getting Hunter and DT Michael Pierce (opted out last season for COVID) back along with newly signed Dalvin Tomlinson and former perennial Pro-Bowler CB Patrick Peterson. The boost to the DL will be a welcome sign as the Vikings struggled to get any pressure on the QB last season which is a big part of Zimmers game plan. The Peterson addition can pay dividends as it will allow the rest of the CB group to slot into their roles accordingly. I fully expect a much improved defense this year that will help the offense.

The offense last year was very efficient and was the reason that the Vikings remained competitive in the Wild Card race late into the season. While Kirk ‘Bubble Boy’ Cousins has yet to be that piece that pushes the team over the edge, he was good last season and he must maintain that level of play. Coupled with an improved defense, this team has a shot to compete for the Wild Card once again. Dalvin Cook was a monster last season and there is no reason to think he cannot do it again or possibly even build upon what he did. Adam Thielen has been a model of consistency and second year WR Justin Jefferson is coming off a record setting rookie season with plans of cementing himself as one of the leagues best WRs.

The real X-factor in the offense will be Irv Smith Jr who should act as the team’s defacto third receiving option. A former 2nd round pick out of Alabama, Smith has yet to even scratch the surface of his pass catching ceiling and with the departure of Kyle Rudolph, the opportunity for Smith’s breakout is there. If Irv can bring it this season, it will provide a lot of flexibility for this offense and give them a chance to repeat the success they had in 2020.

#3 CHICAGO BEARS – 5-12

The Bears will go through some growing pains this season, but everyone is waiting for Justin Fields first start of the season. The Bears start the season against the Rams, Bengals and Browns and it is conceivable that they start the season 0-3 before taking on the Detroit Lions at home in Week 4. If he has not already seen the field by that point, I can see this being the target date for Fields’ first start with a real chance to get his firs career win as well. However the party will be short lived as through Weeks 6 to 11 the Bears face the Packers (twice), Bucs, 49ers Steelers and Ravens.

The Bears defense has lost a bit of the allure it had a few season ago, however this is still a team built around Khalil Mack who can be a game changer at any moment. With Mack leading the charge the defense as a unit should still be relatively good, however the bigger issue is how resilient can this group be, because of the anticipated growing pains with Fields which will put a ton of pressure on the D to keep games competitive.

# 4 DETROIT LIONS – 2-15

Despite the win total I have for the Lions, they are an intriguing team to watch this season. I, like most people originally completely wrote off the Lions and even had them penciled in as possibly the first 0-17 team in NFL history, however after listening to a preseason preview from Emory Hunt he changed my mind a bit. The Lions are defying convention and have brought in an entire coaching staff of player’s coaches. With the projected problems this team is likely to face, keeping the players motivated and pumping them up play after play regardless of team success could possibly inspire the players to win a game or two this season.

While moral victories are nice, they don’t put points on the board and the real issue is that this team lacks talent on both sides of the ball. Their WR core is almost completely brand new to go with a new QB and the new coaching staff. TJ Hockenson should be one of the lone bright spots on offensive and both the team and their fans will hope for Jeff Okudah to take a big step forward in his progression. Outside of that there is not much to get excited about in Detroit. Unless you enjoy a nice medium-rare knee cap.

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