Is the NFC North the toughest division in the NFL?


The Vikings toppled the Packers to finish top of the NFC North in 2017. (Photo credit:

Is the NFC North toughest division in the NFL? There is a case to be made for it. Each team within it addressed their biggest area of need in the off-season. Two of the teams – Minnesota Vikings and the Green Bay Packers – are legitimate Super Bowl contenders. Meanwhile the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears are trendy picks to make a deep playoff run if things fall into place.

Minnesota Vikings (13-3)

Draft class: Mike Hughes (defensive back), Brian O’Neill (offensive tackle), Jalyn Holmes (defensive end), Tyler Conklin (tight end), Daniel Carlson (kicker), Colby Gossett (offensive guard), Ade Aruna (defensive end), Devante Downs (linebacker).


Mike Zimmer coached his side to the number two seed in the NFC. Their season went from magical to tragic during their playoff run, however. A play so unlikely it gained its own name – the Minnesota Miracle – sent the Vikings to the NFC Championship game at the expense of the New Orleans Saints. They then suffered a 38-7 humuliation at the hands of eventual Super Bowl winners Philadelphia Eagles.

Kirk Cousins was the prized free-agent during the offseason. Minnesota wooed the former Washington Redskins quarterback with a fully guaranteed three-year $84 million contract. Cousins addition should make the offense even more explosive. Wide receiver Adam Thielen earned an All-Pro nod while Stefon Diggs inked a five-year $72 million extension during training camp.

This is without factoring in running back Dalvin Cook, whose rookie season was cut short due to suffering a torn ACL. The former second-round pick dazzled before the season-ending injury.

On defense, General Manager Rick Spielman worked his accounting magic and retained all the defensive stars, as well as adding to the depth by drafting cornerback Mike Hughes and adding Sheldon Richardson via free agency. Defensive coordinator George Edwards guided his unit to the number one total defense. Reports coming out of the Minneapolis camp is they are on course to repeat that feat in 2018.

Should Minnesota pick up from where they left off they could be a juggernaut in the NFC. They are no longer plucky underdogs in their own division, there are expectations now.


Detroit Lions (9-7)

Darius Slay is a star player for the Lions. (photo credit:

Draft class: Frank Ragnow (center), Kerryon Johnson (running back), Tracy Walker (safety), Da’Shawn Hand (defensive end), Tyrell Crosby (offensive tackle), Nick Bawden (full back).


Detroit have always felt on the cusp of becoming a powerhouse within the division. Quarterback Matthew Stafford has demonstrated his quality repeatedly. However, the lack of a run game and holes on defense has made his task of giving the Lions a post-season victory tougher.

New Head Coach Matt Patricia and General Manager Bob Quinn were aggressive in upgrading their running back group. Three-time Super Bowl champion LeGarrette Blount has come onboard and Kerryon Johnson was drafted in the second round to give the offense balance. Pair a budding running game with a stout offensive line, the results should allow Stafford to be more efficient when throwing the ball and get easier looks from opposing defenses.

Detroit’s defense has been underrated in recent seasons. They boast two of the more unsung players in the league with Darius Slay and Glover Quinn patrolling the secondary. Ezekiel Ansah will play on the franchise tag this year, he registered 12.5 sacks in 2017 – he should be motivated to replicate that tally in hopes of a new long-term deal. Veteran defensive lineman Haloti Ngata was added through free agency to bolster Patricia’s defensive options.

The Lions have been a middling team for a long time, but they are working hard to shed that image. Patricia’s task is to get back to playing January football, no easy task at all with a loaded division. Should the Lions improve, will it be enough to dislodge Minnesota or Green Bay?


Green Bay Packers (7-9)

Green Bay pre-game in week three against the Bengals. (Photo credit:

Draft class: Jarie Alexander (defensive back), Josh Jackson (defensive back), Oren Burks (linebacker), J’Mon Moore (wide receiver), Cole Madison (offensive guard), JK Scott (punter), Marquez Valdes-Scantling (wide receiver), Equanimeous St. Brown (wide receiver), James Looney (defensive end), Hunter Bradley (long snapper), Kendall Donnerson (linebacker).


Green Bay lost Aaron Rodgers in week six of the 2017 season to a broken collarbone. With that, their Super Bowl hopes blew up in smoke. Changes were made in the offseason and the Packers overhauled their defense with Mike Pettine coming in, and a host of on-field personnel switches.

2017’s team was flawed before Rodgers was downed, however. There were questions along the offensive line and the defense was haemorrhaging points and yards.

Jarie Alexander and Josh Jackson were drafted in the top two rounds, veteran Tramon Williams returned to the Packers in a teardown of the secondary. There are promising reports on Burks at linebacker, too. Muhammad Wilkerson was a big-ticket free agent signing to make the defensive line more menacing.

On offense, a new tight end was signed. Jimmy Graham joined Green Bay on a three-year contract. His red zone presence will add another element to Rodgers’ passing attack. Jordy Nelson left in an emotionally charged way and General Manager Brian Gutekunst targeted speed to kickstart the offense. Valdes-Scantling and St. Brown will elevate the tempo of the passing offense.

There is room for great optimism heading into 2018 and yet there shall still be question marks. Green Bay is no longer the ruler of the division and will have to be greatly improved if they are to challenge Minnesota’s crown.


Chicago Bears (5-11)

New Head Coach Matt Naggy (left) has a talented roster. (Photo credit:

Draft class: Roquan Smith (linebacker), James Daniels (center), Anthony Miller (wide receiver), Joel Iyiebuniwe (linebacker), Billy Nichols (defensive tackle), Kylie Fits (linebacker), Javon Wims (wide receiver).


This team could be a sleeping giant. A new dynamic Head Coach has joined to be paired with an exciting, young quarterback, an improving defense and an excellent running game. The Bears finished 5-11 a year ago but there were signs that the team was slowly starting to come together.

Allen Robinson signed with the team on a three-year $42 million deal which will give Chicago the passing threat to compliment its run game. Anthony Miller was drafted to add more quality to the wide receiver corps. Jordan Howard is a terrific running back who keeps the Bears on schedule and the offensive line is underrated.

Naggy also has a hungry defense he can work with. Akeem Hicks was an underrated star last year and Leonard Floyd is a force off the edge. Roquan Smith, the eighth overall pick, is drawing comparisons to Patrick Willis. Smith adds a fresh element to the front seven and give defensive coordinator Vic Fangio even more flexibility in his scheme.

Their arrow is pointing up but there is still a fair question to ask: Will they make the playoffs this season?

Green Bay has a returning Aaron Rodgers, the Vikings have a star-studded defense and the Lions have looked to address their run game. It is entirely possible that the Bears could show signs of progress, and still end up with a losing record.

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