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NFC North Should Provide Worthy Challengers for Packers

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NFC North Should Provide Worthy Challengers for Packers

The Green Bay Packers have won the NFC North five times in the last six seasons and as training camp sets to open in a couple weeks, they are the favorite to win it once again.

However, in recent years, the North has gotten tougher and tougher. The Detroit Lions, who have made three playoff appearances since 2011, have been on the rise, as have the Minnesota Vikings, who actually won the division crown in 2015.

The Bears … well as we all know, still aren’t very good, I won’t say they suck (whoops just did) and they look a year or two away from becoming an actual threat. So that leaves the Lions and the Vikings, two playoff-caliber teams, as the biggest threats to dethrone Green Bay as division champs.

The Lions, it seems, have been knocking on the door of a division title for years, they just can’t seem to breakthrough. In 2013, when Aaron Rodgers was injured, they had a prime opportunity, only to blow it and allow the Packers to steal it at the end, thanks to Rodgers Week 17 game-winner in Chicago to Randall Cobb.

In 2015, the Lions put together a very good campaign and even met Green Bay for the division title in Week 17, only to fall short at Lambeau Field, despite Rodgers hobbling on an injured ankle.

And last season, the Lions built a big lead in the standings (three games up with three to go), only to choke and see Rodgers and the Packers win the crown at Ford Field in Week 17 as the “run the table” prediction was fulfilled.

At some point, based purely on chance, you would think Detroit would win this division. Yet, as long as Rodgers is around and has something to say about, it’s going to be difficult. However, the Lions defense is solid and Matt Stafford has grown into a legit franchise quarterback. 

The Lions are a legitimate threat to the Packers in the NFC North, but only if they improve. Last season, despite going 9-7, they had a point differential of -22, which means they won some close games, but were far from a dominant or even a good team.

A five-game winning streak got them to 9-4. Then, Detroit lost its last three games, four if you count the playoffs and that was that.

The Lions have to learn how to avoid collapses and how to win big games, until that happens, they are a threat to Green Bay, but not as serious as Minnestoa.

In terms of defense, the Viking have the best in the division. Harrison Smith, Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Danielle Hunter, Everson Griffen, Linval Joseph and Xavier Rhodes are some of the key names on that side of the ball. And they are only getting better. 

On top of having one of the best defenses in the NFL, the Vikings also have a quarterback. Sam Bradford set an NFL record in completion percentage last season (71.6) and with the continued development of weapons like Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen and Laquon Treadwell (2016 first-round pick), plus the addition of running back Dalvin Cook, the offense could be scary.

Of course the offensive line still has question marks. But tight end Kyle Rudolph is another big weapon in the passing game and with Cook, the running game should experience a resurgence.

Beyond that, the Vikings have already won the NFC North title recently. Head coach Mike Zimmer has made beating the Packers his number one goal and his team has bought into that.

And after beating the Packers in Week 17 of the 2015 season for the division title and starting 5-0 last year, it looked like the North might be Minnesota’s for a second straight year.

Yet, the Vikings collapsed, even worse than Detroit, finishing the season 3-8 and losing 38-22 at Lambeau in Week 16 in a game that wasn’t even that close.

However, in terms of 2017, the Vikings appear poised to rebound and if there is one team in the North the Packers should fear above all others, it’s Minnesota.

With a dominant defense, a steady quarterback and a rookie-of-the-year candidate at running back, the Vikings have potential, the question is, will they be able to live up to it?

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (17) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

croatpackfan's picture

No, they will not...

There is one important rule! If you are looking to some team to jump over them, you'll never achieve that goal. When you start to look at your own business you may achieve whatever you want. And that is that simple!

Savage57's picture

Where the Lions and Vikings will fall short is at the most important position on the field, with the one player who has the ability to tilt it, heavily, in his team's favor.

The Packers have that guy in spades, the others are still trying to get there. Stafford has skills, but he doesn't have 'it'. Bradford just doesn't have the arm talent, nor does Bridgewater. The Bears? Please.

As long as the Packers have AR, they control the division and the only way someone else gets it is if the Packers fall short of their capability and give it away, not someone else taking it from them.

They own the North. Period.

Chris Peterson's picture

I agree. As long as Rodgers maintains a high level of play the Packers will continue to dominate the division. However if the Vikings can play him the way they did in week 17 2015 and week 2 last year, it could mean trouble. I also think Cook is going to be a difference maker for them. I really wanted the Packers to find a way to draft him. But I still think if Rodgers is Rodgers, the Packers win the North.

GatorJason's picture

Minnesota has built an outstanding defense through the draft but their offense is incredibly fragile with Bradford at QB and Dalvin Cook at RB. We all know Bradford's physical problems and the weak Viking OL. The new element is the addition of a very dynamic runner and receiver in Dalvin Cook. DC will be like Marshall Faulk on the field and Brandon Marshall off the field. He'll break the Viking's hearts with his on-field heroics combined with his off-the-field engagements/distractions that may spell the demise of the entire team.

Bearmeat's picture

The Vikings are the only serious threat to Green Bay in the NFCN. If their OL can improve to mediocre, they're going to make the playoffs. Notice I didn't say win the division. Not with Sam Bradford when we have Rodgers - even if their D is light years better than ours. :)

The Lions were not a good team last year. They won FIVE games by 1 point last year. FIVE. All of which they trailed in the 4th quarter. Yes, their OL is better, but they have Ansah and a bag of balls on the front 7, and Slay and a bag of balls in the secondary. They had less of a running game than GB did last year, and GB actually did something to fix it. The Lions are only hoping that Riddick and Abdullah stay healthy.

The Bears are better than 3-13 IF they stay healthy. They were absolutely wrecked by injuries last year. They could threaten .500 IF they get average or better QB play. Their front 7 is very good and their secondary has probably gone from atrocious to below average this offseason. Jordan Howard is the real deal, and Kevin White has the physical tools. Their OL is a strength.

My guess:

GB - 12-4. 500 points plus scored. 380 given up.
MIN - 10-6. 400ish points scored. 300 given up.
DET - 6-10. 360 points scored. 420 given up.
CHI - 5-11. 320 points scored. 370 given up.

Slim11's picture

I think the order of finish is very likely.

Detroit could do as well as 8-8 and it wouldn't surprise me. Chicago could also do better IF they have a stable QB situation. They created a QB situation for themselves by drafting Trubiski as soon as they did.

When they signed Glennon I thought it was a good move for them. But drafting Trubiski put them in a situation where many (not just fans!) will demand Trubiski start because (1) he is a #1 pick and, if he plays well in the preseason, they can say he might be better than Glennon or (2) Glennon IS so bad, there's no other choice. The Bears staff POd Glennon by drafting Trubiski. No matter the assurances they've given Glennon, he'll be looking over his shoulder.

I'm glad the Bears made that decision instead of the Packers.

GB's offense has the potential be as good as the 2011 team. I can see some very high scoring games for them. I hope MM develops more of an attitude with the offense instead of going "prevent O" in the third and/or fourth quarters.

Spock's picture

The Packers shouldn't need to 'fear' any team, especially this year. This offense looks far more intimidating than anything else in the NFC North!

Chris Peterson's picture

I think the Packers offense is going to be the best in the north by far but the Vikings also could have one of the best defenses in the NFL. Hopefully, Green Bay will improve a lot defensively. I think they will. We shall see.

Tarynfor12's picture

When your rivals cannot take advantage of the numerous brain farts the Packers have perpetrated on themselves, much of any boast of improvement and threat of the rivals, reek of their own self flatulence.

Otto's picture

The offense hasn't been the issue in GB for years. Without the defense improving, they will continue to be a bridesmaid.

LAS VEGAS-TOM's picture

Including this season, how many seasons is AR under contract in GB?
LVT

flackcatcher's picture

When the CBA went into effect, it changed the very nature of the NFL in terms of team makeup. To put it bluntly, we don't know these teams, and will not have a handle until a good quarter of the season is over. Bugs the hell out of me. That said, I agree with Bearmeat overall. In this NFL, line play and secondary tells the tale. In our division every team with the exception of Green Bay is lacking in one or the other. If the Packers stay healthy(a big IF) they win the north walking away.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

Those 7 defensive players named in the article: all of them would start for GB. Looking at their roster, one or two more players would start for GB.

croatpackfan's picture

To be honest, I did not get you...

Chris Peterson's picture

I think the Packers defense will be improved but yes many of those guys would start in Green Bay. But the same same could he said about Packers offensive players starting for Minnesota.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

Very true, Chris. QB, 2 or 3 WRs, 3 OL, 1 TE, and there would be some battles, like Monty versus Cook/Murray.

egbertsouse's picture

I used to think that the Vikings were a QB away from being a Super Bowl contender. They had a good organization and I thought that Zimmer was a good, no-nonsense, tough head coach. Now, I'm not sure. Zimmer is reminding me more of Forrest Gregg, a tough-talking screamer who exerts no real discipline and enables bad actors. Can you imagine what the Hoodie would have done had his secondary refused to execute the game plan? They would be gone. Zimmer just bitched to the media.

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