The NFC North has been one of the quieter divisions this off-season, with only a handful of dramatic roster changes.
And what’s more, the changes that have taken place are more notable for the loss of high profile players than acquisitions.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise then, that the Green Bay Packers and Aaron Rodgers are still favourites to repeat the divisional success they enjoyed last season.
Here’s why you can expect them to be Kings of the North come January 2021…
The Minnesota Vikings have lost some veteran players
Wide receiver Stefon Diggs’ departure moving from Minnesota to Buffalo was one of the high profile moves of the off-season.
It wasn’t exactly a surprise – Diggs himself had voiced some displeasure and the Vikings are hard up for cash – but it still rocked fans.
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This was especially true given Diggs had had his second straight 1,000-yard season and was actually a career-high 1,130 yards showing he has no plans to slow down.
He averaged a superb 17.9 yards a grab and marked himself as one of the NFL’s elite offensive weapons.
They signed wide receiver Tajae Sharpe but have yet to plug the gigantic hole Diggs has left.
Minnesota also suffered heavy losses on the defensive side of the ball starting with DT Linval Joseph who was shipped to the LA Chargers on a two-year deal worth $17 million.
They also lost CB Trae Waynes who has been essential to the Vikings defence since he was drafted in 2015 and DE Everson Griffen.
Chicago Bears fails to improve their offence
The Bears’ biggest priority will be to sort out what is going on at quarterback after signing veteran Nick Foles to compete with Mitchell Trubisky.
Trubisky has failed to make his mark on the Bears’ offence since he was drafted in 2017 – in fact he’s trending backwards.
This is despite being surrounded by relative talent and being propped up by a champion-level defence.
Bears fans are hoping Nick Foles can come in and carry the offence to a passable level of productivity so the defence can do the rest – but that is far from guaranteed.
As far as weapons go, the Bears added over-the-hill Jimmy Graham at tight end but not much else.
It all depends on the draft for the Detroit Lions
With the draft kicking off on Thursday, the Detroit Lions are one of the most interesting teams with one of the more hefty pick packages.
Pundits are estimating they will take a top defensive player with their first pick – the third overall – to replace All-Pro cornerback Darius Slay who was shipped to Philadelphia.
They could also use it to boost their struggling defensive line – finishing with the second-worst adjusted sack rate in the league.
The Lions, who are coming off a 12-defeat season, have plenty of gaps to plug and the draft should help with that.
They’ve also acquired former Patriots boogeyman Jamie Collins and Desmond Trufant from Atlanta, but there is still a lot of work to be done and who knows how long it will take for the additions to gel?
The Green Bay Packers remain largely unchanged
The Packers’ advantage over the NFC North is largely due to lack of action from their rivals rather than an exciting off-season.
Yes, the Packers lost stalwart tackler Blake Martinez and RT Bryan Buluga but they have been replaced, at least in part, by Christian Kirksey and Rick Wagner.
But the rest of the roster remains largely unchanged from the NFC Championship-reaching team last season.
The Packers went 13-3 and won the NFC North by three games, followed by the Vikings at 10-3.
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Chicago came in third at 8-8 while Detroit trailed in last place with 3-12-1 and so it’s clear there is a way to go for any team in the NFC North to catch up to the Packers.
They still have several high-profile players who helped bolster their chances last season – including Preston and Za’Darius Smith and Adrian Amos.
On offence, they have blossoming running back Aaron Jones who caused plenty of problems for opponents last season and ever-productive wide receiver Davante Adams.
They do have some work to do in the draft, including another high profile weapon for Aaron Rodgers.
They acquired Devin Funchess at wide receiver to try and give Adams Allen Lazard some help but, after losing Jimmy Graham, tight end is still a position in need of some depth.
Luckily for Packers fans, this year’s draft class is deep at receiver and so it’s likely they will go some way to fixing the deficit on Thursday.
So there you have it – do you think the Packers will have some stiffer competition in the NFC North next season? Who do you think will come out on top?
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