Can Packers defend divisional crown again?

The NFL is back, and Sportsnet is breaking down everything you need to know about the 32 teams looking to book a trip to Super Bowl LVII.

Kickoff for the regular season is set for Thursday, Sept. 8 and today we look at the NFC North…

CHICAGO BEARS
2021 record:
6-11, third in NFC North, missed playoffs for second consecutive season

Notable roster additions: QB Trevor Siemian, QB Nathan Peterman, FB Khari Blasingame, WR Byron Pringle, WR N’Keal Harry, OL Lucas Patrick

Notable roster subtractions: QB Andy Dalton, QB Nick Foles, RB Tarik Cohen, RB Damien Williams, WR Allen Robinson, WR Marquise Goodwin, TE Jimmy Graham, DE Khalil Mack

The good news: Matt Nagy is no longer their head coach. That’s probably the biggest upgrade to the entire team, despite the fact that he was never the one on the actual field. At the end of last season the Bears owed $43 million in guaranteed money to three different quarterbacks after Nick Foles, Andy Dalton and Justin Fields were all in the fold for Matt Nagy’s offense. With Foles and Dalton both gone, and Fields able to thrive under the play calling of Luke Getsy who has made it his mission to ensure Fields has chemistry with WR1 Darnell Mooney as well as the Bears other new additions. Fields threw for 1,870 yards and seven touchdowns last season even with a questionable offensive line giving him minimal time in the pocket.

There are still questions about decision making when it comes to Fields – although the play-calling responsibility is no longer being controlled by Nagy helps – but Mooney did it with 81 receptions for 1,055 yards and four touchdowns. David Montgomery is poised to have another big season as well after compiling 849 yards and seven touchdowns last season for the struggling Bears.

The bad news: The Bears have dealt with on-field and off-field departures of key players like WR Allen Robinson, DE Khalil Mack and now will be working with first-year head coach Matt Eberflus. Even though the Bears have found bodies to fill the positions, they have downgraded severely at both positions. During their inconsistent, offensively questionable years, the Bears’ defense was one of their shining lights, as Mack was the key cog in the 12-4 season in 2018 where the Bears won the NFC North. Mack even still managed six sacks for 50 yards in the seven games played in 2021 before he missed the rest of the season with an injury, and his presence on the Bears is almost impossible to replicate.

Super Bowl Odds: +15000
Division Title Odds: +1500
Total Wins: O/U 6 wins (Over -105/Under -115)

DETROIT LIONS
2021 record:
3-13-1, fourth in the NFC North, missed the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season

Notable roster additions: WR DJ Chark, DE Aidan Hutchinson, WR Jameson Williams, CB Mike Hughes, TE Garrett Griffin, S Kerby Joseph

Notable roster subtractions: QB Tim Boyle, LB Trey Flowers, LB Jarrad Davis, TE Devin Funchess, DL Bruce Hector, RB Justin Jackson

The good news: Due to their 3-13-1 record with a talent-depleted roster in 2021, the Lions were able to pick up two of the biggest stars in the 2022 NFL draft in defensive end Aidan Hutchinson and wide receiver Jameson Williams. Hutchinson helped Michigan win their first Big Ten title since 2004, and defeat rivals Ohio State for the first time in a decade en route to Michigan’s first appearance in the College Football Playoff. Williams was one of the top receivers on an uber-talented Alabama team who made it to the national title game before falling to fellow SEC powerhouse Georgia. The two are bound to make an immediate impact – although Williams may not play until October due to a torn ACL in the national championship – but can help with some of the Lions’ lack of talent.

In head coach Dan Campbell’s second season, Ben Johnson was promoted to offensive coordinator, after Anthony Lynn was let go before Week 10 and Campbell assumed play-calling responsibilities. After the change, the Lions saw Amon-Ra St. Brown erupted, averaging 11.2 targets, 8.5 catches, 93.3 receiving yards and 0.8 touchdowns per game over the Lions’ final six games. Having a new offensive scheme to top with their young, talented receivers in Williams and the addition of DJ Chark will help them win more than three games this season.

The bad news: With so much investment and upgrades in the talent around him, 2022 is a make-or-break season for Jared Goff, who saw the quarterback he was traded to win a Super Bowl with his former team in the Los Angeles Rams. Goff has been disappointing in Detroit, posting the 24th worst QBR in the league last season at 39.5. Goff improved in the second half of the season after their bye week when their OC situation changed, but started with an 8-to-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio through the team’s first eight games in 2021. Areas such as yards per attempt, completion percentage and passer rating all improved as the Lions made changes, and as they continue to prioritize offense, the pressure once more falls on Goff to show he is still a quality NFL quarterback.

Super Bowl Odds: +15000
Division Title Odds: +1000
Total Wins: O/U 6.5 wins (Over -155/Under +130)

GREEN BAY PACKERS
2021 record:
13-4, first in NFC South, lost divisional round to San Francisco 49ers

Notable roster additions: WR Sammy Watkins, DT Jarran Reed, DL Devonte Wyatt, LB Quay Walker, T Rasheed Walker, WR Romeo Doubs

Notable roster subtractions: WR Davante Adams, OL Lucas Patrick, WR Equanimeous St. Brown, OT Billy Turner, LB Za’Darius Smith, CB Chandon Sullivan

The good news: The Packers retained three players crucial to the team having any success as they managed to keep quarterback Aaron Rodgers, tight end Robert Tonyan and cornerback Rasul Douglas. With Rodgers losing his favorite wideout to the Las Vegas Raiders, the Packers will be relying on Tonyan to replicate his 2020 season in which he made 52 catches for 586 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. He appeared in just eight games in the 2021 season before tearing his ACL, compiling just 204 yards, but was still more than he tallied in both the 2018 and 2019 seasons.

Rodgers had a standout year in 2021 winning NFL MVP after recording a passer rating of 111.9, completion percentage of 68.9 and throwing 13 games with two-plus passing touchdowns and zero interceptions. He also tallied a 37-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio, which was the third-highest mark in a single season in NFL history. The Packers locking up Rodgers after he led them to a third straight NFC North title in 2021 gives them one of the primary tools to make a Super Bowl run for this upcoming season.

The bad news: When the Packers needed to make cap space to retain other parts of their roster, one of the moves they had to make was moving two-time All-Pro receiver Davante Adams. In eight seasons, Adams made five Pro Bowls and tallied 73 touchdown catches with the Packers, including a career-high 18 touchdowns in 2020 and another 11 touchdowns on 123 receptions for a career-high 1,553 yards in 2021.

The Packers also lost Za’Darius Smith, and while injuries saw him play in just one game in 2021, the previous two years he was named to two Pro Bowls and tallied 26 sacks. Both of the Packers’ losses are significant to their squad, and while they still have strength in those areas, their absence will be felt.

Super Bowl Odds: +1000
Division Title Odds: -175
Total Wins: O/U 11 wins (Over +100/Under -120)

MINNESOTA VIKINGS
2021 record:
8-9, second in NFC North, missed playoffs for third consecutive season

Notable roster additions: LB Za’Darius Smith, LB Jordan Hicks, G Chris Reed, G Ed Ingram, DT Harrison Phillips, CB Chandon Sullivan, TE Johnny Mundt, WR Jalen Reagor

Notable roster subtractions: QB Kellen Mond, G Wyatt Davis, OL Jesse Davis, DT TY McGill, OT Timon Parris, WR Myron Mitchell, LB Anthony Barr

The good news: There are few receivers in NFL history who have had as successful a first two seasons as Justin Jefferson has, and he looks to make even more history in his third. He is the only player in NFL history to record 3,000 receiving yards over his first two seasons, and needs just over 1,100 yards this year to set the NFL record for receiving yards in a player’s first three seasons. Jefferson recorded 1,616 yards for 10 touchdowns last season, averaging 15 yards per reception. Even with Jefferson’s dominance as a sophomore, fellow wideout Adam Thielen managed to nab 10 touchdowns and 726 yards of his own, with the Vikings having one of the strongest receiving corps in the league.

The Vikings extended quarterback Kirk Cousins ​​to help Jefferson and Thielen out once again, as Cousins ​​threw for 4,221 yards and 33 touchdowns during the 2021 season with just seven interceptions thrown. Cousins ​​now will have even more potential to unlock under new head coach Kevin O’Connell, who is much more offensively minded than former head coach Mike Zimmer who prioritized the Vikings’ defense.

The bad news: The Vikings defense last season wasn’t anywhere near it should be – the additions of Za’Darius Smith, Harrison Phillips and Chandon Sullivan should help, but the Vikings defense was in need of a rebuild. In 2021, the Vikings allowed touchdowns on nearly one-third of opposing drives at 32.4 percent in the four minutes before halftime or the end of the game.

The NFL average was only 12 percent, and the second-worst team allowed just over 20 percent. The allowance of so many “garbage time” touchdowns ranked 686 out of 686 teams since the year 2000, and if the Vikings want to use their new look on both sides of the ball efficiently, they’ll need to stop giving other teams easy touchdowns in the process.

Super Bowl Odds: +3500
Division Title Odds: +250
Total Wins: O/U 9 wins (Over -135/Under +115)

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