Editor’s note: RJ’s views below are also reflected in “A Chester Minute” podcast “the Kings of the NFL Norths Offseason Preview”
Final Record: 13-3
Division Finish: 1st place
The Vikings are a team that really took the next step this year and was able to win the division and be one of the best teams in the NFL in 2017. They were one win away from being the first team to play a Super Bowl in their home stadium. However the dream fell short and like 31 other teams in the NFL they need to look at what they need to do in order to get to Super Bowl 53 in Atlanta. This is a team that has a lot of question marks going into this offseason and the biggest of them all is who is going to play quarterback. They started the season with Sam Bradford, however injuries have plagued him his entire career. Case Keenum ended up taking over for them and never let go of the reins even with Sam Bradford and former starter Teddy Bridgewater coming off of IR. Keenum played well, but I am not sure the coaching staff is sold on Keenum as the long term answer at quarterback especially for a team with as good a defense as they have. All three quarterbacks are slated to be free agents in 2018, so they will have to make their decision fast. I believe that the most likely solution for this team is to give Case Keenum the franchise tag and at least keep him around for another year, instead of signing him to a long term deal. I believe he has good rapport with the receivers currently on the Vikings. The franchise tag would allow the team to keep Keenum around while continuing to evaluate their long term answer at quarterback. Sam Bradford is probably the most talented quarterback on their roster, but I am not sure if he can hold up from a health standpoint as a solution for the Vikings. Bridgewater has similar issues coming off a devastating knee injury. Another option they could explore is to go all in on Kirk Cousins, but that would require committing major money to him long term, however it could be a consistent and stable upgrade to their current quarterback situation. No matter what, the path to finish first in the division will be much tougher in 2018 with Aaron Rodgers coming back fully healthy for the Green Bay Packers.
Final Record: 9-7
Division Finish: 2nd Place
The Lions are a team that I believe struggles to just get over the hump of being average to above average. I am a big believer in Matt Stafford. I think he is one of the top quarterbacks in the league and a strong leader. However the Stafford lead Lions have never been able to put it all together and be a team that I really see as a strong contender to make a run at the Super Bowl. They bring in a brand new head coach in Matt Patricia coming with a championship pedigree after being the defensive coordinator of the New England Patriots. I like that they chose to hire a defensive coach, because that to me is the largest need for this team. They really could stand to beef up the defensive line in this offseason. They finished 27th in the league in total defense this past season and a strong edge rusher or linebacker would fill a huge need for this team to be more competitive next season. Another area of need that I think they need to address is to get Stafford more of a running game to work with, something he has not had the benefit of in Detroit for a number of years. It would be interesting to see if the Lions make a run at Le’Veon Bell if he hits free agency. He would add a special dimension to this Detroit offense that already has strong receivers on the team and would make them be a scary offense to deal with. Other options at running back in free agency if Bell is too rich for them could be Dion Lewis from the Patriots and Carlos Hyde from the 49ers.
Green Bay Packers
Final Record: 7-9
Division Finish: 3rd Place
The Packers are a team that I believe is a Super Bowl threat every year, and for one simple reason, Aaron Rodgers. However there are two sides to that coin and we all saw the ugly side of that in 2017 when Rodgers went down with a broken collarbone, effectively dooming the Packer’s season. The bottom line for this team is they need to not be completely Aaron Rodgers dependant. I think that starts with addressing the defense. They were team that was in the bottom half of the league in terms of points and yards allowed last season. They need to improve on the back end and could possibly do that by adding a cornerback in the draft. They drafted Kevin King in the 1st round last year, but still need help there. If their defense becomes more stable that would go a long way in turning this team into the top team in their division and conference. Another position of need that could arise is wide receiver due to the fact that Randall Cobb could become a potential cap casualty for the Packers. They could look to free agency and maybe more so the draft in order to find a replacement there and another weapon for Rodgers. The bottom line is this team is poised to take back the NFC North, but they need to give Aaron Rodgers some help so that he can lead them to a division crown.
Final Record: 5-11
Division Finish: 4th Place
For the Bears this season is all about progression and improving under first year head coach Matt Nagy and second year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. To do that, I think they should give Trubisky a little bit of the Carson Wentz treatment and surround him with weapons on offense. The Bears desperately need some wide receiver help for the second year signal caller. They could look to the draft and potentially take Calvin Ridley out of Alabama. There are also some other receivers set to hit free agency like Allen Robinson from Jacksonville or Sammy Watkins from the Rams. They could also explore a potential trade for Jarvis Landry since he was franchised tagged by the Dolphins. The Bears have a pretty strong running game coming off last season and just need to find a way to put Trubisky in a position to be successful and grow. Other areas of need for them is help on the offensive line and in the secondary.