How Detroit Lions stack up in NFC North: Record predictions

Carlos Monarrez
Detroit Free Press
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Free Press sports writer Carlos Monarrez predicts records for the other teams in the NFC North heading into the 2018 season: 

Chicago Bears (7-9)

Why they're better than the Detroit Lions: They got rid of coach John Fox after three terrible seasons, including a 5-11 finish last year. The Bears hired Matt Nagy, 40, an offensive-minded rookie coach who is expected to get the most out of second-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky. As the offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs last year, Nagy ignited Alex Smith’s deep-passing game and used plenty of run-pass-option plays — a strength of the Bears last season that should only get better under new offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, an RPO expert from Oregon.

Can Mitch Trubisky carry the Chicago Bears to the playoffs?

Why they're not: This is a very young team that only has three players in their 30s. It’s going to be hard for players to lean on veteran leadership during a coaching transition and any difficulties that come up during the season. Trubisky also remains a work in progress, and even though a new scheme should benefit him, there could be some growing pains.

Swirling controversy: Outside linebacker Roquan Smith, the eighth overall draft pick out of Georgia and the SEC defensive player of the year, remains a mystery because of the limited practice he’s had while missing all of training camp during a contract holdout. Will he make up for lost time or will this be a lost season for him that the Bears can’t afford?

Biggest asset: The trade for outside linebacker Khalil Mack transforms the defense from good to possibly elite. Nagy was smart to retain defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, whose defense ranked 10th last year and ninth in scoring without a Pro Bowler. Mack is a great complement to Akiem Hicks and the rest of the pass rush, which had 20 sacks in the preseason.

Biggest need: The offense has to be better — much better — after it finished 30th overall and 29th in scoring with just 16.5 points per game last year. Trubisky played well toward the end of the season, and he should get help from free-agent receiver Allen Robinson (Orchard Lake St. Mary’s), a 1,400-yard Pro Bowler with Jacksonville in 2015. Jordan Howard, whose 2,435 rushing yards are the most by a Bears running back in his first two years, also should help spur the offense.

Green Bay Packers (12-4)

Why they're better than the Lions: Quarterback Aaron Rodgers is returning from a broken collarbone that cost him seven games last year and should make a world a difference to a team that finished 7-9 last year. The Packers brought back offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, revamped their playbook, and added potent weapons with free-agent tight ends Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis. Jamaal Williams seems to have emerged as the lead running back and ended plans for a committee approach.

Why they’re not: The defense has been too bad for too long and still needs to prove itself. Coach Mike McCarthy fired long-time coordinator Dom Capers and replaced him with Mike Pettine. In March, McCarthy offered this blunt assessment of his defense: “I’m sick and tired of our defense feeling like the stepchild. I mean, how many times do you have to tell them, ‘You’re not the stepchild?' ”

Swirling controversy: Now that Rodgers and the Packers have agreed on a four-year extension worth $33.5 million in new money, the focus is on McCarthy. He coached the Packers to a Super Bowl XLV victory, and he has posted a 121-70-1 regular-season record. But the Packers haven’t reached the Super Bowl a second time, and he has been blamed for wasting Rodgers’ career. He reportedly signed a one-year extension through 2019. But if the Packers don’t make the playoff this season with Rodgers healthy, McCarthy might be out.

Biggest asset: Rodgers is always a threat. But this season could provide him with extra motivation, not only to live up to that big contract, but also to make up for the 2017 lost season. Rodgers turns 35 in December, and he knows how fleeting anyone’s time atop the NFL can be. The last time he missed significant time was 2013, and the next season he was the NFL MVP.

Biggest need: The defense needs to take a big step. The Packers made several defensive upgrades, most notably by spending their first two draft picks on cornerbacks Jaire Alexander (Louisville) and Josh Jackson (Iowa). The two youngster join a secondary that is going to have to be much better than it was last year, when it allowed opposing quarterbacks a 102.0 passer rating and 67.8 percent completion rate — both franchise-worst marks.

Minnesota Vikings (11-5)

Why they're better than the Lions: They made an upgrade at quarterback by signing Kirk Cousins to a three-year, $84-million deal. They have promising running back Dalvin Cook back after he lost most of last year with a torn ACL. And they have one of the NFL’s elite defenses that led the league in most meaningful categories last season.

Why they’re not: The Vikings don’t have many holes on a team that finished 13-3, but there are question marks about how well Cousins can run an offense that needed a Minneapolis Miracle to beat the Saints last season — and that was under Pat Shurmur. This year, rookie coordinator John DeFilippo takes over and will have to get the most out of Cousins, who is 26-30-1 and lost the only postseason game he has ever played in — three years ago.

Swirling controversy: Will the DeFilippo and Cousins experiment work? DeFilippo was hired based off the work he did with Carson Wentz as the Philadelphia Eagles’ quarterbacks coach. But a new team, a new quarterback and a new division present new challenges. If DeFilippo can get even an average year out of Cousins and an offense that finished 11th last year and 10th in scoring, he should be hailed as a success.

Biggest asset: It’s too easy to say the defense. The truth is it’s Mike Zimmer who makes the Vikings go. He’s the mastermind behind the defense and a coach who always seems to get the most out of his players. Zimmer has worked well with everyone in the franchise, and especially with general manager Rick Spielman. That’s one of the reasons the Vikings were able to take Riley Reiff off the Lions’ hands and make him a cornerstone at left tackle.

Biggest need: The Vikings don’t need much. But they do need to finish the final six games strong, starting with a Week 12 game against the visiting Packers that could decide the division. After that, it’s a challenging December with three of five games on the road against the New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks and Detroit Lions.

Contact Carlos Monarrez at or follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.


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