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3 Expert Takes: State of the NFC North

Posted Apr 12, 2018

The Vikings Entertainment Network headed to the West Coast to visit NFL Network.

Vikings.com’s Mike Wobschall caught up with multiple NFL Media analysts to discuss the state of the team and the division.

The Vikings voluntary offseason program is scheduled to open on April 16 at sparkling new Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center, and the NFL Draft will be held April 26-28.

The NFC North has undergone a considerable number of significant changes this offseason.

The Bears and Lions have new head coaches, and the Packers have a new general manager and two new coordinators.

Matt Nagy replaced John Fox in Chicago. He hired Mark Helfrich as offensive coordinator and retained Vic Fangio as defensive coordinator.

Matt Patricia replaced Jim Caldwell in Detroit. Patricia retained Jim Bob Cooter as offensive coordinator and hired Paul Pasqualoni as defensive coordinator.

Brian Gutekunst became the general manager in Green Bay, and Head Coach Mike McCarthy hired former NFL head coaches Joe Philbin and Mike Pettine to coordinate the Packers offense and defense, respectively.

The Vikings, fresh off their second division title in three seasons, filled the departure of Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur by hiring John DeFilippo.   

Teams’ rosters also experienced changes during free agency.

Chicago released Pernell McPhee, Willie Young, Quintin Demps, Marcus Cooper, Markus Wheaton and Mike Glennon.

The Bears added Trey Burton, Taylor Gabriel and Allen Robinson, along with Chase Daniel and Earl Watford.

The Lions countered the departures of tight ends Eric Ebron and Darren Fells by bringing in Luke Willson and Levine Toilolo. Detroit also signed LeGarrette Blount.

Green Bay released Jordy Nelson, signed Jimmy Graham and brought back Tramon Williams, who played for the Packers from 2007-14. Gutekunst also traded Damarious Randall in an exchange for DeShone Kizer.

The Vikings biggest acquisitions were quarterback Kirk Cousins, with Case Keenum, Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater departed in free agency, and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson.

Richardson is in line to start next to Linval Joseph; Tom Johnson and Shamar Stephen both departed in free agency, along with running back Jerick McKinnon.

With so much turnover in the division, Wobschall asked NFL Network’s Andrew Siciliano, James Jones and Cole Wright about the outlook for 2018.

“I think it’s fascinating that the Packers went out and did the free agent thing this year with their new GM,” Siciliano said. “I don’t know how much Jimmy Graham makes a difference. I think he can still certainly play. He had 10 touchdowns [in 2017] and can play; [the questions are] how long it takes to incorporate him with Aaron Rodgers and how he changes the run game, if at all. A lot of people tell you, you watched the Seahawks and you knew when they were running, because Jimmy Graham wasn’t on the field.”

Siciliano said he thinks the Bears “still need some time, but I’ve seen crazier things,” alluding to the frequency of teams making the postseason the year after not appearing in the playoffs.

Jones, the former Packers receiver who spent eight of his nine seasons in the division, had particular interest in the moves made by Chicago.

“You watch what the Chicago Bears did, especially on the offensive side of the ball, and then you have an offensive-minded headed coach, I think they’re doing some good things over there,” Jones said. “And then you’ve got the Lions and you’ve got Matthew Stafford. Whenever you have him behind center, you’re always going to have a chance. Like I tell people all the time, division games are hard to win.”

Wright said he thinks the NFC North will be tough this season.

“With Aaron Rodgers being back in the fold, I know a lot of Green Bay fans are setting the bar [high],” Wright said. “Matthew Stafford alongside Matt Patricia [in Detroit], they brought LeGarrette Blount in, so we’ll see how things go with whichever way they decide to go in the draft.”