We take a look around the NFC North to see what the Vikings closest competition has going on…
Despite finishing with a 10-6 record last season, the Bears decided to move in a new direction in terms of their head coach. Out is long-time coach Lovie Smith and in is former Vikings running backs and quarterbacks coach Marc Trestman (pictured), who joins the Bears after coaching the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL from 2008 through 2012.
One longstanding issue for the Bears has been their offensive line, which they tried to address this offseason by signing free agent tackle Jermon Bushrod and drafting Oregon guard Kyle Long in the first round. That should provide improved protection for the ultra-talented but inconsistent Jay Cutler, who is entering the final year of his contract.
On defense, most of the same names return, but a man synonymous with the Bears for the past decade – Brian Urlacher – retired after failing to reach an agreement to re-sign with the club. To not see No. 54 patrolling the middle for the Chicago defense will be an adjustment for everyone.
Speaking of the Bears defense, they scored a whopping nine touchdowns in 2012, which led the NFL. With Urlacher out of the mix and a new defensive coordinator (Mel Tucker) at the helm, can they repeat that success in 2012?
The Bears get a pair of home games to start 2013, but both are against playoff teams from a year ago, starting this Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals, a team many believe will win the AFC North and could make a Super Bowl push. The Bears then host the Vikings in Week 2 before heading out on the road.
It seemed like the Lions were a team on the upswing after a playoff appearance in 2011, but after a 4-4 start to last season, things went downhill in a big way as the Lions dropped their final eight games. In those eight losses the team gave up over 31 points per game.
The interior of the Lions defensive line remains stout with Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, but they revamped around those two. Cliff Avril departed for Seattle via free agency and in his place the team drafted Ziggy Ansah (pictured) with the fifth overall pick and brought in veteran free agents Jason Jones (Seattle) and Israel Idonije (Chicago). Many of the names remain the same in the team’s secondary, though, so they will rely on getting more pressure on the quarterback to solve their defensive issues.
Offensively, much like with the Vikings and
Reggie Bush joins the team’s backfield and, assuming he stays healthy, should provide a nice alternative to Johnson for QB Matt Stafford, who signed a three-year, $53 million extension with the Lions this summer.
As Vikings fans know, the Lions open at home this Sunday against the Vikings, who beat Detroit twice last season. After Sunday, four of their next five games are away from the Motor City.
When you have Aaron Rodgers, it’s easy to see why a team would shy away from running the ball and focus on the air attack. However, this offseason the Packers have tried to address their lackluster running game by drafting a pair of backs in the first four rounds of the draft, including former Alabama star Eddy Lacy (pictured). Last season’s leading rusher, DuJuan Harris, is out for the season with a knee injury, so veteran James Starks sits atop the depth chart as of now, but look for Lacy to become the guy sooner than later.
Green Bay’s passing attack should still be among the best in the league but it will have a new look without veterans Donald Driver and
The Packers finished 11th in total defense last year and bolstered that unit with first-round pick Datone Jones, a defensive end out of UCLA. Clay Matthews missed a quarter of the season and still had double-digit sacks, so the team’s defense should be formidable again.
The Packers have arguably the toughest schedule in the NFL to open the season, and it starts this weekend where last season ended for them in San Francisco against the 49ers. From there they host the Redskins and then travel to Cincinnati.