Last season, the Bears took the NFC North division for the first time since 2010.
If Chicago doesn't rise to the top again this year, which division opponent is most likely to dethrone it? NFL Media analyst Gil Brandt believes Minnesota has the best chance – although he emphasized that it won't necessarily be easy.
Brandt recently ranked all eight division winners from 2018 "according to the likelihood that they will be replaced by a challenger," placing the Bears fifth on the list. He wrote:
Chicago's search for a reliable kicker has continued into the offseason in the wake of Cody Parkey's infamous missed kick. Trade acquisition Eddy Pineiro would seem to be the current front-runner for the job, but he still must win it in the preseason. At defensive coordinator, the Bears are swapping Vic Fangio, who left to become the Broncos head coach, for former [Colts Head Coach] Chuck Pagano, who has a proven track record as a quality defensive mind. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky is on track to take another step forward in Year 3. Don't forget that Trubisky only made 13 starts in college – he'll keep growing as he continues to gather experience in the NFL, especially with the help of [Head Coach] Matt Nagy.
Brandt then added that the Vikings are best poised to re-claim the NFC North. He wrote that Minnesota struggled in games last season, but he believes in Kirk Cousins at quarterback "and a stout defense."
The improved offensive line will be key for Minnesota and Cousins. Like the Packers and Lions, the Vikings have reason to believe they'll perform better in 2019 – but so do the Bears.
Behind Chicago on Brandt's list, meaning he believes they're less likely to have a challenger within the division, were the Saints (NFC South), Cowboys (NFC East) and Patriots (AFC East).
Spielman ranked in NFL's top 10 general managers heading into 2019 season
Rick Spielman is entering his eighth season as the Vikings general manager and 14th overall with the organization.
Spielman has been hard at work this offseason, most recently bolstering Minnesota's roster through the NFL Draft (with a team-record 12 picks) and signing additional free agents, and is highly respected around the league.
On Tuesday, Rotoworld's Patrick Daugherty ranked all 32 general managers across the league, placing Spielman seventh on the list. Daugherty wrote:
The Vikings general manager since , Spielman's teams have made the playoffs five times. Four times, they failed to return the following season. The bigger the bet, the greater the consequences, and Spielman's aggression has arguably made for inconsistent results. It could also simply be bad beats for a general manager who has typically drafted well and not tended to throw money away in free agency […]. One of these days, an all-in Spielman is going to hit a full house on the river, and the dealer will slide a Lombardi his way.
Daugherty's top six listed GMs were (starting with No. 1) New England's Bill Belichick, Philadelphia's Howie Roseman, Pittsburgh's Kevin Colbert, the Rams Les Snead, Indianapolis' Chris Ballard and Atlanta's Thomas Dimitroff.
The Vikings kicked off their first OTA practice of the offseason on May 21 at TCO Performance Center.
Minnesota native, former NFL tackle weighs in on Kubiak-Dennison team
Ryan Harris grew up a Vikings fan, and now the former NFL tackle – and Cretin-Derham Hall standout – is weighing in on two of Minnesota's new coaches, Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Advisor Gary Kubiak and offensive line coach/run game coordinator Rick Dennison.
Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press explained that Harris played three seasons for Kubiak in Houston and Denver, including helping the Broncos to a Super Bowl 50 win to cap the 2015 campaign. Tomasson wrote:
Kubiak, now assistant head coach/offensive adviser for the Vikings, dispensed advice to Harris that had more to do with just football. Harris uses it now as a radio broadcaster, when giving speaking engagements around the country and at his home in suburban Denver.
Harris grew up a big Vikings fan and hoped to play for them one day. That didn't happen, but now he can follow two of his favorite coaches with the Vikings.
Harris played six seasons in Denver and Houston with Rick Dennison as his offensive coordinator or offensive line coach.
"Both are great coaches," Harris told Tomasson. "I had great success with both and consider both to this day people I could call on if I need anything. … Any time you can surround your team with championship-level knowledge of the game of football and how to manage players and put them in position to win, you're going to do it."
Harris thinks Kubiak will help improve a team that ranked 20thin the NFL in total offense last season. He doesn't believe there will be any friction with [Offensive Coordinator] Kevin Stefanski.
"In my experience with leadership, people are either 'who' or 'what' people," Harris told Tomasson. "I know from working with Gary Kubiak, he is a 'what' guy. He could care less about who gets the credit."
Harris also expects the Vikings to improve the offensive line with Dennison.
"Rico's an analytics guy," Harris said. "He really demands a lot from his players, and he's very vocal in practice. Excuses aren't a part of his makeup."