The NFC North has a reputation for often being a tough division, and an early look at the four teams suggests 2019 could continue the theme.
Michael Rand and Ben Goessling of the Star Tribune recently reacted to VegasInsider.com giving the Vikings, Bears and Packers all 2-1 odds for a division title. Rand said the odds "don't seem to give the Bears much respect" after going 12-4 last season. He wrote:
Minnesota won eight games last year. Green Bay won six. Case closed?
Well, not exactly. If you think the Vikings underachieved last year and will improve on last year's 29th-ranked offensive line (per Pro Football Focus), they'd be a good bet. Green Bay still has Aaron Rodgers. If he uses offseason criticism as motivation and he gets some help from his defense, the Packers could be right back in the mix.
Goessling commented that he believes the NFC North will be a closer race this season. He wrote:
[The] Lions' roster is improved, the Vikings hope they've got a better offensive identity, and the Packers still have Aaron Rodgers — but I'd still put the Bears at the top of the list, provided the loss of [Defensive Coordinator] Vic Fangio doesn't harm their defense too much.
Rand pointed out the difference in schedules for "what looks on paper like a very close race." In non-division opponents, based how the division played out in 2018, the Bears will play the Saints and the Rams, the Vikings will play the Seahawks and Falcons, and the Packers will face the 49ers and Panthers. He posed the question, "Might that schedule difference tell the story?"
Goessling said that while the variance could make an impact, the "most important thing" for Minnesota is to notch division road wins early on.
In the two years they've made the playoffs under [Head Coach] Mike Zimmer, they're 6-0 in NFC North road games; they've won just one division game on the road otherwise.
They've improved, but I wouldn't put them at the top of my list right now. It'd be the Bears for me, with the Vikings and Packers in a race to see who can get on solid footing quickly enough to challenge Chicago.
ESPN tabs roster 'holes' for all 32 NFL teams
The Vikings have now bolstered and added to their roster through free agency, the NFL Draft and the undrafted free agent pool.
Are there any spots on Minnesota's roster heading into the 2019 season that could use further strengthening?
ESPN recently took a look at each of the NFL's 32 teams and opined what their biggest "hole" is at this point in the offseason. Derrik Klassen tackled the NFC North and spotlighted the Vikings wide receiver group. He wrote:
Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen are arguably the best, most versatile duo in the league. Either one could be a regular All-Pro selection if they were not eating at each other's production. The group behind those two, however, leaves more to be desired.
Klassen pointed out that Minnesota drafted Dillon Mitchell and Olabisi Johnson in the seventh round but that it could be "overzealous" to expect them to be heavy contributors right off the bat. According to Klassen, perhaps the Vikings will implement more 12 personnel this season under Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski and Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Advisor Gary Kubiak.
It would not be surprising to see the Vikings favor two-tight end sets with veteran Kyle Rudolph and rookie Irv Smith, Jr., to offset the issue of receiver depth.
Klassen said the Packers, on the other hand, are lacking pass-catchers in general and could use some additional help at receiver and tight end. He wrote that "aside from Pro Bowler Davante Adams, the Packers wide receiver corps is thin and inexperienced."
Looking at the Bears and Lions, Klassen pointed to "defensive front depth" and right guard, respectively, as the rival teams' biggest needs.
Vikings CB competing to be fastest NFL player
During the break between minicamp and Vikings Training Camp, cornerback Trae Waynes – who ran a 4.31 40-yard dash at the 2015 NFL Combine – will compete with other players from the around the league in a race (literally) to crown one individual as the NFL's fastest player.
According to a commercial tweeted by former NFL wide receiver Chad Johnson, who appears to be hosting the special, Waynes will be joined by a number of other speedsters, including safety Kevin Byard, receiver Corey Coleman, receiver Ted Ginn, Jr., cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and receiver Robby Anderson.