It's a brave new era in the NFC North.
Aaron Rodgers, who led the Green Bay Packers to a Super Bowl championship and 11 playoff berths, is now aiming to lead a turnaround of the New York Jets. Jordan Love is now following in Rodgers' footsteps as the Packers' starting quarterback after riding the pine for the better part of three seasons.
Meanwhile, the Detroit Lions boast a loaded roster with star-caliber players all over the field on both sides of the football. And the Chicago Bears continue to build around quarterback Justin Fields, who seems primed to improve on a strong 2022 campaign.
Then, of course, there's the reigning division champion Minnesota Vikings, who are entering the dawn of what general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah has labeled a "competitive rebuild."
All of that is to say that there really are no clear-cut favorites in the NFC North, setting the stage for a compelling 2023 season ahead.
What League Insiders Are Saying:
"That division is going to be wide open. The Packers have the best defense, but also a really inexperienced quarterback. I think Detroit could come back to earth because Jared Goff played out of his mind last year. Justin Fields is the real wild card, but I think he steps up in a big way for the Bears this year. Minnesota can score some points offensively, but I'm not sure that's enough for them." — NFC front office executive
Offseason Addition That Will Shape the Race: D.J. Moore, Wide Receiver, Chicago Bears
D.J. Moore's arrival adds a game-altering dimension to the Bears' passing game, and he's a legitimate weapon for quarterback Fields to attack defenses vertically. Despite wildly inconsistent quarterback play last season, Moore caught 63 passes for 888 yards and seven touchdowns, prior to being traded by the Carolina Panthers this offseason.
Moore's presence on the outside should create opportunities for fellow receiver Darnell Mooney and tight ends Cole Kmet and Robert Tonyan.
But, most of all, he gives Fields the chance to flourish with his arm, having finished 2022 as the league's seventh-leading rusher with 1,143 yards and eight touchdowns.
Projected NFC North Standings
1. Detroit Lions 11-6
Head coach Dan Campbell has successfully set the foundation of a hyper-competitive culture in the Motor City. And after consecutive draft classes that have produced core playmakers on both sides of the football, the talent is in place for this team to become a reflection of its attitude.
General manager Brad Holmes brilliantly filled needs on the 2023 team early in the NFL Draft, with the addition of electrifying running back Jahmyr Gibbs, who should contribute immediately; inside linebacker Jack Campbell; tight end Sam LaPorta; and arguably the premier safety in the class, Brian Branch. But Holmes also made a long-term investment in the Lions' future by scooping up potential franchise quarterback of the future Hendon Hooker.
Those key new arrivals join a core that finished last season strong, knocking on the doorstep of the postseason.
Dominant edge rushers Aidan Hutchinson and James Houston combined for 17.5 sacks as rookies, and they anchor a ferocious defense built in Campbell's image. The Lions have the pieces in place to make a lengthy playoff run in 2023.
2. Chicago Bears 9-8
General manager Ryan Poles and the Chicago Bears orchestrated one of the most impressive offseasons in the league. They invested in difference-makers around third-year quarterback Fields and plugged significant holes on defense with premium players at their respective positions.
Moore arrives as the field-stretcher the Bears' offense has sorely lacked; he has inspired confidence throughout the building and opens up Chicago's vertical passing game in a way that Fields hadn't previously been able to exploit. Mooney's return, along with the addition of tight end Tonyan opposite Kmet, gives Fields a bevvy of weapons that should elevate Chicago's passing game to become a worthy complement of the league's leading rushing offense in 2022.
Defensively, Poles bagged two of the top linebackers available in free agency — T.J. Edwards and Tremaine Edmunds, who have the potential to restore the roar to the Monsters of the Midway. Edwards and Edmunds were Pro Football Focus' No. 5- and No. 6-rated linebackers last season and were significant upgrades to the middle of the Bears' defense.
Chicago has the pieces in place so if Fields takes the next step in his development, the Bears should make a legitimate run at the division title.
3. Minnesota Vikings 8-9
Minnesota seems to be straddling the line between a full-fledged tear-down and trying to make one more postseason push behind quarterback Kirk Cousins, all while being one year removed from winning the NFC North crown and falling to the New York Giants in the NFC Wild Card round.
Certainly, wide receiver Justin Jefferson gives the Vikings the chance to score every time he touches the football. Likewise, tight end T.J. Hockenson's five red zone touchdowns make him a legitimate weapon inside the 20-yard line. But Minnesota's decision to move on from veteran running back Dalvin Cook and wide receiver Adam Thielen signal a rebuild is underway for the Vikings.
Will Cousins and Jefferson be enough to lift the Vikings into contention? Time will tell.
4. Green Bay Packers 6-11
Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst is all in on Jordan Love. Everything about Green Bay's season, and the franchise's trajectory, hinges on Gutekunst being right.
There is certainly no shortage of young talent around Love in the Packers' offense, especially at wide receiver. Christian Watson proved capable of being an instant star as a rookie, with Rodgers posting a perfect 123.3 passer rating on his 65 targets. Meanwhile, rookie tight end Luke Musgrave is an intriguing and physically imposing presence who could boost Love and the offense's red zone efficiency.
However, even with a talented defense that features the likes of Kenny Clark, Preston Smith, Jaire Alexander and Rasul Douglas — who will help the Packers punch a bit above their weight — there is simply too much youth and too many question marks for this team to compete for anything meaningful in 2023.
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