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Published September 22, 2023
2023 Season Outlook: NFC North
Written by Alex C.
The most historic set of teams – bundled up into one section – perfectly describes the NFC North. Some of the longest-running teams in the league can be traced back to this division, yet there remains quite the power struggle – especially in this day and age. It seems like the hierarchal structure we once saw in place was immediately flipped on its head after this past offseason. Now, it’s a standoff for who can survive as the chances at taking the crown are equal heading into the 2023 season.
It’s clear that the division won’t be the most the competitive, given the majority of teams are re-tooling their rosters to find the best fit. This leaves the window for the North wide open for every team. The Lions are clear favorites to win their first division title since 1993, but the Vikings, Packers and Bears aren’t going down without a fight. With new and familiar faces all around, it’s going to be an exciting time to see who emerges as the NFC North leader this upcoming season.
Previous Record – 13-4
The Vikings finished last season with a very unconvincing three-seed placement in the NFC, capitalizing off of an explosive offense that picked up whenever the defense lacked. It was tough for Vikings fans to watch games comfortably as every match came down to wire, but their luck ultimately ran out in the Wild Card of the 2022 playoffs with an upset loss against the New York Giants. Now this Vikings team is looking much different, but carries the same expectations they set with their 13-4 record from last season. The only problem is – this new Vikings squad looks unequipped to match their success from the previous year. Free agency losses and roster cuts have set this roster back further than what meets the eye and now the team is going to have to overcome a larger hurdle in order to get back into the playoff race.
Free agency for the Vikings started off as horribly as anyone could imagine. Right as it began, they lost key pieces on defense including defensive nose tackle Dalvin Tomlinson, defensive end Za’Darius Smith, linebacker Eric Kendricks and cornerback Patrick Peterson. All four players helped provide stability to this defensive unit and while it did underperform throughout the last season, there’s no doubt that the departures will cause a collapse. The Vikings were able to bring in Brian Flores to help restore the defensive foundation to this team, but Flores is going to have a lot of holes to patch in this unit. Fortunately, the Vikings were able to pick up corner Byron Murphy Jr. and defensive end Marcus Davenport to help bolster the new defensive unit. On offense, the team lost two previous pillars in wide receiver Adam Thielen and running back Dalvin Cook. While Thielen’s play has regressed a bit with the emergence of Justin Jefferson, losing Cook is a big hit on the offense due to his major role in a dynamic run game. Sure, the contractual structure didn’t necessarily fit – but the VIkings lost a consistent weapon on offense that showed up in clutch moments.
While the grand majority of the original roster took a big hit, the new wave of rookies have some big shoes to fill. The Vikings weren’t very active in this year’s draft, but the team made a great decision in taking USC wideout Jordan Addison in the first round. Addison’s speed is the perfect compliment to Jefferson’s crisp route-running, fueling an already efficient offense. They took a chance on another USC product with corner Mekhi Blackmon being drafted to the team in the third round. Blackmon wasn’t a priority when skimming the rankings for corners in this stacked draft class, but the rookie has a chance to learn the ropes behind a solid set of players in the secondary. Aside from the Addison pick, the Vikings didn’t make a big impact in the 2023 NFL draft which may hurt the team as they gear up to compete in this division.
A lot of noise surrounded the 2022 Vikings as their explosive offense helped create some of the best moments of the season, but it was clear this 13-4 finish would be very deceiving. As the team has entered their first two matches of the season, the Vikings are struggling to pick up on the momentum they cruised with last year. Turnovers have been the burden of a team who looks to have an efficient offense, but the defense is failing to pick up the slack in big moments. Run-heavy teams are going to continue to feast on the Vikings defense if they can’t get it together, and Kirk’s inconsistent play isn’t going to help much either. There’s no doubt that he has developed into a decent quarterback in the regular season, but the flaws in his play concerning turnovers are really starting to shine again. If the Vikings can limit this issue and miraculously tie together this defense, then they may have a chance to compete for the division.
Season Outlook Grade – C+
Previous Record – 9-8
For the first time, you can feel the shroud of hope surrounding the Detroit Lions as they’ve emerged as the clear favorites to win the division this year. They were able to rally to a 9-8 finish last season, narrowly missing the playoffs while knocking Aaron Rodgers and the Packers off their fictional throne. Despite missing the postseason by a last-minute Seattle win, the hype surrounding the Lions was at an all-time high – but in order to match these expectations, Detroit had to get busy this offseason to fill the holes in their roster, especially on defense.
Just as expected, Detroit was relentless in the offseason, picking up an absurd amount of weapons. The Lions lost running back Jamaal Williams and wide-receiver D.J. Chark to free agency, so the short-term answers were found in the signings of Chicago running back David Montgomery and Jaguars receiver Marvin Jones Jr. Offensive signings were kind of slow, but Detroit picked up the pace on defense – pickups included corners Cameron Sutton and Emmanuel Mosley, as well as Super Bowl-fresh safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson. This came at a cost, however, as the Lions departed with their 2020 first-round corner Jeff Okudah, who was a great player but struggled to stay on the field due to injuries. Nonetheless, the Lions’ offseason was very good, giving the fans a product to look forward to watching throughout the 2023 season.
Upon first glance, the Lions’ draft picks could be seen as underwhelming. Despite the needy requirements in the secondary, they swung at taking Alabama running back Jahmyr Gibbs with their twelfth pick and Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell with the eighteenth pick. Many figured these choices were where the Lions had made their inevitable missteps, but the two played sufficient roles in a stunning Week 1 victory over the reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. Gibbs looks to be the long-term answer at running back, but Detroit should definitely consider giving him a good majority of the reps as the illusive back has already made his mark on this offense in just two games. The Lions were also able to pick up Alabama safety Brian Branch with great value in the second round and quarterback Hendon Hooker to play a sufficient back up role to Jared Goff. Their drafting garnered a lot of mixed reception but in retrospect, Detroit took a lot of good swings in the draft. Some of the picks were a bit unorthodox for the place in which they were selected, but the team has a solid bunch of rookies to help develop and contribute to a potential superstar-caliber team.
If you were to tell anybody before this last year that the Lions would have a good chance at making a deep playoff run – and even a Super Bowl appearance – you would have definitely been met with laughs for a good twenty minutes. The Lions have made significant progress from their 3-13 finish in 2021 and managed to completely turn this franchise around from another season of insufferable incompetency. With Rodgers out of the division and the Vikings projected to take a step back from last year, the door for the Lions’ division title is wide open. Dan Campbell has built quite the gritty squad with an old-school mindset, so the Lions will make a relentless push towards the NFC North crown.
If they’re able to pull it off, there’s a good chance they could make a lot of noise in the playoffs and steal a win in the wild card. Still, this is the Lions we’re talking about – but it’s still looking like things are finally changing for the better in Motor City.
Season Outlook Grade – A
Green Bay Packers
Previous Record – 8-9
After what seemed like ages of Rodgers trade rumors, the Packers finally found a fitting partner and sent their star quarterback to the New York Jets. In just the blink of an eye, the future of the franchise lies in the lap of Jordan Love – a quarterback the Packers took in the first round of the 2020 draft, which indirectly led to Rodgers’ trade request. Green Bay are going into 2023 with a clean slate and look to return to contending form with Love at the helm. With what we’ve seen from him thus far, there’s definitely a lot of potential for the Packers to return to glory – but the road back to success isn’t going to be easy.
We’ve covered the Rodgers trade already, which is the biggest offseason move in the league as a whole. However, he didn’t head over to the Jets solo, recruiting a good chunk of his colleagues from the Packers to go with him. The list of departures now includes receivers Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb as well as safety Adrian Amos. Aside from that, they had a very quiet offseason. Not much was achieved, which is quite odd when you have a potential break-or-bust situation going on for your season. They could’ve at least tried to push for some help at receiver, but this is Green Bay we’re looking at here.
Speaking of which, they made some questionable decisions on draft day, such as swinging for Iowa linebacker Lukas Van Ness in the first round. Don’t get it twisted, the Iowa product is a great player and was projected to go in the first round – however, adding on to the linebacker position was the least of the Packers’ worries going into the draft. Green Bay also stocked up on tight ends, taking two with Luke Musgrave being the standout choice. This should give Love the security blanket he needs as he steps into the starting role, but the hope is that he can connect early with Jayden Reed, who was taken shortly after. These picks weren’t necessarily terrible, but the Packers missed out on cashing in on a stacked receiving class in the first round. The selections were nice, but Green Bay scared a few fans with where they placed their priorities.
Two games into the regular season and the Jordan Love experiment is going very well for the Packers. While the team succumbed to a last-minute defeat to the Falcons in their week 2 matchup, there’s a lot of potential in this squad that was deemed to be in shambles following Rodgers’ departure. However, solid performances in two different matches doesn’t necessarily prove that taking Love in the first round of the 2020 draft was the right choice. He still has the entire season ahead of him to prove he’s the man in Green Bay, but with what we’ve seen from the Utah product, there’s no doubt the Packers will see another era of great quarterback play for many years to come.
Season Outlook Grade – B+
Previous Record – 3-14
The Bears were one of the most underwhelming teams in the NFL last season, ending with the worst record in the league. Just like the beginning of any disastrous Chicago run, do you point the blame at the coaching, quarterback play, defense, or all of the above? The Bears showed a lot of promise with the offseason moves they’ve made, but from what we’ve seen they’re still failing in all aspects. Flipping the number one overall pick to build around Justin Fields was a great move on paper, but the results are beginning to show otherwise.
As soon as the season ended, Chicago got to working on their roster immediately. The Bears dealt their number one pick in the 2023 draft to Carolina, who coughed up a second-round pick in the 2023 and 2025 drafts, a first-rounder in the 2024 draft and their most valuable asset in receiver D.J. Moore. To say Chicago cashed in on this trade is an understatement. In addition, the Bears were able to sign linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards, who helped fill the void of Roquan Smith who was traded halfway into the 2022 season. The Bears were also able to add defensive ends DeMarcus Walker and Andrew Billings to continue building upon an underachieving defense. On paper, Chicago’s offseason activity was great, given the team was able to fill their immediate needs on defense as well as nab a dangerous weapon for Fields.
The momentum didn’t stop in free agency either as the Bears had themselves quite the active draft to compliment their offseason moves. Chicago nabbed some much-needed help on the offensive line with their first round pick Darnell Wright. The lack of protection was a pestering issue, as we saw Fields have to constantly improvise as pressure arrived immediately. They also picked up additional selections with cornerback Tyrique Stevenson to help out on the secondary and running back Roschon Johnson to help uplift the run-game. The Bears’ draft class isn’t the snazziest, but this is a solid core of players who have a chance to contribute to this defeated franchise. Surely it can’t get worse than last season, right?
And of course, Chicago proves us wrong with a staggering 0-2 start in the beginning of the season with two matchups they could have easily won. The offense seems very stagnant with OC Luke Getsky drawing up some of the most questionable plays one could see in the National Football League. Not only are there red flags on coaching, but Fields is making some questionable decisions himself. There’s a clear disconnect with the two as Fields is missing the reads and making the wrong plays where he would usually step up. A once promising Bears team is beginning to look like a disaster – but stop me if you’ve heard that one before. The schedule isn’t going to get any easier either, with the entire division taking a step forward as Chicago is taking two steps back. Whether it’s Fields or the coaching staff arising as the main issue, Chicago looks to be in the exact same scenario they constantly find themselves in every year. There’s no telling what the future holds for the Bears, but it isn’t looking too pretty.
Season Outlook Grade – C-