If you’re the kind of person who enters into the NFL season looking for drama, welcome to the NFC North.
I don’t mean the kind of drama one gets when two talented, well-coached teams face off in a game with the season on the line. I don’t even mean the kind of drama you get with a redemption story or the last shot at the playoffs for one of the game’s greats.
I’m talking about Mean Girls drama. Riverdale drama. The kind of drama you get when your Hall of Fame quarterback holds a years-long grudge against his wide receiver for saying “hi” to a former teammate — even though Brett Favre sucks as a person and I completely support the shunning of anyone who is friendly with him — and your head coach refuses to give up play-calling, despite his offense looking like they’re playing bumper cars out there.
So… if you’re into, like, middle school drama, I give you the NFC North.
Let’s start with the “top” of the pyramid, as it were, in both accumulated emotional terror over the offseason and roster talent: the Green Bay Packers. As much as I’ve been conditioned by the circumstances of my birth to loathe Packers fans, I actually felt a bit sorry for them this off-season, as the rumors began to swirl that Aaron Rodgers was on his way out in Green Bay, and we got all kinds of videos of Rodgers with a tiny pony-tail singing Taylor Swift in Hawaii and hosting Jeopardy and God knows what else. I was convinced it was over, too.
Alas, the Packers restructured his deal and Rodgers will return for another year, which pretty much makes it a lock that Green Bay will win the NFC North again. Because no matter how poorly-constructed the rest of that roster is, and no matter how often I yell “these guys aren’t that good!” at my flat screen, Green Bay always seems to find a way to win. Sure, they need a much more consistent performance from their defense (the Pack ranked 19th in the league in rushing yards allowed per game and 21st in points allowed per game in 2020) and, with All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari starting the season on the PUP list, an aging Rodgers could be more vulnerable to the pass rush — but somehow I feel like I’m going to wind up watching an inevitably injured and immobile Rodgers find Davante Adams in the end zone again and again and again this season. Same as it ever was.
But Green Bay doesn’t corner the market on quarterback shenanigans. Not with the personification of a bottle of Nayonnaise under center. Kirk Cousins has entertained the masses this off-season by holding court on COVID vaccinations, including his theory that remaining behind plexiglass will keep his unvaccianted ass from getting COVID. And, as my colleague Sam Fels previously pointed out, Cousins is nowhere good enough to be flaunting his unvaccinated status around town. Did I mention the Vikings were, at least at one point, the least vaccinated team in the NFL? I’m sure that won’t cause any problems this season.
I’m not sure anyone knows what to expect from Minnesota this season, least of all me, and I live with a Vikings fan. Cousins and company started off 1-5 last year, which feels par for the course any time Minnesota is expected to do well. This team either dramatically over-achieves or wildly under-achieves, and you just don’t know what kind of season you’re getting from Minnesota until around Week 9 or 10. Expect the offense to be run-heavy behind Dalvin Cook, and also because Cousins is their starting unvaccinated QB. The Vikings made a serious effort to upgrade their defense this offseason, bringing in edge-rusher Danielle Hunter and cornerback Patrick Peterson, and building what could be one of the best defenses in the NFL. Still, so much of the Vikings’ success depends on Cousins’ ability to get the ball into the hands of receivers Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson, and that’s if Cousins manages to stay off the COVID list, which is going to require copious amounts of plexiglass.
Meanwhile... who’s on first?
Which brings us to the Chicago Bears. It wouldn’t be September without a quarterback controversy in Chicago. It just feels right to us — it’s the way we like it. We were weaned on Harbaugh vs. McMahon vs. Tomczak, and heading into the season with a clear number one starter is strange and terrifying for us. Thank God for head coach Matt Nagy then, who has a clear QB1 in rookie Justin Fields, but has decided that Andy Dalton will be the starting QB in Week 1, for… reasons. Perhaps the biggest question mark for the Bears this season is whether anyone will be able to figure out Nagy’s system/playcalling. So far, Chase Daniel is the only Bear to have unlocked that achievement, and Nagy, after giving up play calling for a few games last year, has apparently taken his “DO YOU” laminated sheet back. Which means it’s anyone’s guess if any of his plays will actually move the ball in the forward direction.
Meanwhile, RB Tarik Cohen may not be ready for Week 1, due to a slow rehab from a torn ACL, and David Montgomery didn’t prove to be the pile-moving bell cow the Bears needed. But I’m not convinced Nagy has any intention of running the ball anyway, so chances are that doesn’t matter. What does matter is that, while the Bears futz around and try to get the offense going, a once-elite defense is aging quickly. The Bears cutting ties with cornerback Kyle Fuller for salary cap reasons adds some uncertainty to an already shaky secondary. But don’t worry, I’m sure Andy Dalton will put up plenty of points on (checks notes) … the Rams’ defense in Week 1.
Finally, we have the Detroit Lions. What can you say about the Lions that we haven’t heard before? Let’s see … they have a new head coach in Dan Campbell who talks about biting people’s kneecaps as if that’s a normal thing to bring up in your introductory press conference. They’ve swapped out the long-suffering QB Matthew Stafford for Jared Goff without, I think, having any idea who Jared Goff actually is. Is he the wunderkind (shoutout to Nathan Shelley!) of his first few NFL seasons? Or was that all Sean McVay? Goff will have a solid offensive line working in front of him, and may also thrive under the lack of a spotlight in Detroit, though that certainly wasn’t the case in Goff’s preseason appearances. Even so, the Lions have finished last in the division for three straight years, and despite the presence of promising young talent like like tight end TJ Hockenson, right tackle Penei Sewell, and cornerback Jeffrey Okudah, it’s hard to see them as anything but a long-term project, no matter what Jared Goff thinks.
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