Logical outcome: Green Bay repeats
The Green Bay Packers have won this division each of the last three seasons. They’re the only team in the NFC North with a proven quarterback, and a recent history that includes a good deal of winning. Once Brett Favre took over as starting quarterback in 1992, the Packers’ decade-plus as an irrelevant franchise ended and they reasserted their place as one of the best franchises in the NFL.
They have been a perennial playoff team for most of the last 30 years and have run roughshod over their division foes. The Chicago Bears, Minnesota Vikings, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers — for those who still remember the NFC Central — have had their moments but this division has mostly belonged to the Packers since Fox became one of the NFL’s main television partners.
With no Davante Adams this season, and Aaron Rodgers partaking in psychedelics at nearly 40 years old, the Packers are still the clear favorites. When Rodgers shouted “I own you” to the Soldier Field crowd, the message was just as relevant to the people on the Michigan/Canada border, and in the communities surrounding those 10,000 lakes in Minnesota.
There’s a strong defense and running game supporting Rodgers and the Packers’ reshaped receiving corps. They should walk to a fourth-consecutive NFC North championship, unless a young quarterback decides that it’s his time to shine.
Surprise alternate outcome: The Chicago Bears’ offensive line isn’t as bad as you think
That Cleveland Browns Week 3 game was awful last year. The Bears lost by 20, and it looked like the offense was fishing with pool noodles the entire afternoon. They managed to gain just 48 yards of total offense and put six points on the board that day. That game, and the Week 7 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, were disasters that made those who watched the Bears believe that the offensive line was ruining Justin Fields.
However, the unit was not nearly as bad as it looked in those two horror-flick-worthy performances. Per ESPN stats, the Bears’ offensive line was ranked 11th in run-block win rate and sixth in pass-block win rate. Pro Football Focus ranked the Bears’ offensive line at No. 22, and the first sentence in their explanation was: “There were games this season in which the Chicago offensive line couldn’t block anybody, but overall it wasn’t as bad as those low moments.
The word out of Bears camp is that Fields is much improved this year and he showed it in the preseason, especially in the final game against the Browns. Changes were made to the Chicago offensive line with Lucas Patrick at center — there’s a good chance that he will start Week 1 even after the thumb injury — also Teven Jenkins was moved inside to right guard and rookie Braxton Jones will start at left tackle. This group doesn’t have to be the best in the NFL but if it shows improvement from last season, Fields could look on Sundays like the player he was on Saturdays in 2019 and 2020 for Ohio State. If he gets enough support to play like that, the 2018 No. 2 overall high school player in America could be in line for a Patrick Mahomes/Lamar Jackson type of Year 2, and that could vault the Bears to the top of the NFC North.