Note: “Sports Specs with Sam” is a column that will dive into the national sports scene.
Last season the Green Bay Packers won the NFC North division with a 13-3 record and almost everything went right for them in the regular season.
The team was able to avoid a sizable amount of injuries and won a lot of close games. Their favorable schedule also aided their success.
This season, it will be tough for Green Bay to repeat that outstanding record, but they are still the favorite to win this division again.
For starters, they have a much tougher schedule this year, which includes several road games against Tampa Bay, Houston, New Orleans and San Francisco, which are likely Super Bowl contenders.
They also did little in the draft and free agency to improve their offense. Aside from Devante Adams, they have very few weapons in the passing game.
They have a good core of running backs led by Aaron Jones, but the passing game is still the focal point of their offense as long as they have Aaron Rodgers, so it would have made sense to draft or sign some wide receiver help this year.
It is quite possible the Jordan Love draft pick will pay off in a couple years time, but it was definitely a questionable choice coming off of a season where they made the NFC Championship, and Aaron Rodgers is likely not going anywhere for several more seasons.
Last year’s second place finisher — the Minnesota Vikings — earned a wildcard spot and a win in the first round of the playoffs before losing in the Divisional Round to the eventual NFC Champs, the San Francisco 49ers.
The biggest headline move for Minnesota this offseason was their trading Stefon Diggs, the disgruntled star wide receiver, to the Buffalo Bills.
However, what may prove to be even more critical this season regarding whether they return to the playoffs or not is all of the departures they had on defense.
Everson Griffen, Linval Joseph, Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander, Xavier Rhodes and Stephen Weatherly all found new teams this offseason.
This will require their first round draft pick Jeff Gladney, a rookie cornerback, to step up and take on a huge role this season, despite the fact that Mike Zimmer historically tends to not like having rookies start in his secondary.
Even without Diggs, the Vikings have several dangerous weapons on offense.
They will rely on Justin Jefferson, a talented rookie wide receiver from LSU, to take on a major role in the passing game behind Adam Thielen.
Besides the wide receiver position, Irv Smith Jr. shows a lot of potential behind Kyle Rudolph at the tight end position and if he stays healthy, Dalvin Cook is one of the top running backs in the league.
Kirk Cousins proved he could win a playoff game last year, but he is best suited as a slightly above average performer at quarterback paired with a solid running game and defense.
If Zimmer can get the defense to perform at a high level this season after losing so many players it would probably be his best coaching job yet. If the defense can play solid Minnesota has enough firepower on offense to get back into the playoffs.
The Chicago Bears are coming off of a disappointing 8-8 season after their 12-4 campaign the year prior during which they arguably had the best defense in the league.
Last year their defense took a step back and despite their hopes that Mitchell Trubisky would have a breakout year at the quarterback position, his performance was very disappointing.
They traded for Nick Foles this offseason to compete with Trubisky for the starting job, but they recently named Trubisky the Week 1 starter.
Foles is coming off a short tenure in Jacksonville that both sides would love to forget, as he only started four games before being traded, one season after signing a four year, $88 million dollar contract.
The Bears still have a good defense and they signed Robert Quinn this offseason to make their front seven even more intimidating.
However, their offense with Trubisky or Foles at quarterback will not be good enough for them to be a serious contender.
The Detroit Lions had a frustrating season last year, as they started out 2-0-1 and could have easily won their first five games. Instead, they finished 3-12-1 at the bottom of the division.
Matthew Stafford was playing at a very high level until he got hurt. Unfortunately it is hard to have faith that he will be able to stay healthy for a full season in this stage of his career.
However, if he does stay healthy, they have enough weapons on offense that they could be dangerous if their defense can have a marginal improvement.
If everything goes right for Detroit this season they could sneak into the playoffs as a wildcard, especially with the new playoff format that increased the playoffs to seven teams in each conference.
Janssen can be reached at [email protected].