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2023 Best-Case/Worst-Case: NFC North


Eddie Jackson and the Bears are looking to bounce back after a rough 2022 season.

Photo Credit: Fox Sports, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons


Chicago Bears


Arrivals

  • WR DJ Moore

  • LB Tremaine Edmunds

  • LB TJ Edwards

  • DE Demarcus Walker

  • RG Nate Davis

  • TE Robert Tonyan

Departures

  • RB David Montgomery

  • CEO Ted Phillips

Notable

  • Kevin Warren named new team President

  • Traded the #1 pick to the Carolina Panthers in exchange for a WR DJ Moore, the #9 pick, the #61 pick, a 2024 first-round pick, and a 2025 second-round pick

Impact Draft Picks

  • RT Darnell Wright – Rd. 1 (#10)

  • DT Gervon Dexter – Rd. 2 (#53)

  • CB Tyrique Stephenson – Rd. 2 (#56)


Best-Case: 10 - 7, 1st in the NFC North


The Justin Fields hype train is moving full steam ahead, and it doesn't appear to be slowing. After a season in which Fields finished seventh in the NFL in rushing yards while also adding seventeen touchdowns through the air, people around the league are expecting big things from the third-year QB – and Fields could be poised to deliver.


Last year, under a new head coach Matt Eberflus and a gutted roster, Fields was basically asked to be a one-man offense. This year, he has some help. New wide receiver D.J. Moore is a premier deep threat and a fantastic option for the cannon-armed Fields, along with the hyper-athletic Chase Claypool and steady possession target Darnell Mooney. Investments in the offensive line should keep Fields from running for his life on every other play. The defense lacks notable names, especially after trading Roquan Smith to the Baltimore Ravens last year, but if Eberflus can raise their level of play like he did year after year as the defensive coordinator of the Indianapolis Colts, the Bears could see their win total skyrocket in 2023, especially in the weakened NFC.


Worst-Case: 5 - 12, 4th in the NFC North


Count me as someone who just can't get down on the Fields hype. He is a devastating runner, but hasn’t shown much ability in the passing game, and all of that rushing success won’t mean squat if he hasn’t improved as a passer. The defense too, still looks like a mess. The Bears finished dead last in the NFL in sacks in 2022, and they didn't add any notable players in free agency or the draft to help generate more pressure. That lack of pressure compounds a secondary that's declined in past years. If safety Eddie Jackson and corner Jaylon Johnson can't step their game up, it's hard to see the path for the Bears to be even an average defense in 2023.


While the offensive line was addressed in the offseason, with the signing of guard Nate Davis and drafting of tackle Darnell Wright with the 10th pick, it's still not a strength of this team. Fields will likely be under significant duress, and the run game, particularly with running back David Montgomery signing with the Detroit Lions, could struggle as well. The Bears could be on track to competitiveness in the future, but that doesn't mean 2023 will look pretty.


Is this the year the Detroit Lions finally break through?

Photo Credit: All-Pro Reels, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons


Detroit Lions


Arrivals

  • RB David Montgomery

  • S Chauncey Gardner-Johnson

  • CB Cameron Sutton

  • WR Mavin Jones Jr.

Departures

  • RB Jamaal Williams

  • S DeShon Elliott

  • WR DJ Chark

Notable

  • WR Jameson Williams suspended six games for violating the NFL’s gambling rules

  • MLB Alex Anzalone signs three-year extension

Impact Draft Picks

  • RB Jahmyr Gibbs – Rd. 1 (#12)

  • LB Jack Campbell – Rd. 1 (#18)

  • TE Sam LaPorta – Rd. 2 (#34)


Best-Case: 12 - 5, 1st in the NFC North


The Lions are one of the most hyped teams in the NFL right now – and for good reason. After finishing 2022 on an absolute tear with an 8 - 2 record in their last ten games, the Lions are looking to build on that momentum with an explosive offensive attack and significantly improved defense. Offensive coordinator Ben Johnson is one of the league's brightest stars, and with a reliable quarterback in Jared Goff, an excellent offensive line stocked with rising stars, and a plethora of weapons, the Lions appear poised to field one of the best attacks in the game.


The defense was a massive weak link, but free agent signings and draftees should help mitigate the leakage. The Lions invested heavily in their secondary after being picked apart by opponents consistently last year. Safety Chauncy Gardner-Johnson was brought over in free agency to be a tone-setter and force in the middle of the field, while corner Cameron Sutton was signed to solidify the spot opposite third-year corner Jerry Jacobs. If 2022 #2 pick Aidan Hutchinson can become a force in the Lions pass rush, the ingredients are there for an NFC North title.



Worst-Case: 6 - 11, 3rd in the NFC North


This feels like a team on the rise, so it’s hard to imagine they collapse entirely, but a disappointing season isn’t impossible. Goff is a decent player, but he’s someone who needs the situation around him to be strong in order to elevate his play, and while the Lions have a lot of skill position talent, there's a path for this offense to be very disappointing in 2023.


Already, there are signs that the WR group might be in flux through the season. Second-year wide receiver Jameson Williams was drafted to be the deep-threat, but he's suspended for the start of the season, has struggled with drops in camp, and didn't have a full rookie season after recovering from knee surgery. His counterpart Amon-Ra St. Brown is an excellent slot receiver, but he isn't a consistent threat downfield. Outside of their top two, Marvin Jones Jr. and Josh Reynolds are uninspiring third and fourth options.


The defense, though, will need to take a significant step forward if the Lions are going to reach their potential. The Lions were last in the league in total yards allowed, allowed the fourth-most points, and committed the sixth-most penalties in 2022 – and those issues aren't all getting resolved in one offseason. If the defense fails to improve, the Lions could be facing another disappointing season.


Aaron Rodgers might be gone, but Kenny Clark and the Green Bay Packers defense haven't gone anywhere.

All-Pro Reels from District of Columbia, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons


Green Bay Packers


Arrivals

  • S Jonathan Owens

  • LS Matt Orzech

Departures

  • QB Aaron Rodgers

  • WR Allen Lazard

  • S Adrian Amos

  • DT Jarran Reed

  • DT Dean Lowrey

  • TE Robert Tonyan

Notable

  • QB Jordan Love will take over for Rodgers after the 4x MVP was traded to the New York Jets in the offseason

Impact Draft Picks

  • DE Lukas Van Ness – Rd. 1 (#13)

  • TE Luke Musgrave – Rd. 2 (#42)


Best-Case: 10 - 7, 2nd in NFC North


It's just really hard to imagine the Packers ever being really bad isn't it? Given their track record, should we really be surprised if Jordan Love goes on to finish second in the NFL in passer rating this year? (Okay, yes, we should all be a little surprised if that happens.)


While much of the offseason attention was directed toward Aaron Rodgers bidding Green Bay adieu and Love finally getting his chance to be QB1, it's the Packers defense that looks primed to lead this team to success. With returning stars Kenny Clark, Jaire Alexander, De'Vondre Campbell and Rashan Gary, along with rising youngsters Quay Walker and Devonte Wyatt, the Packers D looks as stout as ever, and appear poised to make up for last year's less-than-stellar showing.


At the end of the day, though, it's Love and the offense that will dictate how far the Packers can go. If Love can at least be average, that gives the Packers a chance to win. While they probably won't look the same without Rodgers, this group still has a lot of talented offensive players. Receiver Christian Watson looked like one of the most explosive players in the NFL during the second half of the season, and with running backs Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillion still in house, there's enough there to get the Packers into Wild Card contention.


Worst-Case: 5 - 12, 4th in NFC North


If Love stinks, the Packers are in trouble. It's that simple. While being stuck behind a four-time MVP like Rodgers is a pretty good excuse, Love has shown little since being drafted in 2020 to suggest he can be a franchise QB. Furthermore, while the weapons he has around him are talented, they're also young, and that could be a recipe for season-breaking inconsistency.


And while the defense should be the premier side of the ball for the Packers in 2023, they'll have to prove that the issues they had stopping the run last year were an aberration. The Packers were stout against the pass but struggled to contain some of the better rushing attacks in the league, surrendering 150 or more rushing yards eight different times, including a truly appalling 363 rushing yards to the Philadelphia Eagles in week 12. With several new players being installed in the front seven, the Packers could continue to struggle in this department.


The biggest question by far, though, is what impact the loss of Rodgers will have on the psyche of the Packers. As one of the greatest QBs to ever play (and despite his sometimes head-scratching behavior), Rodgers gave the Packers a chance to win every time he stepped foot on the field. He inspired confidence in his teammates the same way Tom Brady used to do for the New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, or the way Patrick Mahomes and Joe Burrow do for their teams. If Jordan Love can't do the same, the Packers' season could spiral out of control in a hurry.


Pressure's on for Kirk Cousins and the Minnesota Vikings after another early playoff exit.

Photo Credit: All-Pro Reels, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons


Minnesota Vikings


Arrivals

  • OLB Marcus Davenport

  • CB Byron Murphy Jr.

  • DT Dean Lowry

Departures

  • DE Za’Darius Smith

  • RB Dalvin Cook

  • CB Patrick Peterson

  • DT Dalvin Tomlinson

  • WR Adam Thielen

  • LB Eric Kendricks

  • TE Irv Smith Jr.

Notable

  • C Garrett Bradbury signs three-year extension

  • RB Alexander Mattison signs two-year extension

Impact Draft Picks

  • WR Jordan Addison – Rd. 1 (#23)

  • CB Mekhi Blackmon – Rd. 3 (#102)


Best-Case: 12 - 5, 1st in NFC North


Despite moving on from some important players (Thielen, Cook, Peterson) and having some gaping holes on their roster (interior offensive line, secondary) the Vikings are still talented enough to win a substandard NFC North. Justin Jefferson is on the short list of best receivers in the game, Kirk Cousins is steady and underrated at QB, and T.J. Hockenson is a top-five tight end. It's also year two for this offense under head coach Kevin O'Connell, so the team should be over any growing pains.


The addition of Jordan Addison at wide receiver is a sneaky strong move that could really open things up for Cousins and the offense. Thielen was a reliable player but didn't offer anywhere near the upside Addison does. With Jefferson on the other side drawing consistent double-teams, Addison will have plenty of opportunities to shine.


The defense was an issue in 2022, but with important additions to the defensive line, linebacker and secondary, the Vikings may have done enough to be league average. If that's the case, their still-excellent offense should be able to power them to enough victories to win the NFC North for the second consecutive season.


Worst-Case: 7 - 10, 3rd in NFC North


The 2022 Vikings went 13 - 4 but somehow had a -3 point differential, suggesting they were very lucky to have won as many games as they did. After losing some key veterans in free agency, the Vikings may find it much harder to close out those close win in '23 than they did in '22.


Of their 13 wins, only two were won by more than one score, five were won by a field goal, and they also had two overtime wins, one which required a goal line fumble by the Buffalo Bills, and the other required the greatest comeback in NFL history versus the Indianapolis Colts. In their four losses, the Vikings were outscored by 89 points, losing those games by an average of 22.3 points. Basically, the Vikings were a .500 team masquerading as a contender, and their deception-act expired when they were dusted by the New York Giants in the Wild Card Round.


Cousins may have gained a lot of supporters following his impressive showing on Netflix’s Quarterback, but he’s still an inconsistent performer with a knack for having his worst games in the biggest moments. If he can't take another positive step forward under O'Connell, the offense could regress without the support of Cook and a strong running game. It's the defense, though, that will put the kybosh on any postseason hopes. This unit was pretty bad in 2022, and after losing important pieces like Peterson, Za'Darius Smith and Eric Kendricks, the Vikings could be looking at another repeat performance and a slide down the NFC North standings.

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