For years the NFC North has been the most predictable division in football. The Packers will win, the Vikings will stumble through embarrassment to flirt with the playoffs, and the Bears and Lions will be the Bears and Lions. The Packers’ part of the equation isn’t likely to change as long as Aaron Rodgers is in town. However, the rest of the division has undergone massive organizational changes as of late. In 2022, the Vikings are looking more competent than ever, and the curse on the Lions looks to be waning. It may take some time to adjust to this new-look NFC North, but don’t worry too much. Despite all the changes – the Bears are who we thought they were, and the division will not let them off the hook.
2021 Record: 6-11, Finished 3rd in the division
Caesars Sportsbook Win Total: 6.5
Key Additions: Ryan Poles – GM, Matt Ebeflus – Head Coach, Luke Getsy – Offensive Coordinator, Lucas Patrick – C, Riley Rieff – LT, Michael Schofield – RG, Byron Pringle – WR, Trevor Siemian – QB, N’Keal Harry – WR, Equanimeous St. Brown – WR, Khari Blasingame – FB, Ryan Griffin – TE, James O’Shaugnessy – TE, Nicholas Morrow – LB, Justin Jones – DT, Al-Quadin Muhammad – EDGE, Tavon Young – CB, Matthew Adams – LB, Ryan Winslow – P, Dane Cruikshank – S, Darrynton Evans – RB
Rookie Draft Selections: (2.07) Kyler Gordon – CB, (2.16) Jaquan Brisker – S, (3.07) Velus Jones – WR, (5.25) Braxton Jones – OT, (5.31) Dominique Robinson – EDGE, (6.07) Zachary Thomas – OL, (6.25) Trestan Ebner – RB, (6.29) Doug Kramer – C, (7.05) Ja’Tyre Carter – OL, (7.33) Elijah Hicks – S, (7.34) Trenton Gill – P
Roster Strengths: Running Back
Roster Weaknesses: Offensive Line, Wide Receiver, Edge Rusher
UDFA Watch: Christian Albright – LB, Jack Sanborn – LB, C.J. Avery – LB
From One Matt to Another
Following years of begging, Chicago Bears fans finally got their wish when the team moved on from Head Coach Matt Nagy. The team opted to save money on the remodel. They only needed to change the last names on the new bosses’ door. After being left stranded by Josh McDaniels four years ago, Matt Eberflus turned the Colts’ doormat of a defense into one of the most consistent units in the league. The Chicago brass hopes that Eberflus’ defense, that trends heavy on zone coverage and light on blitzing, can help their Pro-Bowl LB, Roquan Smith, reach new heights.
The Chicago Bears enter 2022 with a dearth of talent on both the offensive line and in the wide receiver room. Darnell Mooney is a star-on-the-rise after recording 1,055 receiving yards as a sophomore fifth-round pick out of Tulane, and, despite failing to find the endzone in 2021, Cole Kmet looks the part at tight end with 612 yards.
But outside the top-two options in the passing game, Chicago boasts geriatric rookie, Velus Jones, to go with a slew of other team’s WR4s in Byron Pringle, Equanimeous St. Brown, Tajae Sharpe and N’Keal Harry. This leaves Justin Fields throwing to the Island of Misfit WRs behind an offensive line without clear starters at RG and RT. Unfortunately, this should leave Bears fans feeling less than thrilled about their chances this season.
2021 Record: 3-13-1, finished 4th in the division
Caesars Sportsbook Win Total: 6.0
Rookie Draft Selections: (1.02) Aidan Hutchinson – EDGE, (1.12) Jameson Williams – WR, (2.14) Josh Paschal – DL, (3.33) Kerby Joseph – S, (5.34) James Mitchell – TE, (6.09) Malcolm Rodriguez – LB, (6.39) James Houston – LB/EDGE, (7.16) Chase Lucas – CB
Roster Strengths: Offensive Line, Running Back, Edge Rusher
Roster Weaknesses: Age/Experience, Linebacker, Secondary
UDFA Watch: Khalil Pimpleton – WR/RS
Not your Dad’s Detroit Lions
Leave it to the Lions to trade their franchise quarterback only to watch him immediately win a Super Bowl somewhere else. What else would you expect from the franchise that forced both the greatest running back ever AND the greatest receiver of a generation into early retirement? However, that doesn’t seem to bother fans of the team, who, for the first time in forever, have faith in the team as a whole. General Manager Brad Holmes had his work cut out for him. He inherited a team that was both low in talent and money. While there is still plenty of room for improvement, the Lions at least have a roster full of NFL talent at every position. This is something that you couldn’t say a year ago.
Detroit returns all five projected starters on the offensive line from 2021. This unit will be paving the way for one of the game’s best all-purpose backs in D’Andre Swift. Likely, this takes some of the pressure off Jared Goff. Goff, for the record, saw a massive upgrade to his supporting cast. Detroit upgraded from Tyrell Williams, Kalif Raymond, Khadarel Hodge and T.J. Hockenson to D.J. Chark, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Josh Reynolds, and Hockenson.
Youth Movement on Defense
Talk to any Detroit Lions fan about the defense, and it won’t be long before they bring up Aaron Glenn. The former New Orleans Saints defensive back coach, who helped develop talents like Marshon Lattimore, Marcus Williams and C.J. Gardner-Johnson, is widely known as a future head coach in the NFL and for good reason.
The Detroit defense was vastly better than the sum of its parts last season. This was despite starting undrafted rookies at CB2 and Slot. Over the past two seasons, the Lions have drafted four defensive linemen in the first three rounds. Aidan Hutchinson, the second overall pick of 2022, is the crown jewel of that group. In a rare occurrence for a rookie, Hutchinson enters his freshman season as the only player on defense whose name will be recognized by casual viewers. That shouldn’t be the case by the end of the year. Cornerback Amani Oruwariye tied for third in the league with 6 interceptions, Safety Tracy Walker signed a three-year deal this offseason, and the edge-rushing Okwara brothers looking to emerge as household names.
Green Bay Packers
2021 Record: 13-4, Finished 1st in the division and conference, 1st Round Bye, lost in the Divisional Round of the playoffs to the San Francisco 49ers
Caesar’s Sportsbook Win Total: 11.0
Rookie Draft Selections: (1.22) Quay Walker – LB, (1.28) Devonte Wyatt – DL, (2.02) Christian Watson – WR, (3.28) Sean Rhyan – OT/OG, (4.27) Romeo Doubs – WR, (4.35) Zach Tom – OT/OG, (5.35) Kingsley Enagbare – EDGE, (7.07) Tariq Carpenter – LB/S, (7.13) Jonathan Ford – DL, (7.28), (7.37) Rasheed Walker – OT
Key Losses: Davante Adams – WR, Marquez Valdes-Scantling – WR, Lucas Patrick – IOL, Kevin King – CB, Chandon Sullivan – CB, Tyler Lancaster – DL, Whitney Mercilus – EDGE, Oren Burks – LB, Corey Bojorquez – P, Dennis Kelly – OT, Equanimeous St. Brown – WR,
Roster Strengths: Cornerback, Defensive Line, Running Back
Roster Weaknesses: Wide Receiver, Tight End
UDFA Watch: Tyler Goodson – RB, Jack Coco – Longsnapper
End of the Adams Era
After eight years, 9,031 yards, and 81 touchdowns, it is time for the Green Bay Packers and Aaron Rodgers to say goodbye to Davante Adams. After an unprecedented run on WR1s that featured Adams, Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, and Jordy Nelson, Rodgers now goes to war with Allen Lazard as his top dog.
Lazard, whose career-best season came last year with 40 receptions for 513 yards and 8 touchdowns, will be competing for looks with aging slot Randall Cobb, journeyman Sammy Watkins, sophomore disappointment/gadget player Amari Rodgers, and non-FBS rookie Christian Watson. Suffice to say that Aaron Rodgers is going to be leaning heavily on Aaron Jones. Jones has averaged 22.89 PPR points per game in his eight games played without Davante Adams since 2017.
League Best Defense?
With the Packers’ offense looking dramatically different (worse?) in 2022, the defense will be asked to make up the difference. This is exactly why Green Bay invested both of their first round picks on defense. The first pick being the 6-4, 242-pound linebacker out of Georgia, Quay Walker, to pair with All-Pro De’Vondre Campbell.
After adding the linebacker with a 95th percentile Speed Score, the Packers opted to double-dip on the Bulldog’s National Championship defense by selecting defensive tackle Devonte Wyatt. Wyatt, arguably the freakiest athlete in the 2022 draft with 4.77 wheels in a 6-3, 305-pound frame, joins an already dominant defensive line featuring Pro Bowl nose tackle Kenny Clark, steady veteran Preston Smith, and rising star Rashan Gary. Add All-Pro cornerback Jaire Alexander, who is finally healthy after a shoulder injury derailed his 2022, to what many believe to be the NFL’s best secondary, and we could be looking at the league’s top defense.
2021 Record: 8-9, Finished 2nd in division
Caesar’s Sportsbook Win Total: 9.0
Key Additions: Kevin O’Connell – Head Coach, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah – GM, Ed Donatell – Defensive Coordinator, Za’Darius Smith – EDGE, Jordan Hicks – LB, Harrison Phillips – DL, Chandon Sullivan – CB, Jesse Davis – OL, Chris Reed – OG, Johnny Mundt – TE
Rookie Draft Selections: (1.32) Lewis Cine – S, (2.10) Andrew Booth – CB, (2.27) Ed Ingram – OG, (3.02) Brian Asamoah – LB, (4.13) Akayleb Evans – CB, (5.22) Esezi Otomewo – DL/EDGE, (5.26) Ty Chandler – RB, (6.05) Vederian Lowe – OT, (6.12) Jalen Nailor – WR, (7.06) Nick Muse – TE
Key Losses: Anthony Barr – LB, Sheldon Richardson – DL, Michael Pierce – DL, Xavier Woods – S, Mackensie Alexander – CB, Everson Griffen – EDGE, Tyler Conklin – TE, Rashod Hill – OT, Mason Cole – IOL, Nick Vigil – LB, Dakota Dozier – OG, Tashawn Bower – EDGE, Dede Westbrook – WR, Chad Beebe – WR, Chris Herndon – TE
Roster Strengths: Wide Receiver, Running Back, Safety
Roster Weaknesses: CB, Edge Depth
UDFA Watch: Bryant Koback – RB, Luiji Villain – EDGE
Kevin O’Connell Effect
The more that comes out about the Minnesota Vikings of the past, the more apparent it becomes that Mike Zimmer was a dinosaur hanging on to an era of football that is long gone. The run-run-pass-punt brand of offense that refused to move players around is gone.
Replacing it will be an offshoot of the Rams’ pass-first, ask questions later attack that thrives on creating personnel mismatches. You’re not allowed to be surprised when Kirk Cousins and Justin Jefferson post career-best seasons as the Vikings’ offense enters the 21st Century in a year where the NFC is weaker than ever. This makes Minnesota one of The Podfather’s favorite underdogs.
Purple People Eaters
While Kevin O’Connell should ultimately be the Vikings most impactful move, their revamped pass rush likely won’t be far behind. After missing 2020 with a herniated disk in his neck, Danielle Hunter returned to harassing QBs at a torrid pace. Hunter compiled six sacks and 31 pressures in just six games before a torn pec ended his season. Hunter will be joined by former Packers edge rusher Za’Darius Smith Smith compiled 26 sacks during 2019-2020 before a back injury limited him to just one game in 2021. A high-flying pass attack on offense combined with a fearsome pass rush on defense could be the Vikings key to a playoff run in a weakened NFC.