LIONS INSIDER

NFC NORTH: 2017 season preview

Posted Sep 7, 2017

Tim Twentyman previews the 2017 season for each team in the NFC North.

Week 1 of the regular season is finally here. All the speculating and projecting for the four teams in the NFC North is done with. The race to win the division begins this weekend, and will be determined on the field.

So what can we expect, and what should we be looking out for during the first week of the regular season?

GREEN BAY

2016 record: 10-6 (Division champs)

Key additions: CB Davon House, TE Martellus Bennett, OLB Ahmad Brooks

Key losses: RB Eddie Lacy, RG T.J. Lang, LB Julius Peppers

Top 3 draft picks: CB Kevin King, S Josh Jones, DT Montravius Adams

Week 1 opponent: vs. Seattle

These two division champions from a year ago get a measuring-stick game right off the bat. Only Green Bay (8) and New England (8) boast a longer consecutive postseason streak than Seattle’s five.

The Packers beat Seattle 38-10 at Lambeau Field last year.

One interesting subplot here will be the return of former Packers running back Eddie Lacy wearing Seattle colors. How will he fit in with Seattle’s scheme, and can he make the Packers pay for going in another direction?

What to watch: Having Aaron Rodgers at quarterback still gives the Packers the best chance to win the NFC North. He led the league in 2016 with 40 touchdown passes, ranked fourth in passing yards (4,428) and passer rating (104.2).

He has some shiny new weapons to throw to in free agent tight ends Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks. How much can they spice up an already potent passing attack?

Biggest question mark: The 392 yards and four touchdowns put up by Matt Ryan through the air in Green Bay’s 23-point loss in the NFC Championship last year epitomized just how bad Green Bay's defense was against the pass last season.

So, general manager Ted Thompson brought back former Packer Davon House and spent his first pick in the draft on cornerback Kevin King. Will that unit be markedly better in 2017?

DETROIT

2016 record: 9-7

Key additions: RG T.J. Lang, RT Rick Wagner, LT Greg Robinson, DE Cornelius Washington, DT Akeem Spence

Key losses: DE Kerry Hyder Jr. (IR), T Riley Reiff, WR Anquan Boldin, LB DeAndre Levy

Top 3 draft picks: LB Jarrad Davis, CB Teez Tabor, WR Kenny Golladay

Week 1 opponent: vs. Arizona

Detroit’s younger and faster defense gets an early test with Arizona’s three-headed monster of running back David Johnson, quarterback Carson Palmer and receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

Sunday’s game will also tell us a lot about Detroit’s new-look offensive line and this offense as a whole. The Cardinals boast one of the top defenses in the league. They led the NFL with 48 sacks last season, and have Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu patrolling the secondary. 

What to watch: Can the Lions give quarterback Matthew Stafford help in the run game? It’s been well documented how futile the Lions’ rushing attack has been over the years, which has put way too much pressure on Stafford’s right arm.

Starter Ameer Abdullah is healthy after missing most of last season with a foot injury. Detroit upgraded upfront, in part, to get more consistency out of the run game. Arizona’s defense was ninth in the NFL last season in stopping the run (94.9 yards per game).

Biggest question mark: Detroit had a heck of a time getting to opposing quarterbacks last season. They collected just 26 sacks, as opposing passers were often far too comfortable in the pocket.

Defensive end Ziggy Ansah returned to practice this week after missing all of training camp on PUP. Will he hit the ground sacking, or will there be an adjustment period? He could even be on a pitch count depending how the week of practice goes.

MINNESOTA

2016 season: 8-8

Key additions: T Riley Reiff, T Mike Remmers, RB Latavius Murray

Key losses: RB Adrian Peterson, CB Captain Munnerlyn, WR/KR Cordarrelle Patterson, LB Chad Greenway

Top 3 draft picks: RB Dalvin Cook, C Pat Elflein, DT Jaleel Johnson

Week 1 opponent: vs. New Orleans

Go figure, the first game Adrian Peterson plays not in a Minnesota Vikings uniform is in Minnesota against the Vikings with the Saints.

The Vikings might have the best defense in the NFL. They’ll be tested by a Saints offense that was No. 1 in the NFL last year (426.0 yards per game) with the league’s top passing attack (317.1).

What wins out Sunday in Minnesota, offense or defense?

What to watch: The Vikings could be scary good on defense this year, led by a defensive line that logged 34 of the team’s 41 sacks, which were fifth most in the league last year. Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter might be the best defensive end tandem in the league, and Linval Joseph anchors the middle. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes and safety Harrison Smith are two of the best at their position.

In Minnesota, it really comes down to the play of quarterback Sam Bradford and their offensive line, which seems to constantly be under reconstruction.

Biggest question mark: That new-look Vikings offensive line will be trusted with opening holes for someone other than Peterson to start the season for the first time in a decade. Cook and Murray give the Vikings a little bit different run game than what was featured with Peterson. Cook is more flash than power, and gives Minnesota a real threat in the passing game out of the backfield, something Peterson never did.

CHICAGO

2016 record: 3-13

Key additions: QB Mike Glennon, CB Prince Amukamara, TE Dion Sims, S Quintin Demps

Key losses: QB Jay Cutler, WR Alshon Jeffery

Top 3 draft picks: QB Mitch Trubisky, TE Adam Shaheen, S Eddie Jackson

Week 1 opponent: vs. Atlanta

Chicago should be better on defense, and they’ll certainly be tested out of the gate with the NFC Champion Atlanta Falcons and MVP quarterback Matt Ryan coming to town.

The Falcons' defense will no-doubt be focusing on containing the Bears best weapon on offense, running back Jordan Howard.

This game will show Bears head coach John Fox, who might be on the hot seat in Chicago, a lot about his team. Is his defense good enough to keep Chicago in the game? Can they find ways to score against an athletic Atlanta defense?

What to watch: The x-factor for the Bears' offense is wide receiver Kevin White, the seventh overall pick in the 2015 draft. White has the kind of size and speed that coaches drool over, but has played in just four games the last two seasons because of injury. The Bears need White to reach his potential, or the pass game will likely struggle again this year.

Biggest question mark: After nine up-and-down seasons, the Cutler era officially ended. Glennon was welcomed to Chicago by losing his best pass catcher (Jeffery) in free agency. Then the team moved up in the draft to take the quarterback of the future (Trubisky).

Trubisky played very well in the preseason, which probably has Glennon looking over his shoulder, despite being named the Week 1 starter. History shows that is typically a tough spot for a quarterback to be in, as it usually affects their play. Glennon needs a good start to keep the heat off.