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NFC NORTH: 2020 season preview

Week 1 of the regular season is finally here. From here on out talk is cheap and things start to get settled between the lines. The NFC North teams get right after it Week 1 with Detroit hosting Chicago and Green Bay squaring off in Minnesota.

Here's a quick offseason refresher and Week 1 preview for the four teams in the NFC North:


2019 record: 13-3 (division champions)

Week 1 opponent: at Minnesota, Sun. 1 p.m. (FOX)

New faces: LB Christian Kirksey, T Rick Wagner, CB Parry Nickerson

Key losses: TE Jimmy Graham, LB Blake Martinez, RT Bryan Bulaga

Impact rookie: Rookie running back A.J. Dillion boasts an impressive 247-pound frame with good athletic traits. He could earn a role playing the thunder to Aaron Jones' lightning early on. The Packers also think he can be a factor in the passing game.

Most significant changes: There are question marks along the right side of the offensive line. Lane Taylor moves over to right guard and Billy Turner takes over the right tackle spot, beating out Wagner for the job in camp. If that side of the line can hold up and keep Aaron Rodgers clean, the Packers' offense should be balanced and explosive.

Player to watch: Running back Aaron Jones. Can Jones duplicate his breakout 2019 season where he racked up 1,084 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns? He also chipped in another 474 receiving yards with three more scores. His 19 touchdowns tied for the league lead. He's on defensive coordinators' radars heading into the season. He rushed for a career-high 154 yards in his last meeting with the Vikings.

Quotable: "He's very internally motivated, and right now, I think that's what you're getting out of him, is that he believes he's one of the best," veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis told ESPN recently about Rodgers. "And he's gonna continue to prepare that way and play that way, and the things that he can control, he's gonna control those, and the things that he can't control, he won't."

Twentyman: This team always has a shot to win the NFC North with Rodgers under center, Jones in the backfield and Davante Adams out wide. That's one of the better trios offensively in the game. It's all about the defense for me. The 49ers ran it 42 times and threw just eight passes in a blowout win over the Packers in the NFC Championship Game last year. The Packers didn't overhaul the defensive front seven. They added Kirksey and hope last year's first-round pick, Rashan Gary, takes a big leap forward.


2019 record: 10-6

Week 1 opponent: vs. Green Bay, Sun. 1 p.m. (FOX)

New faces: DE Yannick Ngakoue

Key losses: DT Michael Pierce (opt out), DE Everson Griffen, WR Stefon Diggs, DT Linval Joseph, CB Xavier Rhodes, CB Trae Waynes

Impact rookie: Rookie wide receiver Justin Jefferson has a chance to be an impact player right away opposite Adam Thielen, as he replaces Stefon Diggs, who was traded to Buffalo. The LSU rookie is a near lock for a big role in the offense right away.

Most significant changes: Can a retooled defense continue to be dominant? That side of the ball lost five starters and nine players total in free agency this offseason. There is still some firepower on that side of the ball with the recently acquired Yannick Ngakoue joining Danielle Hunter, Harrison Smith, Anthony Harris, Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr, but the rest of the starters on that side of the ball are all new. Ngakoue is one of only three players in the league with 35-plus sacks (37.5) and 14-plus forced fumbles (14) since 2016.

Player to watch: Running back Dalvin Cook. Cook emerged as an explosive playmaker in his third season, rushing for 1,135 yards and scoring 13 touchdowns a season ago. He wants a new contract heading into his fourth season and has made that well known to the Vikings brass. Cook had 191 scrimmage yards (154 rush, 37 rec.) and a rushing touchdown in his last game vs. Green Bay.

Quotable: "I think the thing you're going to continue to see is the trend going to more teams running the football," Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer told ESPN of offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak and his offense ranking fourth in run percentage (48.3) last season. "There are a lot of good backs in the league now.

"San Francisco made their hay on running the football and play-action passes last year. A lot of teams are not just sitting back and throwing the football as much as they were a couple of years ago. I think the trend now is a little more what we're trying to do now."

Twentyman: The only real question mark offensively for this team is the trio along the interior. Minnesota needs second-year center Garrett Bradbury to take major steps forward and help anchor that unit. Defensively, the core is still there, but there's a whole new group of cornerbacks led by Mike Hughes, Holton Hill and rookies Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler. How will that unit respond to an early test from Rodgers and Co.?


2019 record: 8-8

Week 1 opponent: at Detroit, 1 p.m. (FOX)

New faces: QB Nick Foles, TE Jimmy Graham, LB Robert Quinn, S Tashaun Gipson, OL Germain Ifedi

Key losses: DT Eddie Goldman (opt out), OLB Leonard Floyd, S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, CB Prince Amukamara, OL Kyle Long (retired)

Impact rookie: Tight end Cole Kmet joins the veteran Graham as an intriguing duo for the Bears at tight end. Kmet is going to get an opportunity to play early after scoring six touchdowns for Notre Dame last year and ranking near the top of a less than stellar rookie tight end class overall. Tight ends can sometimes be the best friends for quarterbacks, and the Bears will try to use theirs more this season.

Most significant changes: There are a lot of new faces on the Bears' defense, but it's still an elite-caliber unit, even with Goldman opting out due to COVID-19. That's still a stout unit upfront with Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks and the newly acquired Quinn.

Player to watch: Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. Trubisky is expected to start Sunday in Detroit, but with Nick Foles as his backup, Trubisky will probably have a shorter leash than normal. The Bears ranked 25th in yards per game, 24th in quarterback rating and 25th in passing touchdowns last year. Can Trubisky put it all together in year four?

Quotable: "This was going be a fair battle for both of these guys," Bears head coach Matt Nagy Nagy told ESPN of the quarterback battle between Trubisky and Foles in training camp. "Both these guys were really battling their tail off every single day. In the end, Mitch won the job, and I think that's very important for him, for us, for everybody to understand that he worked really hard to get to this point."

"I thought Mitch really finished (training camp) strong, which was good. To finish strong with some really accurate throws in the red zone. He did some things. I told you all along his footwork has been much better in the pocket, in regards to staying up in that pocket and hitching up there. Decision-making has been improved. So we're always working to try to get that better, and he knows that."

Twentyman: It really comes down to the quarterback position in Chicago. They have one of the league's best defenses and weapons at the skill positions on offense. If they can just get average play from their quarterback, they should compete for a NFC North title and playoff spot.

View photos of the starters for the Chicago Bears.


2019 record: 3-12-1

Week 1 opponent: vs. Chicago, 1 p.m. (FOX)

New faces: RT Halapoulivaati Vaitai, RB Adrian Peterson, LB Jamie Collins Sr., DT Danny Shelton, DT Nick Williams, CB Desmond Trufant, S Duron Harmon, QB Chase Daniel

Key losses: CB Darius Slay, G Graham Glasgow, T Rick Wagner, DT Damon Harrison Sr., DT A'Shawn Robinson, DT Mike Daniels

Impact rookie: Rookie third-round pick Jonah Jackson is going to start the season at right guard after cementing himself in that role really early in camp. Him and Vaitai are two new pieces upfront for Detroit and make up the right side of the line. The Lions want to run the ball more in 2020. They also know they have to keep quarterback Matthew Stafford upright and healthy in the pass game. Jackson will be asked to play a big part in both aspects starting Week 1.

Most significant changes: The Lions ranked near the bottom of the league in most of the major statistical categories on defense last year, and that unit needed a major overhaul this offseason. The Lions added veterans and rookies at every level of their defense. We'll likely see six new starters on that side of the ball Sunday.

Player to watch: Running back Adrian Peterson. Entering his 14th season, there seems to be no slowing down for Peterson, who joined the Lions this week as a free agent after he was released by the Washington Football Team last week. Peterson rushed for 898 yards and five touchdowns last season, averaging 4.3 yards per carry. Where does he fit into Detroit's backfield alongside Kerryon Johnson, D'Andre Swift and Detroit's other backs? It will be interesting to see how the Lions divvy up carries on Sunday.

Quotable: "I think it's nothing more than what we expect out of everybody," Lions head coach Matt Patricia said of the expectations for Peterson at this stage in his career. "Go out there and compete, work hard and try to do everything you can to contribute to the team and help the team win whenever that is ready to take place. From that standpoint, everybody that we put on the field in positions to go give us a chance to win, that's really what we expect."

Twentyman: Detroit's offense has a chance to be scary good if Stafford picks up where he left off last season and they stay relatively healthy at the skill positions. It's all about the defense for me. If that side of the ball can just be marginally better, the Lions could be looking at a major improvement from last year's win total and maybe even compete for a playoff spot.

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