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NFC NORTH: 2023 season preview

Week 1 of the regular season is fast approaching, so it's time for a quick offseason refresher and Week 1 preview for all four teams in the NFC North:


2022 record: 13-4 (division champs)

Week 1 opponent: vs. Tampa Bay, Sept. 10, 1 p.m.

2023 strength of schedule: 19th (143-145 opponent record last season)

New faces: WR Jordan Addison (R), TE Josh Oliver, CB Byron Murphy, OLB Marcus Davenport

Key losses: RB Dalvin Cook, DT Dalvin Tomlinson, WR Adam Thielen, CB Patrick Peterson, LB Eric Kendricks

Breakout player to watch: RB Alexander Mattison

Mattison has been one of the leagues better backups over the last four years and now gets his opportunity to be the guy in Minnesota with Cook now a New York Jet. Cook rushed for at least 1,100 yards in each of his last four seasons. Mattison has a career average of 4.1 yards per rush and he scored a career-high five touchdowns last season without a single start.

Don't be surprised if we see a 1,000-yard, 10-touchdown kind of season from Mattison in 2023.

Most significant change: A new defense run by coordinator Brian Flores

The Vikings finished 31st in yards allowed last season and struggled mightily in the playoff loss to the New York Giants, allowing 431 yards of offense and 31 points in an upset at home.

"I'm aggressive by nature. Philosophically, that's something that I believe in," Flores told the Vikings media via Sports Illustrated after being hired. "Yeah, by nature I like to be aggressive. Not reckless. There's a method to the madness. There's a rhyme and a reason, whether it's down and distance, field position, etcetera."

Does Minnesota have enough talent across the board to be significantly better defensively?

Twentyman: Minnesota was an unbelievable 11-0 last season in regular-season games decided by eight points or less, including a record-setting comeback against the Indianapolis Colts where they trailed 33-0 at the half.

The Vikings finished last season with a minus-three-point differential, which is wild to think about for a team that was 13-4. No other team in NFL history with at least 12 wins was outscored over the course of the season. The ball bounced Minnesota's way just about every single time last season and that's hard to duplicate two years in a row.


2022 record: 9-8

Week 1 opponent: at Kansas City, Sept. 7, 8:20 p.m.

2023 strength of schedule: 20th (143-146)

New faces: DB C.J. Gardner-Johnson, CB Cam Sutton, RB David Montgomery, RB Jahmyr Gibbs (R), G Graham Glasgow, LB Jack Campbell (R), DB Brian Branch (R), TE Sam LaPorta (R), QB Teddy Bridgewater, WR Marvin Jones Jr.

Key losses: RB Jamaal Williams, WR DJ Chark, S DeShon Elliott

Breakout player to watch: DL Aidan Hutchinson

Hutchinson had 9.5 sacks, three interceptions and was runner-up for Defensive Rookie of the Year last season, but the expectation is for him to be even better in 2023. Hutchinson got stronger this offseason and was able to solely work on his craft. He's parlayed that into a massive training camp and the expectation is for him to be among the NFL sack leaders in Year 2.

Most significant change: Revamped secondary

Sutton, Gardner-Johnson and Branch are three new starters that join incumbents Jerry Jacobs and Kerby Joseph in a reworked secondary. Emmanuel Moseley, who missed all of camp rehabbing a torn ACL, was just removed from the PUP list and placed on the active roster. He's expected to push Jacobs for a starting spot.

Detroit was 32nd in total defense and 30th against the pass last season, but they feel like they are significantly improved in the secondary and that will improve every other aspect of their defense. They'll get a good test Week 1 against MVP Patrick Mahomes and the No. 1 offense in the NFL last season.

Twentyman: There are lofty expectations in Detroit given where this roster is and this division being wide open for the taking. The Lions just might have the most talented and complete roster overall of the four teams on paper.

The offense is expected to pick up where they left off last year as one of the top units in the league. Can this defense take big enough strides and be a more consistent unit? That will be the biggest deciding factor on how improved this football team can be in 2023.


2022 record: 8-9

Week 1 opponent: at Chicago, Sept. 10, 4:25 p.m.

2023 strength of schedule: 24th (137-151-1)

New faces: DE Lukas Van Ness (R), TE Luke Musgrave (R), TE Tucker Kraft (R), WR Jayden Reed (R)

Key losses: QB Aaron Rodgers, DL Jarran Reed, WR Allen Lazard, K Mason Crosby, WR Randall Cobb, TE Robert Tonyan

Breakout player to watch: WR Christian Watson

Watson is big (6-4, 208) and fast, and really came on at the end of last year, finishing with 41 receptions for 611 yards and seven touchdowns and three 100-yard receiving performances. He's going to be more settled in Year 2, and quarterback Jordan Love has a big arm to get him the ball down the field.

Most significant change: Love takes over at QB

Over three preseason games this year, Love completed 21 of 33 passes for 193 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and a 109.8 passer rating. He can do a few more things athletically than Rodgers, but mainly the Packers will be looking for him to manage the game, limit turnovers and be consistent. There will be some ups and downs along the way, but Green Bay seems to have a lot of faith in him.

Twentyman: The Packers will go as Love goes in 2023. Green Bay has a defense good enough to compete for a playoff spot in the NFC and a good mix of veteran and young skill-position players who have a chance to be pretty explosive.

Is Love ready to take over and be a consistent playmaker now in his third season after sitting behind Rodgers? Has he improved some accuracy issues that plagued him early in his career? I expect Green Bay to be better than people think.

View photos from the Detroit Lions vs. Carolina Panthers preseason Week 3 game at Bank of America Stadium on Friday, Aug. 25 in Charlotte, NC.


2022 record: 3-14

Week 1 opponent: vs. Green Bay, Sept. 10, 4:25 p.m.

2023 strength of schedule: 18th (143-145-1)

New faces: WR D.J. Moore, LB Tremaine Edmunds, LB T.J. Edwards, OL Darnell Wright (R), OL Nate Davis, TE Robert Tonyan

Key losses: RB David Montgomery, T Riley Reiff

Breakout player to watch: S Jaquan Brisker

As a rookie last season Brisker played in 15 games and totaled 104 tackles, including five tackles for loss, with four sacks and an interception. That was a ton of production for the second-round pick. Players usually take their biggest leap in production from Year 1 to 2, and that should have Bears fans excited about Brisker's prospects in 2023. He's a foundational player for Chicago's defense moving forward.

Most significant change: QB Justin Fields has more weapons in the passing game

Fields threw for just 2,242 yards in 15 games last season. He has 25 career starts and hasn't reached 300 yards in any of them. In fact, he's only thrown for at least 200 yards six times, but that could change in his third season.

Teams have to respect his ability to beat them with his legs (1,563 rushing yards the last two seasons) but now with the addition of dynamic receiver D.J. Moore to pair with Darnell Mooney and Chase Claypool, the Bears have some legit weapons who can make plays down the field in the passing game. Tight end Cole Kmet and running back Khalil Herbert are also good in the passing game. Look for that part of Chicago's offense to be vastly improved.

Twentyman: If Chicago can get away from being so one dimensional on offense they'll be much harder to deal with defensively. They spent in free agency to improve their defense, but it remains to be seen if they can get after the quarterback with enough consistency to be considerably improved on that side of the ball. Chicago still has a way to go in their roster building but they're expected to be better than the three-win football team they were a year ago.

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